Today, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jacob J. Lew, generally caled "Jack," to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget – the President’s top aide in charge of overseeing the budget for the entire Federal government. Lew, who already has outstanding experience in the position under the Clinton Administration, has been serving in the State Department under President Obama. During him time under President Clinton, 11 million jobs were created, and the federal budget was balanced for the first time since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. An inherited $290 billion deficit was turned around, and resulted in a more than $236 billion surplus at the end of 2000.
In making the announcement, the President took ample time to commend the service of Peter Orszag, who has held the position during some of the toughest economic and fiscal times the country has seen in decades:
Putting a budget together for the entire federal government is an enormously difficult task, no matter what the state of the economy, but Peter’s job was even tougher. When we walked through the doors of the White House, we not only faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we also faced a $1.3 trillion deficit -- a deficit that was caused both by the recession and nearly a decade of not paying for key policies and programs.
In light of these challenges, Peter’s accomplishments as Director of OMB are even more impressive. He was instrumental in designing and helping us pass an economic plan that prevented a second depression -- a plan that is slowly but surely moving us in the right direction again. Thanks to his innovative ideas and gritty determination, we passed a health insurance reform plan that is not only paid for, but will significantly lower the cost of health care as well as our deficit over the next several decades. In fact, a recent report by independent experts say this reform will cut the deficit even more than the Congressional Budget Office first estimated.
Peter has also helped us single out more than a hundred programs for elimination that have outlived their purposes, and made hard decisions that will save tens of billions of dollars. And he helped draft a budget for next year that freezes all discretionary government spending outside of national security for three years -- something that was never enacted in the prior administration. It’s a budget that would reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next decade, which is more than any other budget in a decade. And I expect that freeze to become a reality next year.
Peter also shares my view that the long-running debate between big government and small government misses the point; it isn’t relevant to today’s challenges. The real debate is about how we make government smarter, more effective, and more efficient in the 21st century. It’s easy for any institution to get in the habit of doing things the way they’ve always been done. We in government can’t afford that habit -- not only because it wastes taxpayer dollars, but because it erodes people’s belief that their government can actually work for them.
Over the last year and a half we’ve been able to employ new technology to make government more responsive and customer-friendly -- the same way that so many businesses have used technology to make better products and provide better services.
As a result of these efforts, today we’re creating a single electronic medical record for our men and women in uniform that will follow them from the day they enlist until the day they are laid to rest. We’re cutting down the time that it takes to get a patent approved by cutting out unnecessary paperwork and modernizing the process. We’re working to give people the chance to go online and book an appointment at the Social Security office or check the status of their citizenship application. We’re cutting waste by getting rid of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years. We’re closing the IT gap in the federal government, and have created mobile apps that provide nutrition information for your favorite foods or wait times at the airport. And the examples go on and on.
He went on to explain why he is so confident that Lew will be able to carry on this outstanding level of performance:
if there was a Hall of Fame for budget directors, then Jack Lew surely would have earned a place for his service in that role under President Clinton, when he helped balance the federal budget after years of deficits. When Jack left that post at the end of the Clinton administration, he handed the next administration a record $236 billion budget surplus. The day I took office, eight years later, America faced a record $1.3 trillion deficit.
Jack’s challenge over the next few years is to use his extraordinary skill and experience to cut down that deficit and put our nation back on a fiscally responsible path. And I have the utmost faith in his ability to achieve this goal as a central member of our economic team.
Jack is the only budget director in history to preside over a budget surplus for three consecutive years. When Jack was deputy director at OMB, he was part of the team that reached a bipartisan agreement to balance the budget for the first time in decades. He was a principal domestic policy advisor to Tip O’Neill, and worked with him on the bipartisan agreement to reform Social Security in the 1980s.
He was executive vice president at New York University, where he oversaw budget and finances. And for the past year and a half, he’s been successful in overseeing the State Department’s extremely complex and challenging budget as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. I was actually worried that Hillary would not let him go. I had to trade a number of number-one draft picks -- (laughter) -- to get Jack back at OMB.