With OMB and OFPP heads gone, can the administration agenda advance?

Two top leaders of OMB and OFPP are stepping down within a month of each other. What's the impact?

Despite soon having an Office of Management and Budget without a director and a senior administrator, the policy-making office nevertheless will continue its work, advancing the Obama administration’s priority initiatives throughout the election year, according to experts.

Officials will issue their guidance for agencies on various topics and other branch offices will continue their work, such as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and its mission to make regulatory language easier to understand. The fiscal 2013 budget proposal is already at the printer's office, and officials are preparing for its presentation to Congress.

Those are routine aspects of the office's work. What about more controversial policies?

They're not likely to slow down much either, especially since 2012 is an election year , because the administration has "been aggressive advancing their proposals, particularly through regulatory changes,” Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica, said Jan. 11.

As President Barack Obama announced on Jan. 9, the now outgoing OMB director, Jack Lew will be the new White House chief of staff. William Daley, the current chief of staff, is head back to Chicago. Meanwhile, Dan Gordon, former director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy -- part of OMB -- left in December to take a position in academia.

The official shift is expected to take place at the end of the month, following the preparations for the State of the Union address and the preparation of the fiscal 2013 budget submission to Congress. The administration has not announced who will succeed Lew. Heather Higginbottom is the deputy director, and Jeffrey Zients is the deputy director of management at OMB. Both names are floating around as possible choices.

Meanwhile, industry is still on the lookout, concerned about what could still come out of OMB. There is the possibility that the Obama administration is advancing some controversial executive orders.

One proposed order would require government contractors to report who they have supported with their political contributions.

A draft of the order was circulating throughout Washington, DC, and caused a ruckus. Congress tried to squelch any opportunity for such an order in the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which Obama signed in December. In the end, the bill restricts the wholesale collection of political information when it comes to defense procurement.

But Rep. Ann Eshoo (D-Calif.) said the fiscal 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was also signed into law in December, left room for the executive order. In the final bill, many stipulations that would hinder the ability to gather the information were gone.

“Today’s compromise omnibus spending bill leaves the president free to require disclosure from any company receiving taxpayer dollars,” Eshoo said in a statement Dec. 16, adding, “I hope the president takes this opportunity to finally issue his long-awaited executive order.”

Eshoo introduced legislation that would put the language of the draft order into law. It has not been passed.

The White House may be moving ahead too.

According to a Jan. 10 story from AlterNet.org, Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said the White House is considering the executive order.

“I just had a meeting at the White House counsel’s office, trying to encourage them to move forward with the executive order. They have the perfect window of opportunity to get the executive order done,” Holman said in the report.

AlterNet also said the order would be the only campaign finance initiative coming from Washington this election year, since Congress is expected to have its attention elsewhere. The order would take effect after the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council adopts new disclosure rules.

“That could come as the 2012 election season moves beyond the primaries and it would offer a new way to see who is behind the newest independent groups spending millions on political attack ads,” the report adds.

The Obama administration also has another controversial initiative called the “High Road” initiative, which could arise this year too.

The initiative would create labor-related evaluation criteria for companies that are seeking federal contracts. The High Road preference would require acquisition officials to give advantages in awarding contracts to companies that adopt labor practices beyond those currently required by federal labor laws, such as paying more than minimally required for certain jobs.

At Lew’s confirmation hearing in 2010, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pushed the nominee to promise he would not approve the High Road labor preference. Lew refused to commit though.

Lew said such a policy considers two sides of procurement: Competition for contracts and the protections for employees in the workplace.

The political disclosure and the High Road initiatives have a political flavor and, Hodgkins said he would not be surprised to see them advanced in an election year.

All in all, OMB isn't expected to be twiddling its thumbs.

“The outlook we have for issues and initiatives that we are facing this year does not leave industry with the feeling we are in a holding pattern," Hodgkins said.

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