Bush's OMB Appointee a Veteran Government Insider

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The president's nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Rob Portman , is no stranger to the workings of federal agencies or to issues involving pensions and benefits.

As a six-term Republican member of Congress from Ohio, he played key roles in restructuring the Internal Revenue Service and in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Federal unions generally view him as someone they can work with, even though Portman supported measures that went against the interests of federal labor leaders.

He also mastered the complexities of writing legislation on benefits. Portman served on the House Ways and Means Committee, participating in hearings on Social Security laws that federal retiree groups would like to see modified or repealed because they lower payments for some beneficiaries entitled to a federal annuity. He also partnered with Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) to raise the annual dollar cap on investments in retirement plans such as the Thrift Savings Plan.

Yesterday, Portman accepted the president's nomination, noting that the OMB "touches every spending and policy decision in the federal government."

He also signaled that he would support President Bush's management agenda, which has encouraged agencies to pay more attention to their personnel and financial management efforts and to look at ways of turning more federal work over to the private sector.

"If confirmed," Portman said, "I will also continue the good work already underway at OMB to make government work better for taxpayers. I want to recognize the leadership of deputy director for management, Clay Johnson , in improving government performance."

During the House debate on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Portman proved to be an effective advocate for the Bush White House. Portman headed off an effort by Republican former representative Constance A. Morella of Maryland and Democrats to protect the union rights of employees transferring into the department. He also helped broker a deal to alter the procedures that employees use to appeal major disciplinary actions.

On the House floor, Portman called for "flexibility" in setting up the new department -- "that is budget flexibility; it is organizational flexibility; and, yes, it is personnel flexibility to be sure the right people are in the right place at the right time to protect us."

The House bill, he said on Nov. 13, 2002, "guarantees the right to collectively bargain," an issue that had become a sticking point for federal unions and Democrats. He added, "The right to collectively bargain is explicitly listed in the legislation," noting that "union representatives will have a seat at the table."

To be sure, the legislation evolved as it moved through Congress, and members of Congress have given differing interpretations on whether it harms union rights. After the Homeland Security Department published new workplace rules based on the legislation, the National Treasury Employees Union filed suit to block their implementation. A federal district court last year sided with the NTEU, and the ruling is on appeal.

Portman also was instrumental in reshaping the Internal Revenue Service. In the early 1990s, he served as a co-chairman of a national commission to restructure the agency and helped produce a report that became the basis for legislation that took effect in 1998.

The legislation sought to provide taxpayers with new rights in dealing with the IRS and to reshape the agency's workplace rules. Portman worked with the NTEU on the restructuring and backed the union's request to have an employee representative placed on a new oversight board.

Colleen M. Kelley , president of the NTEU, said that Portman will be a loyal Bush supporter and that "we don't expect any major changes to come" on policy and personnel issues. "I'll look forward to working with him as much as possible in his new role," she said.

Diary Live

Please join me for a discussion of federal employee and retiree issues at noon today on Federal Diary Live at http://washingtonpost.com .

Stephen Barr's e-mail address isbarrs@washpost.com.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company