Congress weighs reorg authority

Volcker Commission Report

The president could gain power to enact a sweeping reorganization of the federal government if Congress approves an initiative from former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Volcker last week renewed his call for granting the authority in testimony before the House Civil Service and Agency Organization Subcommittee. He argued that consolidating and rearranging executive agencies is a necessary step toward eliminating wasteful spending and redundancies and improving federal workforce efficiency.

To accomplish the reorganization, he said, Congress should restore a power that has not rested in the Oval Office since 1984.

Volcker is serving as chair of the National Commission on the Public Service, created by the Brookings Institution Center for Public Service.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chair of the House Government Reform Committee, had strongly supported the proposal in hearings earlier this year but has not introduced legislation.

Volcker's recommendations also got support from Comptroller General David Walker.

Clay Johnson III, deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, generally supported the proposal, although he noted that agencies are making strides even in the absence of the reorganization authority.

Although the President's Management Agenda calls for initiatives to make government more efficient, Volcker said granting reorganization to authority to the White House would serve as a necessary spur to make a real difference.

Volcker also recommended that Congress structure the legislation so that a subsequent White House plan would have to be approved or rejected as it was submitted, with no amendments and within 45 days of its submission. The recommendation sparked fears among subcommittee members of granting the administration a blank check.

"What is it you are after that requires such haste that you don't want the normal give and take?" asked Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the Washington, D.C., delegate to the House. The president could submit an omnibus proposal that contains too many good ideas to reject, while also carrying some more controversial provisions. If Congress has no opportunity to make changes, she said, "that's a really in-your-face approach."

Allowing protracted debate could prevent action, Volcker said. "Because there are so many controversial areas, it's hard to get Congress to act unless it's an up or down vote," he said.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) also urged caution. "What is emerging from these hearings on government reform is that the devil is indeed in the details," he said.

Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) noted that 12 agencies are responsible for administering 35 food safety laws. "Something is wrong with the way the federal government is organized when the Department of Agriculture is charged with inspecting pepperoni pizzas and the Food and Drug Administration is charged with inspecting cheese pizzas."

Before the government can expect to attract the best employees, it must become an efficient organization, she said. It "begins not with any small changes to personnel practices but with a complete reorganization of the government into a limited number of mission-based departments," Jo Ann Davis said.

Johnson noted that the Bush administration is not currently studying any reorganization plan, and that such action would not be practical unless Congress passes reorganization authority legislation.

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Volcker's guiding light

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker last week renewed his call for giving the president power to enact a sweeping reorganization of the federal government. Volcker, who is now serving as the chairman of the National Commission on the Public Service, created by the Brookings Institution Center for Public Service, argued for streamlining executive agencies.

He laid out four principles that should guide any reorganization:

* Programs designed to achieve similar outcomes should be assigned to a single agency, unless there is a compelling case that they compete.

* Agencies with similar or related missions should be combined.

* The newly combined agencies should be organized to have as few layers as possible between top management and the operating units.

* Agencies should have flexibility to design an organizational structure that fits their missions.

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