OMB keeps its distance


Whether the event is a dinner party or a rock concert, everyone knows that seating arrangements can be a touchy subject.

But at a congressional witness table?

That, though, was a not insignificant issue at a House oversight subcommittee hearing Friday. The session, dedicated to open government efforts, featured two panels. The first was made up of transparency advocates and federal departmental officials; the second featured just one person, Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel.

The reason–as an agency spokeswoman later confirmed–is that OMB will not allow its staff to testify alongside people from outside the government. While OMB claims that it is following long-standing policy, “it is not that long a policy,”  said committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.  If Issa seemed bemused, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., appeared downright peeved by what he described as a disconnect with the Obama administration’s accountable government rhetoric.

“I’m trying to understand why we talk one way and act an entirely different way,” Kelly said after Werfel took his seat to testify.

Werfel, it should be noted, ranks among the more accessible members of OMB’s senior staff. “The bottom line is I’m here and willing to answer any questions you have,” he told Kelly, while deflecting questions on the broader policy.

In a later email, the OMB spokeswoman, Moira Mack, said that policy has spanned both Republican and Democratic administrations and stems from OMB’s role in the Executive Office of the President. She did not elaborate.


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