DorobekInsider: USDA gets push back on massive management reorg, GovExec reports; USDA remains silent

We have been telling you about a number of management reorganizations going on at a number of federal agencies — the Department of Health and Human Servic...

We have been telling you about a number of management reorganizations going on at a number of federal agencies — the Department of Health and Human Services… the Department of Veterans Affairs has named W. Todd Grams to be VA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management… and just yesterday, Federal News Radio’s Max Cacas was on the Daily Debrief with an update from OPM Director John Berry on that organization’s management shuffle, which I assume is tied to a yet-to-be-named OPM CIO, who will apparently get more authority at the Office of Personnel Management. (I’m not hearing a name yet. You?)

But the one that has created the most consternation is the massive reorganization at the Agriculture Department that essentially create a uber-USDA “Departmental Administration” — including operations such as procurement, IT, human resources and finance. You can read the documents and the new organization chart here… and read the USDA statement on the management reorg here.

I’ve been pushing USDA to talk about it — to no avail. But I have been getting all sorts of e-mail about it — and it was the subject of much discussion at ACT/IAC’s Executive Leadership Conference recently — even for the short time I was there. The big concern: Unlike the other reorganizations that are going on, the USDA plan seems to be a significant downgrade for both the CIO and the CFO — without any real explanation. And there had already been concern when the Obama administration decided to downgrade the USDA CIO from a political to a career post — again, without explanation.

And Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky has a good get — apparently the USDA CFO, Evan Segal, has “left his position, at least temporarily,” GovExec reports. Segal had been nominated in July.

From the GovExec story:

…Shortly after the [reorg] announcement, Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed, who will run the new office, told Government Executive the plan has the support of the workforce and “the vast majority of employees feels that this was the right thing to do.”

But some employees oppose the effort. In November, Evan Segal, who became chief financial officer in July, objected to the management structure during a meeting with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, according to sources whose offices are affected by the reorganization. Those sources spoke on condition they not be identified…

Segal has left his position, at least temporarily. “Mr. Segal has requested a leave of absence and he may choose to leave USDA to pursue other opportunities, but we have granted him time away to decide what he wants to do,” a USDA spokesperson told Government Executive. Segal did not respond to requests for comment, and an automated reply to his USDA e-mail account said he is “out of the office and will not have regular access to this account.”

Employees in the offices of Operations, Civil Rights and Human Capital Management — now renamed the Office of Human Resource Management — also have spoken out against the changes.

“Things are absolutely chaotic,” said one veteran USDA staffer whose office is affected by the restructuring. “I lived through previous reorganizations, and they are usually clear-cut. But there is no plan in place here. It seems to change day by day.” Another employee, who has been with the agency for several decades, said people are “unbelievably rattled, upset and disoriented.”

Read the full GovExec story here.

USDA has done an awful job of handling this entire process — and it is failing because of that. Their press organization, frankly, ought to be embarrassed.

They argue that they have been transparent — and, to be fair, USDA has created a portal with information about the management reorganization. But it is not available publicly — and despite numerous attempts to offer up a platform for officials to talk about what they are doing and why, they simply refuse. And the hole just keeps getting deeper.

Inherently, this seems to violate the upcoming, soon-to-be-released Obama administration openness and transparency initiative, which suggests that information should be released publicly unless there is a legitimate reason. What possible reason is there to not discuss these moves in a open and public way?

The USDA CIO and CFO organizations have been widely seen as in disarray for years now — and they are widely seen as the place nobody wants to work. And none of this is helping.

I continue to hope that USDA officials will try a different strategy and talk about what they are trying to do openly… tap into the remarkable wisdom of USDA — and of this community.

Federal News Radio continues to offer an open platform for USDA officials to talk about their strategy. As we always do, we will bend intopretzel shapes to be fair — but at this point, there are real questions out there that need to be answered.

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