GAO wants better data, more workforce planning for government reorg

The administration's proposed changes have the potential to save money long-term, but Congress' investigative arm wants to make sure the plan takes previous reorg attempts into account.

reorganization (Paul Hakimata Photograph/Shutterstock.com)

President Donald Trump's proposed reorganization of executive branch agencies has the potential to save money long-term, but Congress' investigative arm wants to make sure the plan takes into account what caused past reorg efforts to fall short.  

In a report made public July 13, the Government Accountability Office lays out four main categories for its questions: goals and outcomes, processes for developing reforms, actual implementation and management of the federal workforce.

On goals and outcomes, GAO auditors want to make sure agency missions will be better carried out as a result of a structural change that moves a function to another level of government or to the private sector. They also want agencies to consider the effects of these changes on other agencies, as well as on state and local governments, particularly from a budgetary perspective.

And, as reorganizations tend to be expensive in the short-term, GAO wants to make sure agencies have calculated likely costs and benefits, as well as plans for how those upfront costs would be funded.

While reorganization has been pushed by past administrations, there isn’t much data about what sorts of structural changes actually would improve government efficiency and efficacy. GAO wants to make sure agencies are “continuously” working with employees, Congress, members of the public and other stakeholders throughout the reform process.

“Involving employees, customers, and other stakeholders helps facilitate the development of reform goals and objectives, as well as incorporating insights from a frontline perspective and increases customer acceptance of any changes,” the report states.

Additionally, GAO asks what data and evidence agencies are using to develop their proposals and business cases for reform.

When it comes to implementation, the auditors note close management possibly over “several years” is necessary for successful reform. Among the questions GAO asks on this topic are whether agencies have designated a specific official to lead the proposed reforms, whether agency leadership has articulated a concise and compelling reason for reform and whether agencies have the capacity and resources to manage the process.

GAO notes that an agency's culture “can either help or inhibit reform efforts and how change management strategies may address these potential issues.”

Auditors also point out agencies must continue their regular work during reform implementation, and they want to make sure that agencies have the necessary data to measure reforms and the tools needed to measure progress.  They also encourage agencies to track customer satisfaction from the resulting changes and to be transparent throughout the process.

In tandem with the reorganization executive order, the Office of Management and Budget provided agencies guidance for developing reform and workforce reduction plans.

GAO wants to make sure, before workforce reduction takes place, agencies have plans in place that consider skills gaps, diversity, employee engagement and the future workforce.

These include “long-term staffing plans and associated personnel costs, organizational design and position structures and the appropriateness of backfilling positions as they become vacant,” the report notes.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee plans to hold a hearing on the reorganization proposal July 18.

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