Congress Gives Trump’s Proposed Reorganization Mixed Reviews

 

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. July 20, 2018
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Congress Gives Trump’s Proposed Reorganization Mixed Reviews

​Senators sparred over President Donald Trump's proposal to reorganize the executive branch, including combining the Department of Labor (DOL) with the Department of Education (DOE), at a July 18 hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Republicans welcomed the proposal, while many Democrats faulted it for being short on details.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., applauded the Trump administration for initiating the effort to eliminate duplication in the federal government. He said he has had numerous conversations with Montanans who think the federal government is broken. Bureaucracy keeps the status quo rather than changes things to better serve citizens, he said.

Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., also supported the effort to make the government "more efficient, effective and accountable." Johnson and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., have introduced the Reforming Government Act of 2018, S. 3137, which would provide the Trump administration with authority to make structural changes at agencies.

Some senators on the other side of the aisle also saw an opportunity for reform. With the federal budget deficit ballooning once again, Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., said that it can't be business as usual in the federal government, particularly when the government is responsible for paying the health care benefits of a growing number of retirees.

Merger up for Discussion

However, Sen. Margaret Hassan, D-N.H., criticized the proposed reorganization's recommendation to combine the DOL and the DOE. She described the mission of the DOL's Occupational Safety and Health Administration as "vastly different" from the DOE's Office for Civil Rights. She asked Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who will champion programs for students and workers if those programs are combined.

Weichert, who has overseen reorganization efforts, testified that this was an area ripe for discussion with Congress. She noted that the consolidation was intended to make it easier for workers and students to access governmental programs.

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"Job seekers have to navigate more than 40 workforce development programs across 15 agencies, while small businesses face overlapping and bureaucratic certification processes and complicated paperwork challenges every time they try to work with the many different parts of government with jurisdiction or focus on small business," she said.

A merger of the DOL and the DOE "may not be the silver bullet, but it is an intriguing idea that opens a larger and acutely needed conversation," Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of SHRM, noted on the SHRM Blog. "We can do more to create effective, robust systems that enable educators to prepare students for the jobs of the future and our nation's industries to access the talent they need to grow, compete and thrive in the global marketplace.

"Whatever shape it takes, linking education and employment is smart U.S. policy. SHRM looks forward to participating in the discussion."

Origins of Proposed Reorganization

In March 2017, Trump issued Executive Order 13781, directing the OMB to reorganize the federal government. The reorganization plan was intended to reduce inefficiency and duplication.

"It's not uncommon to see a large company change and realign its business model to respond to evolving technologies and customer needs," Weichert stated in written testimony. "Even though its mission and priorities are different, the federal government should be similarly responsive to changing customer expectations and technology-enabled opportunities to enhance mission delivery."

Over the past year, the OMB reviewed reorganization proposals from federal agencies and solicited ideas through the White House website, which received suggestions from the public, academics, interest groups and federal employees. Based on this input, the OMB developed reorganization recommendations in the report it issued last month, Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.

Congressional Role in Reorganization

Weichert noted that federal agencies will make some changes without congressional approval, while other recommended reorganizations, such as the consolidation of the DOL and the DOE, would require presidential or congressional action.

Committee Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., criticized Weichert for not sharing cost-benefit analysis about the proposed reorganization with Congress, accusing the OMB of stonewalling when McCaskill has sought this information.

When McCaskill pressed Weichert to outline which executive branch reorganizations could go forward without congressional approval, Weichert mentioned the transfer of background investigations of Department of Defense (DOD) employees from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to the DOD. She also noted that efforts to solve the federal cybersecurity workforce shortage also might progress without congressional approval.

However, McCaskill requested a list of programs OPM believed could be reorganized without congressional action, and Weichert wouldn't promise to provide such a list, noting that it hadn't been finalized.

Incremental Change Not Enough

Weichert remarked that she wanted to shock the system, saying incremental change isn't enough. Just starting a conversation about reorganization can bring about change, she observed.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., asked if federal workers would be laid off. Weichert said some might be displaced, but the goal was for none to be removed. Weichert also mentioned that the federal government has committed $1 billion to the retraining and recruitment of its workforce and that 60 percent of the federal workforce is expected to retire in the next 10 years.

So much transition "almost begs for reorganization," Johnson stated.

Early Stages of Discussions

Weichert emphasized that discussions about the proposed reorganization are at an early stage, a point Johnson repeatedly underscored.

McCaskill, who voiced strong opposition to privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, questioned why a hearing was held if the process was at such an early stage and defended her call for more data. She cautioned that if OMB doesn't provide more details to Congress, discussions could come to a stalemate. 

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