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Who Are Jeffrey Zients and Aneesh Chopra?

By Ed O'Keefe

Jeffrey Zients and Aneesh Chopra have been tapped to serve as the federal government's chief performance officer and chief technology officer, respectively. (Photos by Post and AP)

President Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to announce plans to nominate businessman Jeffrey Zients to be the federal government's first chief performance officer and Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra to be chief technology officer. The announcement came during an address focused on the administration's plans to root out government waste and mismanagement.

Zients will also serve as the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget and both men will work with Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, who is responsible for the administration's technology policy.

"The goal is to give all Americans a voice in their government and ensure that they know exactly how we’re spending their money -- and can hold us accountable for the results," Obama said.

Zients is a Washington-based entrepreneur connected to several local companies: He serves as a director of Sirius/XM Satellite Radio and Revolution Health and once held leadership positions at the Advisory Board Company and the Corporate Executive Board, both established by Washington business legend David Bradley. Zients also played a key role in luring Major League Baseball back to Washington and partnered with a group of investors that failed to win ownership of the Washington Nationals.

A 2004 Post profile reported that "Several of Zients's colleagues said underneath his approachable exterior is a shrewd strategic thinker and tough negotiator who is both driven and disciplined."

While he may have the skills necessary to navigate the federal bureaucracy, his work for and with Bradley may prove most important, said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service.

"David Bradley is a man who knows talent and who appreciates talent and who will go to the ends of the earth for talent," Stier said. "There are stories about him literally trying to recruit people so aggressively that he’ll have ponies show up for their kid’s birthday parties."

"Jeff grew up with that as a model and that’s a good model. It’s a recognition that the top of the government needs to focus on talent and that’s a good thing."

If confirmed, Zients will fill a position first offered to management consultant Nancy Killefer, who withdrew from consideration in early February amid revelations about her personal income taxes.

Observers considered Chopra a surprise pick for the Virginia technology job because he lacked practical policy and technological experience.

He conceded he was no expert on technical systems: "What I brought to the table was an understanding of the capabilities of new technologies and how they might advance a particular agenda," he said. Regardless, The Post described him as "a policy junkie" and "rising star in Washington's Indian American executive circles."

Both gentlemen face serious challenges.

If confirmed, Zients will try to identify wasteful and ineffective government programs that the administration should cut. Then -- most critically -- he will have to get beyond the affected agencies and departments, public interest and industry groups and Congress to actually eliminate the programs.

Chopra faces a mind-boggling web of computer and data collection systems, few of which work in unison, several built or operated by government contractors. While his mission remains unclear, he too will have to woo and please several constituencies in order to get the job done.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | April 18, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Revolving Door  
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Mr. Zients should work toward eliminating all questionable hiring practices in the FDA. Specifically, nepotism, discrimination against older workers, and pre-selection.

This is why the FDA has its many problems, including approvals of drugs, biologics and devices. From the top down, we need to clean house.

Posted by: pmaley | April 20, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

One of the biggest mistakes someone in Mr. Zients' position could make is to assume he knows the solutions and to start implementing changes as soon as he assumes office. In fact, he should not assume he knows what the problems are. Problems need to be systemically identified based on the most important customer needs and teams need to be formed to attack those problems and develop viable solutions. His first step should be to develop a sytematic approach that all agencies should use to identify and solve problems and measures results.

Posted by: bigtom6156 | April 20, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

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