In the Shadow of the National Seat of Power

Laura House, PhD, Senior Program Analyst, Office of Strategic Development

My detail at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided me with professional and personal experiences and insights that I will never forget. I worked at the highest level of government for seven months until June 2013 at a monumental point in history during the first and second Administrations of the first-elected African American President of the United States. I was there during a tough economic climate where the government was on the brink of sequestration and an unsettling political climate on the heels of a national presidential election.

What I Did
OMB is the largest office within the Executive Office of the President (EOP), which consists of the immediate staff of the President, many of the President’s closest advisors, and supporting offices, including the White House. OMB’s main function is to assist the President in overseeing the preparation of the Federal Budget and supervise its administration across federal government.

During my detail, I worked in two OMB offices, the Office of Personnel and Performance Management (PPM) and the Office of Economic Policy (EP), and on the Evidence-based Policymaking Team. PPM is responsible for implementing the Government Performance Results Modernization Act (GPRAMA) requiring agencies to report performance goals and conduct strategic planning. The Evidence-based Policymaking Team and EP advance the President’s evidence agenda across government. My primary project involved leading a small OMB team in exploring how federal agencies use evidence for decision-making, integrate performance measurement and evaluation, and promote innovation through interviews with senior officials at various federal agencies. I also redesigned OMB’s evidence website, co-facilitated the OMB evaluation working group, and reviewed and edited performance, strategic planning and evidence-related documents and guidance.

Some Exciting and Memorable Experiences
I worked hard and long hours in a fast-paced, highly political environment and there were many memorable experiences including:

  • Working in the New Executive Office Building (NEOB): My office was next to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) which has a direct pathway to the White House and houses the ceremonial office of the Vice President and other EOP offices. From my office I had an excellent view of the front of the White House, including the rooftop where Secret Service were armed and strategically posted around the clock.
  • Seeing President Obama de-board Marine One: I was selected to be a part of a small group of EOP staffers to watch Marine One land and wave to President Obama as he greeted us on the south lawn of the White House.
  • Touring the White House: I toured the East and West Wings a couple of times.
  • Attending a few White House and OMB special events: I attended social events, including holiday parties and the Easter Egg Roll.
  • Meeting EOP top officials: I attended regular meetings at the EEOB and the White House Conference Center with top EOP officials.
  • Trying out for the OMB basketball team: I tried out for the OMB team that played the White House team. I didn’t make the team but had fun trying and later attended the actual game on the south lawn.

Important Lessons I Learned
This experience was rich with important lessons, including:

  • Although we are small, PSA is doing well, surpassing many larger federal agencies, at transforming our culture into a more performance-based and data-driven one that’s open to innovation, evidence, and quality with a new and validated risk assessment instrument to support this.
  • A lot of the wisdom and diligence happens every day at the agency level and is as valuable as that which happens at the highest level of government.
  • Similar issues, challenges and uncertainties faced in agencies are faced at the top of government -- just broader in scope.
  • Politics matters. I observed first-hand how political interests play a big role in the inner workings and decisions in top government.
  • Relationships are critical. A lot of work gets done based on relationships and alliances.
  • Appreciation is golden. I am grateful to all who supported me in this experience, including my OSD Director and team, PSA’s Director and Deputy Director, and OMB and EOP staff and leadership. My experience was truly remarkable.

The PSA Writers Bureau is a creative forum for employees to write about PSA from a personal perspective.