Who is Shaun Donovan?

Shaun Donovan

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, whom President Barack Obama named on May 23 as his nominee for head the Office of Management and Budget.

Shaun Donovan has served in President Barack Obama's cabinet almost since day one, as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The man tapped May 22 to head the Office of Management and Budget has not had a very high profile compared with other department heads, but he has developed a reputation in the administration as a fixer on high-priority tasks.

While leading HUD, Donovan's work has included chairing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and co-leading the cross-agency priority goal of reducing the number of homeless veterans.

"In the aftermath of Sandy, when we thought about who was somebody who we had confidence could drive a process to make sure that the federal, state and local coordination delivered for the people who had been affected, and that we could rebuild both on the New York side and the Jersey side as effectively as possible and as quickly as possible, Shaun came to mind," Obama said about the pick.

Donovan's background is in housing and urban policy. He studied public administration and architecture at Harvard, and has held a series of senior positions in that policy arena, including stints as HUD's deputy assistant secretary for Multifamily Housing during the Clinton administration and as commissioner of New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He also worked as an architect.

Donovan has also been thinking about government-wide management and workforce challenges. HUD, he noted, has the highest percentage of retirement-eligible staffers of any federal agency, and he's faced with the challenge of capturing institutional knowledge while finding career paths for younger employees. He formed an "under 5" group that matches HUD workers with less than five years tenure to be mentored by longtime employees.

He also oversaw the creation of HUDConnect, an internal social networking tool based on the Socialtext platform, designed to spread institutional knowledge and promote collaboration inside the sprawling agency. At a Partnership for Public Service discussion about the federal workforce last May, Donovan said the tool "spawned all these interest groups where folks are sharing ideas, thoughts about the agency and knowledge in ways we could never create just by saying, 'we're going to start a group.'"

His overall approach appears to be in keeping with the metrics-focused management agenda Obama is pushing in his second term. Donovan sees the United States in the midst of a "fundamental debate" about "what is the right role for the federal government, how do we limit that role in the right way, and direct it where it's most needed," he said at the Partnership event. He argues that the government must do a better job of using data on policy outcomes to explain to taxpayers what they are getting for their money.

"Particularly in these times ... it's something we all in the federal government can do better. What does it actually mean when you make an investment, whether it's in housing, or health or education. What does that also mean in terms of what we can save in the long term," Donovan said. "The more we can measure and understand [policy outcomes], the more I think we can go and make the case to the American people."

If confirmed by the Senate, Donovan will succeed OMB director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who was nominated to take over as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Thu, May 29, 2014

Tue, May 27, 2014 Owen Ambur Hilton Head Island, SC

According to your report, Donovan "argues that the government must do a better job of using data on policy outcomes to explain to taxpayers what they are getting for their money." In order to do that, agencies need to effectively implement section 10 of the GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA), which requires them to publish their performance reports in machine-readable format. They also need to link their performance outcomes to their budgetary, FTE and other resource inputs. Ideally, they would do so using an open, voluntary consensus standard like StratML.

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