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Will Shaun Donovan's Nomination Signal Greater Attention to 'M' at OMB?

U.S. President Barack Obama announces that Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan (C) will be his choice as the new Director of OMB, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (L) will be his choice as the new Secretary of HUD, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington May 23, 2014.

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Shaun Donovan, the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, signals recognition at the highest levels of the U.S. government of the need for increased attention to management – the “M” in OMB. It’s a welcome appointment, especially given the recent spate of negative headlines about management problems that have been plaguing the Administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, Donovan would succeed Sylvia Matthews Burwell, whom Obama has designated as his next Health and Human Services Secretary. As Politico notes, Donovan had broad responsibility at HUD, handling the administration’s $26 billion mortgage settlement and coordinating Hurricane Sandy relief.

Donovan’s disciplined approach to the delivery of government services at HUD  gave us HUDStat, bringing to Washington lessons learned at the local level about the value of using goals, analytics, clearly assigned “goal leaders” and data-driven meetings to improve. He pioneered cross-agency management of the goal to reduce veteran homelessness, using data to engage the broad delivery community to find ways to better serve more vets. Data analysis and mapping helped HUD and its delivery partners, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, local housing authorities and other local partners, figure out how to target vouchers with higher impact. Goal-focused, data-driven national Stat meetings, with complementary actions at the local level, also helped integrate housing assistance more seamlessly with case management and clinical services.

Similarly, in its affordable rental housing programs, HUD figured out how to exceed its priority goal of serving tens of thousands of additional families with available resources.  By preserving units, increasing occupancy, and reducing conversions to market rate housing, the agency served an additional 250,000 families.

As Billy Beane showed when he “moneyballed” the Oakland A’s to a higher standing than would otherwise have been expected given the team’s budget, even the most seasoned experts can learn from past patterns, identifying factors most likely to contribute to future success. Asking the right questions, informed by data and analytics, helps employees at all levels do their jobs better.

As a seasoned local and federal manager, Donovan appreciates how a well-set goal with clear assignment of responsibility to manage progress on each goal and well-communicated data enables U.S. employees and their delivery partners at all levels, including those on the front line, make better decisions that result in more mission for the money.

Under Donovan’s leadership, HUD has demonstrated that timely, frequent data enables organizations to detect problems needing attention more quickly. It also helps them find and speed adoption of ways to improve. Increased use of data in management, inevitably and appropriately complemented by values-based debates about priorities, leads to better outcomes, ROI, experience with government and accountability.

When he arrives at OMB, in addition to running the policy-setting process around the President’s $3.5 trillion budget, Donovan will undoubtedly give oomph to the management priorities it lays out. These include delivering world-class digital services organized around citizens and customers instead of sponsoring government organization and releasing government data to spur innovation and jobs. But will Donovan be able to apply lessons learned at the local level and HUD about integrating management and budgeting to accomplish more with available funds? Will he be able to lead in the future as he did in the past to tackle delivery issues that require attention from across organizational boundaries? Or, will management issues again get short shrift relative to budget questions at the Office of Management and Budget? And, if that happens, who else among a President’s leadership team will give delivery issues the sustained attention they need?

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