Proposal could make way for smaller federal government
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) plans to introduce legislation next month that would give the Bush administration expedited authority to recommend changes to how agencies are organized governmentwide.
At a hearing on whether the White House should have fast-track authority, lawmakers and government experts agreed that Congress should let the executive branch eliminate redundancies, shrink offices and decide what operations agencies should conduct.
The impetus for granting the reorganization authority follows the difficult and long process of folding 22 agencies into the new Homeland Security Department (DHS).
"In the wake of the long and arduous debate on the creation of [DHS], one thing is clear: Given our current organizational structure in Congress, it is exceedingly difficult for Congress to undertake even the simplest reorganization of the executive branch," said Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which held an April 3 hearing on the issue.
Davis wants to fast-track legislation that would give the president reorganization authority similar to authority that was granted under a law that lapsed in 1984. It allowed the president to send a reorganization plan on a proposed restructuring to Congress for an up or down vote within a certain number of days.
The American Federation of Government Employees opposes the reauthorization proposal, said Mark Roth, the union's general counsel. In testimony, he called it a measure that would expand the "executive branch's downsizing authority."
But Davis, whose Northern Virginia district includes many federal workers, said "it is going to be our goal that there are adequate protections for federal workers."
The bill will include language that will address worker concerns, said Davis spokesman David Marin. "There is concern that worker protection might be eroded or that this is somehow a backdoor approach to downsizing the federal workforce," Marin said. The language will show that those fears are not warranted, he said.
However, Davis and others acknowledge that something must change soon. "It was a fiasco with Homeland Security last year," he said. And it could be a fiasco with other departments, said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
DeLay noted that 45 offices were awarded separate contracts for the same computer database programs at the Energy Department. And the Department of Health and Human Services manages seven agencies that all fund programs to prevent child abuse.
The government has lagged behind the technology revolution, "clinging to an organizational model developed between the 1930s and the 1970s," DeLay said.
However, David Walker, comptroller general at the General Accounting Office, warned in his testimony that Congress must have a say in any reorganization plan. "Only Congress can decide whether it wishes to limit its power and role in government reorganizations," he said. "Congress must agree with any restructuring proposals submitted for consideration by the president in order to make them a reality."
A January report from the National Commission on the Public Service also recommended that the fast-track authority be reauthorized. And officials at an April 2 Secure E-Business Summit in Crystal City, Va., agreed that a government reorganization may be the most necessary step to bringing better service to citizens, through e-government or any other means.
The President's Management Agenda has been the Bush administration's main mechanism for pushing agencies into new ways of working with the public and revamping old processes, but it is likely not enough, said Norm Lorentz, the Office of Management and Budget's chief technology officer. "There is no aspect of the federal government that doesn't need to change" to provide better service, he said.
Greater attention to the federal governance structure is needed, agreed David McClure, vice president of e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government. The reorganization authority's reintroduction "will not be an easy discussion or a very easy one to conclude, but I think it needs to be discussed," he said.
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