The Public Interest

OMB and the Presidency - the problem of "neutral competence"

Hugh Heclo

Winter 1975

IN 1970 the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) officially died and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was born. Subsequent years have not been kind to the organization.  Renaming the agency was supposed to signal a new era in which the traditional job of budget-making would be augmented by a new emphasis on government management, but the management side of OMB has been in disarray throughout most of the organization’s short life. An agency which traditionally valued its heritage of anonymity and quiet diplomacy inside government has found itself slugging it out in nasty public fights on issues such as impoundment. From now on, every OMB director and deputy director will have to be confirmed by the Senate—a blow to the special Presidential status which the old Bureau of the Budget enjoyed.  Watergate has taken its toll on morale, and as if that weren’t enough, Presidential Ford’s transition advisers declared last summer that the power of OMB had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. All in all, it has been a tough childhood for the young OMB.

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