What to look for in agency reorg plans

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From the campaign stump to the early days of the presidency, Donald Trump has promised to reorganize the federal government, decrease the workforce and devolve some federal responsibilities to state and local governments or the private sector.

In March, the White House directed agency heads to submit reform plans by the end of the fiscal year. While the plans have not been made public, there are some clues for what to expect.

Acting Federal CIO Margie Graves said that cloud adoption and expansion of shared services for administrative IT functions will be featured in the reorganization plans. The Office of Management and Budget's role, she added, is to coordinate and accelerate the reform, which will include keeping an eye towards "commercial capabilities."

Graves said that since drafts were submitted back in June, OMB has been communicating with agencies to further develop the plans, adding that "there are some" major changes between the June and September submissions.

At a Sept. 26 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, State Department Deputy Secretary John Sullivan testified the reorganization for his department, which is facing a proposed 32 percent budget cut, is an "employee-led" effort.

Sullivan said the agency had a five-point plan to streamline policy creation, create more accountability around foreign assistance spending, reduce duplication in management and administrative functions, optimize human resources and modernize IT.

While Sullivan allowed that some aspects of this effort might require investment, such as IT modernization, he expected that State could carry out the redesign and deliver on its mission with the budget proposed by the Trump administration.

Overall, agency officials have insisted they're steering clear of reductions in force, instead relying on attrition, early retirement, separation incentives and workforce consolidation to fulfill the OMB workforce reduction goals.

President and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration Terry Gerton said to be successful, the reform effort needed a strategic connection between workforce plans and reform plans as well as efforts to improve interagency efficiency.  Attrition and buyouts can shrink the workforce in terms of sheer size, but simply relying on them to cut costs doesn't constitute a strategic reform plan, she said.

Robert Shea, a principal of Grant Thornton's public sector practice, noted that buyouts are expensive in the short term, in part because buying out employees entails upfront cost.

There's also the question of political will to enact reorganization plans. Many politically appointed positions tech and management positions that could be integral to reorganization efforts remain unfilled, including several CIOs at cabinet-level agencies.

"How much reorg can you drive with an acting?" asked one senior executive. "Probably not a lot because the acting person is kind of concerned, they don't want to take risk."

The senior executive suggested that the administration could be "waiting till they have the plans for the reorganization to then put the appropriate people in place."

Former OMB Controller Dave Mader added that constant communication with all the  stakeholders is critical, and getting buy-in for plans "may take years."

In an email to FCW, Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees across 31 agencies, said, "In the vast majority of cases, input from front-line federal workers into those plans has been minimal."

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, lamented he has "had no communication whatsoever with this administration on this subject."

He added, by proposing over $50 billion in cuts across civilian agencies, then planning a reorganization, "it seems that the outcome is predetermined."

"I don't know of any company that would approach reorganization that way, not if it boasts about a bottom-up process," he said.

OMB did not respond to inquiries about when it would publicly release the reform plans.

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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