The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is sometimes described as “the most important governmental office no one has ever heard of” and it certainly occupies a very important position and role in the functioning of the American presidency and the way that the Executive branch operates. Political Scientists Meena Bose (Hofstra University) and Andrew Rudalevige (Bowdoin College) have edited an excellent primer on OMB, not just in terms of exploring what it does and how it works, but also integrating a host of perspectives examining the history, function, and details of OMB. The book begins with a Forward and an introductory chapter by the Honorable Jacob J. Lew, who served as OMB Director during both the Clinton and Obama Administrations. Lew’s chapter sets up the rest of the work in
Executive Policymaking: The Role of the OMB in the Presidency (Brookings Institution Press, 2020), since he discusses OMB as an insider and a leader of the agency, as well as from the position as a cabinet secretary who also needed to work with OMB and as President Obama’s chief of staff, a position that requires a similar kind of broad understanding of the functioning and structure of the entire Executive branch. The rest of the chapters in Executive Policymaking follow Lew’s lead, with analysis from academics who study and research the presidency and the Executive branch and bureaucracy along with co-authored chapters that bring in the perspectives from other current and former OMB employees.
The Office of Management and Budget has evolved from the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) that was put into place in 1921, a century ago. Over time, the BOB was moved to the Department of Treasury, but OMB was given more the responsibilities that provide it with the capacity to essentially manage the workings of the Executive branch, which is no small undertaking. The president’s budget is the way that the Executive branch can broadly manage the priorities of the bureaucracy, and OMB is the centralizing actor in the way that this essentially operates. Bose and Rudalevige, both experts on the presidency and the bureaucracy, have brought together authors who examine OMB from important and distinct perspectives. The first section of Executive Policymaking explains the role that OMB plays in the federal budget process. This section also includes a chapter that specifically looks at the president’s budget powers during the Trump Era, since abuse of these powers also led to the first of President Donald Trump’s two impeachments. The next part of the book explores Executive Orders, Central Clearance, and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), all of which are key components of the role that OMB plays in regard to the Executive branch agencies and departments. The final section of the book shifts the focus a bit from the budget to management, looking at the role that OMB plays in terms of managing the entirety of the Executive branch and also managing itself. The authors in this section also include OMB employees, who speak to their own experiences working inside this complex and important agency and the role and position that OMB holds in relation to the president, the presidency, and the Executive branch. This is a fascinating and useful examination of the many dimensions of the Office of Management and Budget, placing the agency in historical, political, and institutional context.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @gorenlj.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.