Issa: Obama’s reform plan mere 'platitudes'

President Barack Obama and his administration’s attempts to reduce the size and cost of government neither achieve actual cost savings nor address its bureaucratic obesity crisis, according to a Republican lawmaker.

“Instead of proposing serious reforms, the president offers platitudes,” said Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in his opening statement for a Feb. 15 hearing at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which he chairs. The hearing was titled "Why Reshuffling Government Agencies Won't Solve the Federal Government's Obesity Problem."

The hearing focused on the various proposals to assess and reorganize the size of the federal government in tough fiscal times. Max Stier, CEO and president at the Partnership for Public Service, said in his testimony the committee didn’t need look further than the 1990s to find examples of when saving money was a key government management objective.


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Citing a report called “Making Smart Cuts: Lessons from the 1990s Budget Front,” which the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton published in September 2011, Stier said that well-planned budget cuts can give the government a chance to improve itself, but “a rush for savings, without focus on planning and implementation, can lead to a government that is less capable and less responsive to the American people.”

Stier also warned against sweeping budget cuts, without consideration of each agency’s individual needs, and instead urged Congress to take a more flexible approach that would allow agencies to determine how they best can meet cost-reduction targets.

“Studies and experience show conclusively that better results are achieved when leaders cut strategically, rather than slicing a little from everywhere,” he said. “Across-the-board cuts tend to penalize the most efficient agencies and can throw the composition of an agency’s workforce out of balance.’

Dr. Paul Light, a Paulette Goddard professor of public service at New York University's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, zeroed in on the government’s performance issues in his testimony. In order for the government to execute at its highest level, he said, reform is needed to solve three challenges: accountability, effectiveness and productivity.

“Poor leadership, scarce or misaligned resources, and underperforming staff within the federal government have led to a federal workforce that is inconsistent at best,” Light said, referring to the productivity challenge. “Yet a highly productive federal workforce is critical to high performance.”

To carry out everyday tasks and meet citizens’ demands, the government depends on its leaders and a skilled workforce. “However, the greatest barriers to a productive and energetic workforce are a lack of performance incentives and disciplinary actions, unqualified leadership and insufficient training,” he said.

Light also took issue with the leadership at the federal level, which he described as “inconsistent at best, negligent at worst.” Agency leaders often pay more attention to policy instead of management, he said, and oftentimes they serve merely a political purpose.

“Only 44 percent of federal employees believe that the leaders of their organizations generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce,” he said. “Similarly, 45 percent said that they were satisfied with the policies and practices of their senior leaders. This leadership crisis is especially critical now as a large portion of the workforce faces retirement.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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