Portman's Hill experience seen as an asset

OMB nominee brings skills previous two directors did not have

Familiar face: Rob Portman, former Ohio representative, knows how Congress works.

Jay L. Clendenin

If last fall was any sign of what the future holds for e-government and IT on Capitol Hill, Rob Portman's experience as a member of the House will serve him and federal agencies well.

Portman, President Bush's nominee to become the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, figures to help defend the administration's technology initiatives against constant challenges from lawmakers.

Last year, legislators placed a provision in the Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Judiciary appropriations bill that required congressional approval before agencies could spend money on e-government projects.

Lawmakers also rejected, for a second straight year, the General Services Administration's request to use additional revenue from the Federal Supply Service for e-government projects.

But experts and administration officials expect Portman's experience on the Hill to help moderate congressional concerns.

'We want to partner on all these issues with Congress, and Rob will be great on that,' said OMB's deputy director for management, Clay Johnson. 'He is well-regarded on Capitol Hill. He is a very effective and very smart person.'

Portman, if confirmed by the Senate, would replace Joshua B. Bolten, who became President Bush's chief of staff. Portman, a former Ohio Republican member of the House, has been the U.S. trade representative for the past 11 months.

Portman's experience on the Hill is much different than that of his predecessors, Bolten and Mitchell E. Daniels.

Daniels, known as 'the blade' for his desire to cut programs and taxes, was not well-liked on the Hill and had no experience in understanding how things worked, experts said. Bolten repaired some of Daniels' damage and worked a lot in the background to meet the administration's priorities.

Degrees of support

On the other hand, Daniels understood the value of IT and was a big supporter, giving former OMB administrator for e-government and IT Mark Forman strong support to change the way agencies did business. Bolten delegated oversight of IT and the President's Management Agenda to Johnson. Government officials have called Bolten's support and understanding of IT's importance tepid at best. But Johnson said Bolten always supported IT when he was needed.

'Portman will bring more credibility [compared with] Daniels and Bolten in terms of the relationship issue,' said Fred Thompson, vice president for management and technology for the Council for Excellence in Government of Washington. 'He will start with a real advantage that they didn't have.'

But Stan Collender, the managing director for Qorvis Communications of Washington and a federal-budget expert, warned that Portman's influence on the Hill might not be that great because he is no longer 'one of them.'

'You still have a president with an approval rating in the 30s,' Collender said. 'I wish Portman well, but he is walking into a buzz saw. This administration has not wanted to talk about the budget for five years, so he is not going to walk in and make them change their ways.'

Portman received a strong reception from the Hill.

'Rob is a gifted legislator, skilled administrator and a dedicated fiscal conservative,' said House Appropriations Committee chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.). 'Last year, Congress held nonsecurity discretionary spending below the previous year's level, eliminated 53 programs and reduced spending on earmarks by nearly $3 billion. Rob will be a strong ally as we seek to build on this success in the coming appropriations process.'

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