Standing Above the Rest

Jonathan Breul retires today from his role as executive director of the IBM Center. He has had a long and storied career in public service over the past four decades, where he has left a lasting mark.

I’ve worked with Jonathan directly or indirectly over the past 30 years. His retirement is a good inflection point from which to look back at what he has contributed during the course of his career of public service as well as his role as executive director of the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

As a career public servant, he largely worked behind the scenes to make things happen, but when examined in retrospect, he left a positive mark in making government more performance and results oriented. He has been an international leader in the performance movement as well as in the field of government reform more generally.

  • Drafted the streamlined regulations implementing the Reagan block grant programs in the early 1980s.
  • Helped pioneer the first set of joint regulations for grants management.
  • Developed the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act.
  • Led OMB SWAT Teams, going into agencies to fix systemic management problems.
  • Led the governmentwide Management By Objectives initiative in the late 1980s.
  • Was detailed to work on a Senate committee to help draft the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.
  • Was instrumental in the development of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, and provided valued advice to the drafters of the 2010 update to that law.
  • Served as the U.S. representative to OECD’s directorate for public governance’s network of budget officers.
  • Helped craft the President’s Management Scorecard and the OMB Program Assessment Review Tool in 2001.

He also had a major hand in redesigning the institutions surrounding the management of government support functions. For example, as part of his work on the CFO Act, he created a new job in OMB – the deputy director for management – to whom he then reported when he returned to OMB from his Hill assignment. He served as the senior advisor to whomever held that job and was responsible for the “in briefing book” that prepared that person for their job, once confirmed by the Senate.

He was also responsible for the formal creation in law of a series of other management institutions – cross-agency councils such as the CFO Council and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council. He had a hand in standing up other similar councils, such as the President’s Management Council.

He was responsible for increasing the President’s salary from $200,000 to $400,000. He happened to mention to a member of Congress that the president’s pay had not been raised in more than 20 years, and the congressman was shocked to learn how little the president was being paid. The first beneficiary of the pay increase? George W. Bush.

After an illustrious government career, he then came to IBM for a second career as executive director of the IBM Center for The Business of Government. There, he launched a more international profile, with reports on European management issues.

He also led the Center’s move to the greater use of technology, especially social media, in the distribution of the Center’s thought leadership materials.

Before the last presidential election in 2008, he launched a major initiative to assist whomever would win the election by preparing a practical guide for incoming political appointees on how to be effective managers in a federal context. Thousands of copies of the guide and “operator’s manual” were shared with new federal executives, and many were grateful for the insights.

The IBM Center’s 2010 report on cutting costs in mission support functions presaged the pending austerity drive in government and has helped the Obama Administration target some of its cost cutting efforts.

I’ll miss him, but his legacy will continue. He also says he’ll not be going far – he’ll still teach at Georgetown, be actively involved as the convener of the Government Performance Coalition, and continue to chair research panels at the National Academy of Public Administration.

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