Management

USDA looks to cut CIOs as part of reorg

man planning layoffs 

The Department of Agriculture is looking to cut down on the number of agency CIOs in the name of efficiency and better communication across mission areas.

As part of agency reorganization plans mandated by a March executive order, agencies have been under the gun to reduce redundancies both in mission function and in headcount.

In April, the Office of Management and Budget lifted the federal civilian hiring freeze initiated by President Donald Trump, but directed agencies to provide near-term workforce reduction progress reports as they prepared their reorganization plans.

USDA's reorganization strategy, coming in the face of a proposed 21 percent cut in discretionary spending for fiscal year 2018, includes plans to consolidate various offices, lean on the private sector and reduce the number of CIOs.

In an email to all USDA employees Secretary Sonny Perdue named human resources, IT, finance, procurement and property management as departmental areas of "redundant administrative support functions."

Currently, for its 29 components and eight mission areas, USDA employs 22 CIOs, a number Perdue said leads to "inefficiencies in the mission support activities."

"Having such a large number of CIOs creates redundancies throughout the department when it comes to leadership on IT activities and services, and results in unnecessary layering of leadership and direction," said Perdue. "Therefore, mission support activities will be merged at the mission area level across USDA."

USDA currently lacks a permanent agencywide CIO. The most recent occupant of that post, Jonathan Alboum, was recently reassigned to serve as the department's senior procurement officer. Gary Washington, CIO of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is currently department CIO on an acting basis.

USDA also is moving or combining several components, but Perdue said the department planned to handle "any staffing changes through attrition or reassignment" -- a position in line with the White House's stance for shrinking the federal government.

At a June Senate hearing, Don Bice, associate director of USDA's Office of Budget and Program Analysis, testified that despite the drastic proposed cut, department leadership would "not make the discussions on reform about cutting offices or people."

Instead, Bice said leadership's priority was providing better customer service and looking at improving communication between agencies and systems.

In a video accompanying the email, Perdue stressed the importance of the reorganization plan to achieving modernization goals.

"When we find areas where we can modernize, innovate and improve, well, that's what we're gonna do," he said.

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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