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Zients Gives the Public Sector Some Love

By Ed O'Keefe

Addressing concerns that he lacks familiarity with the public sector, President Obama's nominee to serve as the nation's first chief performance officer acknowledged today that his business background has not blessed him with all the solutions necessary to tweak government management and recruitment plans.

Jeffrey Zients
Jeffrey Zients, President Obama's nominee to serve as chief performance officer. (The Washington Post)

"I very much recognize and appreciate that government is different from the private sector," Jeffrey Zients, President Obama's nominee to serve as chief performance officer (CPO), said in his prepared remarks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "There is much to be learned from the people who have dedicated their lives to public service. There are many programs that are efficient and effective."

If confirmed, Zients will serve as the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management and also as CPO, a new position Obama created at the start of his administration. Zients said he believed the CPO post would strengthen his OMB role.

He touted his tenure with the Advisory Board and the Corporate Executive Board companies, noting he regularly provided advice on management and performance issues to Fortune 500 companies. (Zients's mother also told The Eye after the hearing that her son once worked as a Washington Post delivery boy. "I helped him sometimes," she said.)

Lawmakers focused most of their queries on his business background and how it might help his government work. Asked by Sen. Joseph I. Liberman (I-Conn.) to describe the differences between government and business, Zients said business are most concerned with profitability while government agencies focus on individual concerns.

"It’s not one size fits all, there’s no single profit metric," he said.

The nominee also expressed common concerns with the federal hiring process, stating his frustration with the amount of time it takes to hire new employees and the impending retirement bubble. Still, "I think we have an opportunity somewhat related to the economy and a renewed, heightened interest in public service," to recruit talented workers, he said.

Obama tapped Zients for the position in mid-April, following the botched nomination of his first choice, Nancy Killefer, who withdrew from consideration following revelations of tax troubles.

The confirmation hearing lasted less than an hour, suggesting the nomination is a sure bet.

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 10, 2009; 1:58 PM ET
Categories:  Confirmation Hearings  
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