OMB's Vought defends pay freeze, tech cuts

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Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought defended the White House's decisions to cut the agency's technology reform office and freeze federal pay, as the administration prioritizes modernization and personnel management.

At a March 26 House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, lawmakers questioned Vought over the administration's management priorities in the budget.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) raised issue of the pay freeze, calling it and the proposal to slash benefits "an effort to reduce the federal workforce."

Vought testified that the pay freeze provided a way to offer agency heads "more discretion" to give bonus payments and "increase salaries for recruitment and retention."

He also said OMB would work with agencies on a specific basis to "design plans that ensure high-priority areas are addressed" while also making sure individual high performers are "receiving the kinds of incentive payments their ... "performance justified."

Vought added that OMB is requesting an additional $400,000 and three full-time equivalent employees to stage a new office as part of the reorganization of the Office of Personnel Management's functions.

The new office would "provide government-wide strategic direction on federal human capital policy, and coordinate personnel policies, regulations and procedures for executive agencies," he said. It would be modeled after OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

The president's budget requests $101.6 million for OMB for fiscal year 2020, a slight decrease from the $103 million requested last year and the $102 million Congress ultimately appropriated. The dip, Vought said, comes from some shuffling of functions and accounts and from cutting OMB staff by 16 full-time equivalents.

The FY2020 request also proposes $15 million for the Information Technology Oversight and Reform account, an OMB-housed agency that supports the Cyber and National Security Unit and the U.S. Digital Service. That would be a nearly 50 percent cut from the account's fiscal 2019 level.

Part of the ITOR decrease can be traced to budget cut for the U.S. Digital Service, which the administration has touted as a model program for modernizing government. The White House budget proposes $8 million for the tech shop.

Vought said "the work of the United States Digital Service is very important," noting that USDS identified and saved $8 million at agencies across government last year alone.

"We want that work to continue," he said, "and that's one of the reasons we tried to figure out in this environment, how do we structure USDS with reimbursable agreements so that it is a long-term, sustained way to be able to do business."

He also pointed out the budget assumes that maintenance of the IT dashboard, a USDS project, is accounted for in the General Service Administration's Office of Government-wide Policy funding plan.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.


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