OMB's new performance chief could give IT more executive clout

Killefer's technology experience may mean a larger role for technology in setting federal strategies, but soothing agency tensions should be first on her agenda, say technology specialists.

Nancy Killefer, whom President-elect Barack Obama appointed on Wednesday to the top management post at the Office of Management and Budget, should raise the clout that information technology has in executive decisions, but she must first defuse the "borderline antagonistic" relationship between OMB and the agencies, management consultants and researchers said.

Killefer will treat IT more strategically than her predecessors in the Bush administration, said Jim Flyzik, who worked for Killefer when he was chief information officer at the Treasury Department. "She understands technology and has quite a bit of experience from her Treasury days working with the [Internal Revenue Service] on a lot of their big [IT] projects," said Flyzik, now president of the technology consulting firm TheFlyzikGroup. "I think she appreciates the fact that IT can be strategic for improving government programs."

Obama nominated Killefer to work in dual roles, as the government's first chief performance officer and as the deputy director of management at OMB, succeeding Clay Johnson in the latter role. Currently the senior director for the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Killefer previously served as assistant secretary for management, chief financial officer and chief operating officer at the Treasury Department. She also chaired the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board from 2001 to 2005.

Killefer is a hands-on leader who was involved in the IRS' modernization efforts and attempts to improve the agency's financial management systems, Flyzik said. "As long as you demonstrate that you are doing the proper amount of preparation, getting your business cases and cost-benefit [analyses] in and doing what's necessary to show you are capable of moving forward, she will pretty much give you room to operate," he said. "I don't think she's going to be in your back pocket, so to speak, unless she feels you're not making progress."

But Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy at the nonprofit OMB Watch, said Killefer's success in her role as chief performance officer is likely be hampered by the "borderline antagonistic" relationship between OMB and agencies.

"I do have some concerns about her playing both roles," he said. "The relationship between agencies and OMB is very poor, particularly for management issues. [Having her] solely at the White House would have given a different tone to reforming government. The role at OMB may detract from her effectiveness."

Hughes added that the primary reason for the tension is agency managers believe that OMB, under the Bush administration, did not value their input and wielded its budgetary power in heavy-handed manner. "There continues to be, institutionally, a lot of tension, but there are significant opportunities to make overall system better," said Hughes. "It's an opportunity to engage the federal work force in a meaningful way about performance so employees are able to modify their work to perform better."

Killefer will not have much effect on the short-term IT budget, according to Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

"I don't know that I would be forecasting a gravy train coming down the pike in coming months," he said. "I think most people will be looking to 2010 to see if there will be any more substantial uptick. The incoming administration talked about cybersecurity and transparency. Security is priority one, regardless of who's coming in. But transparency, one way to get there is to make sound use of technology. It may be a thought before they have any real dollars attached."