Obama names Zients as interim OMB chief

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In a bit of reshuffling between the White House and its Office of Management and Budget, President Obama on Tuesday tapped Jeffrey Zients as the OMB’s acting director.

“I’m pleased to designate Jeff Zients to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Since day one, Jeff has demonstrated superb judgment and has provided sound advice on a whole host of issues,” President Obama said in a statement. “With decades of experience, Jeff has been a tremendous asset to our team and I’m confident in his ability to help us rebuild an economy where hard work and responsibility pay off and the middle class has a chance to get ahead.”

Mr. Zients currently serves as deputy director for the OMB. Mr. Obama elevated Mr. Zients in an attempt to fill the looming power vacuum at the agency after he named its director, Jack Lew, to replace outgoing White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.

Mr. Daley, who told reporters last year he had planned to remain at the White House until the end of the 2012 campaign, surprised Mr. Obama last week with his decision to resign and return to his home state of Illinois by the end of the month.

While he regretted Mr. Daley’s decision, the president said Mr. Lew was an easy choice to take the reins and lead the White House in his absence. But Mr. Lew’s departure from OMB created another question for the White House: How to fill the key budget post he will leave behind in another year inevitably focused on deficit negotiations. Mr. Lew’s immediate deputy, Heather Higginbottom, had taken a beating in the Senate confirmation process.

Republicans blocked her nomination for 10 months before the Senate eventually confirmed her, arguing that she did not have the broad economic and financial background the job demands. Before joining OMB, Ms. Higginbottom was a deputy policy adviser to Mr. Obama and served as a policy director for his campaign.

In choosing Mr. Zients, Mr. Obama is bypassing Ms. Higginbottom and attempting to avoid rekindling that debate. According to Democratic sources, Mr. Zients is likely to retain the acting director title until the end of the campaign to avoid a nasty and distracting confirmation battle during an election year.

Mr. Zients, who the Senate confirmed for his previous position in 2009, served as the OMB’s acting director from July to November 2010. Over the last year, he conducted the research involved and eventually came up with the president’s plan — announced Friday — to consolidate six business and trade agencies and eliminate confusing overlapping bureaucracies, as well as nearly 1,000 jobs through attrition.

Mr. Zients previously served as the CEO and chairman of The Advisory Board and chairman of the Corporate Executive Board, two Washington-based firms that provide management consulting and services to executives at businesses around the world.

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