Even if big budget decisions are made before Christmas, career OMB staffers still face weeks of work sorting out minute spending details.
“Somehow the career guys stick around and their families adjust to that kind of a holiday lifestyle,” said Steve McMillin, who served as deputy OMB director during the final years of the George W. Bush administration. “It’s really extraordinary how it’s set up to make the holidays very painful for those involved in the process.”
After the budget season ends, however, staffers get a bit of revenge.
For the past three decades, usually after the president submits his budget to Congress, OMB staffers have performed skits for the director that poke fun at current political developments and the personalities of top administration officials.
Rivlin said staffers often joked during the Clinton years about how she enjoyed taking long hikes along the Billy Goat Trail near Great Falls. “There was a guy on the staff who bore a very strong resemblance to Warren Christopher, so he always got to play the secretary of state,” she said. “And some short woman usually played me.”
During George W. Bush’s administration, McMillin said, staffers liked to joke about the low profile of then-director Joshua B. Bolten. One year, they produced a series of “man on the street” video interviews with people who were asked to pick Bolten out of a series of photographs that included head shots of the director, then-U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and singer Michael Bolton.
Lew doesn’t seem to mind the jokes from his staff.
“Budgets aren’t just about numbers, they’re about priorities, they’re about beliefs,” he said last month. “OMB is well-served by having a career staff that is just focused constantly on how well things are working and what we could do better.”
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