Do agencies need more flexibility for reorgs?

Shared services and workforce reductions are expected to feature prominently in the White House’s plan to reorganize the federal government, but some changes could benefit from additional outside authorities.

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Expansion of shared services and reductions in workforce are expected to feature prominently in the White House's plan to reorganize the federal government, but agencies may need some legislative help to fully implement their proposals.

John Duncan, a member of the Shared Services Leadership Coalition, said at the Oct. 3 Shared Services Summit hosted by the Association for Government Accountants that while moving to shared services can be done under current authorities, "it's in the executive branch's best interest to have some kind of underlying legislation" to strengthen the effort. He pointed to the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act's role in strengthening the CIO role as an example.

Karen Pica, the Office of Management and Budget's principal deputy assistant security for policy, management and budget, said the Trump administration's take on shared services is largely consistent with the previous administration's in terms of IT modernization and streamlining government processes. But she said there now may be an even greater focus on adopting proven private-sector solutions.

"What we're seeing this time is 'here are some particulars,'" she said. "There is a significant push to say, 'do we do this like someone else does this, or is this unique to us?'"

When it comes to the workforce, the current administration differs sharply from its predecessor, with widespread cuts proposed for civilian agencies. Yet realizing those staff reductions could also require process changes.

Scott Cameron, the Interior Department's principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, said he "can't help but wonder if they're going to need a significant number of early outs or buyouts used governmentwide as part of reshaping the workforce."

If so, Cameron suggested that delegating the Office of Personnel Management's authority to review buyouts on a person-by-person basis to the agency level would be "remarkably more efficient."

"We can be more responsive to the needs of employees, more responsive to the president's direction in terms of reshaping the workforce, and save ourselves a lot money and aggravation" by decentralizing the OPM authority, he said.

Meanwhile, legislation aimed at making buyout incentives more enticing for potential recipients is scheduled for Oct. 4 markup by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

To facilitate agencies' trimming their workforce sizes, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced Sept. 28 the Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment Adjustment Act to raise civilian buyout offers from $25,000 — a value set in the 1990s — to $40,000, matching the figure for Defense employees. The bill also stipulates the figure could adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index.

And while the exact means of executing reorg plans may remain a bit fuzzy, agencies are at least getting unified guidance as OMB links its efforts to improve federal efficiency with those of the Jared Kushner-led Office of American Innovation.

Matt Lira, a senior White House adviser on tech issues and member of OAI, said at the Oct. 3 event that the two offices are working "on the broader White House reorganization hand-in-glove." He also pointed to partnering with the private sector as an area of "tremendous potential," particularly in terms of large-scale systems modernization and for training the federal workforce.

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