I work in HR at the Department of Global Competitiveness.

Could this be you? Keep reading.

In an effort to streamline government, the White House announced Friday their intent to consolidate federal agencies and offices with interconnected missions, including:

  • Department of Commerce’s business and trade functions
  • Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
  • Small Business Administration
  • Export-Import Bank
  • Overseas Private Investment Corporation
  • U.S. Trade and Development Agency
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, currently the largest sub-agency within the Department of Commerce, would become part of the Department of the Interior.
The administration suggests that reducing overhead and human resources departments would yield approximately $3bn in savings over ten years. Additionally, between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs would disappear, mostly through attrition. In other words, reductions-in-force (RIFs) would be avoided, or at least unlikely.

While the news of consolidation may seem jarring, consider the opportunities for professional growth. HR leaders at the aforementioned agencies will be in a unique position to shape a new organization — no doubt a challenging but rewarding opportunity. Just ask folks from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Human Capital Team. Or Homeland Security’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer.
If President Obama’s proposal becomes reality, senior executives will be looking to identify rising stars within all of the affected HR shops. Will you present innovative ideas and actionable plans to your Assistant Secretary or Managing Director on how to pull it off?
Here’s a tip. A senior executive will be looking for the following:
  1. DATA – this includes number of current employees, at what levels, in what job functions. And that’s just the beginning. Be prepared with time-to-hire, attrition rates, employee performance, telework, real estate (tip: try collaborating with the facilities or real property management folks to determine how much space would be required for your employees in a new space).
  2. SYSTEMS – as you try to collect the data points above (and much more), you’ll likely login to a number of web applications, databases, shared networks, USAJOBS back-end systems, and who knows what else. Interoperability, mobility, the cloud — they’ll want to know what hardware employees are using and what kinds of operating systems they’re running (hint: try collaborating with your Office of the Chief Information Officer to determine which systems are accelerating human performance, and which are stifling it).
  3. CULTURE – this one can be trickier. You’ll want to articulate what makes your office unique, and how those points of differentiation may sync up or clash with your new partners. Talk to employees and stakeholders about their concerns. Take the pulse anecdotally in the break room or empirically via your agency’s online survey tool (Don’t have one? Try a free one like SurveyGizmo, SurveyMonkey or Google Forms). You may want to benchmark other large organizations in similar fields to see how they regularly pull off successful mergers. You don’t need an action memorandum or clearance to reach out to counterparts in other sectors or cities.
The moving trucks may be miles away, but the planning phase is just around the corner. Show your colleagues, and the taxpayers, that you are committed to America’s position in the global marketplace.
For additional coverage, see below:

The Washington Post

The New York Times

The Hill

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Carol Davison

I really do work in the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) OHRM. DOC personnel have been recommending the consolidation for years.

Thank you for the heads up.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I like the name you’ve suggested, Andy. I think you’ve laid out a great road map for proactively managing the process as well. One of the keys here is to ensure that people aren’t striving to protect their turf, which is likely an inevitable part of this kind of transition. One way to accomplish a sense of team even before the agencies are merged would be to create rotational assignments where key members of each agency spend a period of time (6-8 weeks) going to the others to learn more about their data, system and cultures. So it might work like this:

1. All agencies complete their Data, Systems and Culture reports.

2. Agency A teams assigned to Agency B to learn.

3. Agency C teams go to Agency A

4. Agency B goes to Agency C.

5. Etc.

Another approach might be to create “Tiger Teams” with representatives from each agency sitting around the same table to see where there are clear points of intersection as well as complementary and/or duplicative resources.

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this title was that we as a government, not just govie workers but citizens need to start thinking of our relationship with the rest of the world in this manner. Global Competitiveness. There have been a lot of discussions about branding. We had a discussion at our staff meeting and our boss mentioned that we needed to change the rest of our competing divisions concept of what our division is and does. So I said we needed to work on a cohesive branding campaign. I have some marketing and merchandising background but it was a foreign word to the scientists I work with.

We as a nation need to become competitive and our relative success to this point probably made many of us complacent. Even with things as bad as they are I believe we are still the best, but there are countries climbing up our backs and we lost a lot to other countries already. Time to kick it up a notch.

I love this type of process. It is rejuvenating to organizations that can get employees involved to create a positive atmosphere and keep the fear of change at bay.

Andy Lowenthal

I agree, Janina, that enaging employees will be key. I’m impressed with our government’s desire to streamline executive branch components in the trade and commerce functions. In my experience, it takes a crisis to galvanize major government reorgs, and it seems our current economic conditions qualify as such.

The trick will be recruiting and retaining leaders who will be able to create shared vision for the new organization. As Andrew K suggests below, intra- and inter-agency rotations are a great way to not only smooth the transition but also accomplish big things on a truncated timeline with limited resources — another common theme in 21st century government.


I also like the cross-cutting opportunities. A detail/rotation program between agencies. A broad fellowship program that trains leaders to build a corp of folks thinking at department level.

The best part would be starting from scratch. If you had nothing, how would you create a 21st century HR shop?

I’d spend some time thinking what is the organizational structure and talent needed within the HR shop. From analytics to technology to communications, I think it’s a much different skill set these days