Why Obama should reorganize federal agencies

This column was originally published on Jeff Neal’s blog, ChiefHRO.com, and was republished here with permission from the author. More than three years ago, the Obama administration proposed that Congress grant the president authority to reorganize government agencies. The administration intended the authority to be used for “rethinking, reforming and remaking our government so that it can meet the challenges of our time.” The plan would begin by consolidating six trade-related agencies—the Commerce Department’s  core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade and Development Agency—into a single department focused on helping American business succeed. The proposal went nowhere. The President revived the proposal in his 2016 budget plan. The idea of restructuring the government is not partisan. It is simply good management. The federal government, like any large bureaucracy, has developed over many decades. Agencies have lost aspects of their missions and gained others. Like any good bureaucracy, agencies tend to focus a lot on self-preservation. When anyone proposes cutting their budget or diminishing their scope in any way, they respond by justifying their existence as though the world would end if they did not exist exactly as they do now. So what we end up with is a collection of departments and agencies that are not quite what they were intended to be and that have evolved over time to be things that, perhaps, were never intended. The trade proposal was a great example of the overlap that exists in agencies today. Overlapping and conflicting missions generate more bureaucracy and more cost, but rarely result in anything that is better for the taxpayers. If we are going to continue reducing the deficit, we have to find ways to cut costs that do not require cutting services. Even though most Americans agree that we should cut federal spending, there is no agreement on what to cut. In fact, the majority of Americans polled on the subject did not want to cut any major programs other than foreign aid. When we get down from the macro whole-of-government level to the agency level, there is still little agreement. For example, when we talk about saving money on defense spending, it appears the majority of people do not want to close bases or cut weapons systems. That does not leave much room to find the billions of dollars that need to be saved. The same thing happens across government. If we really want to cut spending, we need to substantially rethink how government is organized. Every department has bureaus, agencies, administrations or components that each have their own management and support structures that generate overhead costs. The more organizations we have, the higher the cost. Giving this or the next president the authority to restructure and combine programs and agencies has the potential to generate better results for taxpayers, lower costs, generate a wealth of new ideas and give us a government that works better for fewer dollars. It is not a Republican idea, a Democratic idea or any other party’s idea. It just makes sense.

Jeff Neal is a senior vice president for ICF International and founder of the blog, ChiefHRO.com. Before coming to ICF, Neal was the chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security and the chief human resources officer at the Defense Logistics Agency. MORE COMMENTARY FROM JEFF NEAL: New federal leave policies a good start, but more should be done You didn’t get the job … Now what? Death by a thousand cuts or improving the civil service