Government reorganization is ‘almost an echo of the Grace Commission’

The Office of Personnel Management just told agencies how to start preparing for reorganization, so the next step is to start asking what that reorganization should look like. David Berteau, president of the Professional Services Council, said this will be reminiscent of another reorganization from the Reagan era, the Grace Commission.

“It’s always time to look at whether or not the organization needs to be realigned in order to accomplish and get in sync with the priorities of the administration, and the best time to do that is at the front end,” he told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

This is what President Ronald Reagan did in 1982, a little more than one year into his administration. The Grace Commission brought in hundreds of outsiders to examine every function of government, generating 29 volumes of reports.

This reorganization, Berteau said, is expected to have a similar scale, with a similar reliance on outside experts.

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The focus of the reorganization is also reminiscent of the Grace Commission.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said March 13 at the daily briefing that the order will ask agencies to identify where money is being wasted, how services can be improved and whether or not the services are benefiting the nation.

“This is the beginning of a long-overdue reorganization of the federal government and another significant step toward the president’s often-stated goal of making it more efficient, effective and accountable to the American people,” Spicer said.

The final order gives agencies 180 days to submit to the Office of Management and Budget a plan to reorganize the agency.

After that will come an opportunity for public comment, and 180 days after the public comment closes, OMB will submit a final plan to the president.

“It’s almost like there’s a second public comment period because the executive order itself says the director shall consult with the head of each agency … and consistent with applicable law, with persons or entities outside the federal government with relevant expertise in organizational structure and management,” Berteau said. “That’s almost an echo of the Grace Commission, because that’s in fact exactly how the players on the Grace Commission were picked.”

Berteau said the budget blueprint offers some hints about how the reorganization will go, with its dramatic reductions and eliminations of agencies and programs. Trump indicated in his 2018 budget blueprint that the reorganization, the current temporary hiring freeze and the Office of Management and Budget’s forthcoming plan to cut the workforce through attrition are “complementary” and go hand in hand.

But Berteau said there isn’t enough time to complete the plans for the reorganization before the fiscal 2018 budget is finished.

“There’s almost no way this executive order will have any plans in place in order to affect that. In fact, if you look at the schedule, the agencies would not be submitting their plans until next September,” he said. “That happens to be the same time frame those agencies would be submitting their budgets to OMB for [fiscal 2019]. So you may actually have some interplay between the budget and the efficiency and effectiveness plans for the [2019] budget.”

But the question, Berteau said, is if you’re reorganizing in 2019, how can you know where to cut in the 2018 budget so that the organizations and resources are aligned?

“I think the reductions have to be looked at, and in many cases, there’s no basis for analyzing those reductions. Because if you actually reduce money without reducing the work that’s expected to be done either by the agency or by supporting contractors, then you create real chaos and confusion,” Berteau said. “It’s within the purview of the administration to establish its priorities and align the resources, the budgets and the people with those priorities. But right now, that alignment is not at all clear, and so you’re going to end up either wasting money or leaving important work undone.”

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