Workforce

Senators: Reorg plans must balance workforce cuts against mission success

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Agencies expect to hit the first deadline set by the White House's plan to restructure government and reduce the size of the workforce, but lawmakers want to make sure their efforts don't come at the expense of effective operations.

At a June 15 Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee hearing, Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) said the "complicated bureaucracy has hamstrung agencies" and has been compounded by agencies' "creating new component agencies and offices in an attempt to better serve their constituencies."

Ranking Member Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) added her support for more efficient government and reducing red tape, but raised concerned about the unfilled vacancies, as well as the impact that the White House's proposed cuts could have on agencies' missions and recruitment efforts.

"I am paying the utmost attention to how agencies are implementing the guidance… and stand ready and willing to question any cuts that come at the expense of the talent, morale and mission of our federal workforce," she said. "If you devalue the workforce, they'll vote with their feet" and take jobs elsewhere or retire when eligible.

The guidance, issued by the Office of Management and Budget April 12, ended the 90-day hiring freeze issued in the first days of Trump's presidency, and directed agencies to submit plans for maximizing employee performance, drafts of agency reorganization plans as well as near-term workforce reduction progress reports.

Witnesses representing the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security and Agriculture testified that their departments expected to hit the deadline.

Commerce Chief Financial Officer Ellen Herbst said that since issuing the guidance, OMB "has been incredibly important in this effort" and has worked directly with individual agencies rather than forcing some "across-the-board edict."

She said that Commerce's human resources council "has created a separate working group" to identify how to carry out the order, and that the department is making sure the Census Bureau has adequate funding and staffing for fiscal year 2018 to conduct an accurate decennial count. Herbst called that "the number one priority" of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's for the Census.

Lee Lofthus, assistant attorney general for Justice's Administration Justice Management Division, said his agency is taking the opportunity to reevaluate its e-mail systems, human resources functions, and procurement practices.

"We have ways of doing business that no one would do business… if they started the place new today," he said. "When you have things like people running their own IT shops, when they're a very small organization, I would much rather they would procure those services… from an outfit that's really expert at those things."

Don Bice, associate director of the Department of Agriculture's Office of Budget and Program Analysis, said that even in the face of a 21 percent proposed cut to his agency's funding, leadership would "not make the discussions on reform about cutting offices or people."

"We're focusing on how do we serve the customer better, not necessarily how we reduce the workforce," Bice said. USDA, he noted, was looking at improvements to interagency offices and systems that "don't communicate as well as they should."

The OMB guidance also set up a portal site to receive feedback on how to improve government services from federal employees and the broader public, and has received over 110,000 comments so far.

To aid the public comment process, Lankford and Heitkamp have introduced the Federal Agency Customer Experience Act to roll back an interagency review requirement before soliciting feedback.

OMB, however, will now have a key vacancy of its own to deal with. Linda Springer, a budget and workforce specialist who served in President George W. Bush's administration and has been advising President Donald Trump on his management agenda, is retiring, Government Executive reported.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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