Oversight

Lawmakers question goals of reorganization plan

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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about various aspects of the White House's plan to structurally reorganize the federal government, questioning the goals and motives of the proposal.

At a June 27 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, the Office of Management and Budget's Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert testified that "the vision for all of these things is to, at a minimum, improve mission and service and not cost any more.

"The goal, in a perfect world, would also save money," she said.

Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) questioned the motives of the plan, pointing out it lacks a cost-benefit analysis, a budgetary impact assessment, information about how it will affect federal worker, as well as a list of actions that require congressional authorization.

"These are all basic prerequisites for a serious plan, and they are completely missing from this one," he said.

One of the proposals that drew criticism from federal unions and employee groups was transferring the Office of Personnel Management policy functions into the Executive Office of the President, OMB's parent agency.

In a letter to the committee, National President of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association Richard Thissen raised concerns this would politicize the civil service and would divert attention from OPM's core functions and the Trump administration's cuts to pay and retirement benefits.

In response to concerns about the move, Weichert pointed to the Office of the Federal CIO and the Office of Federal Financial Management as examples of priorities OMB already handles.

Their placement in the White House is "precisely so they that could get the attention that Congress, over time, has felt it has needed," she said. "The lack of an office of equivalent heft in the EOP for people is actually, in some ways, is conspicuous by its absence."

Weichert said the intent of the plan wasn't to reduce federal employees, but added, "it may be a byproduct in certain areas."

"What we do not actually have is a problem of too many federal employees," she testified. "What we do have is a skills alignment challenge and opportunity."

To that end, Weichert emphasized the importance of retraining current employees in high-demand areas.

"Organization can be a tool that actually gets resources together [and] aligns priorities," she said.

Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) took issue with the proposal to spin off air traffic control services, calling it "inconsistent" with goals of streamlining bureaucracy and improving efficiency.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) also questioned why, if cost savings was a goal, the proposal didn't include any structural changes to by far the government's largest agency: the Department of Defense.

In response, Weichert said, "we looked at the areas where mission, service and stewardship were having the most challenges in moving forward," adding, "we did look at GAO studies in that realm."

"In order to focus this activity, we wanted to look at those things where we had enough information, we had the ability," she said.

On the Senate side, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Ohio) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced a bill that would expand the executive branch's authority to structurally change government agencies.

"There are a wide range of issues to address with how the federal agencies are currently organized," said Lankford. "We should provide the administration the capability to utilize these common-sense ideas to make agencies more efficient for the American people and the federal employees."

Per the bill, to carry out reorganizations, OMB would have the authority to certify whether they will result in a decrease in the number of number of agencies or cost savings.

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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