Should Government Reorganize Itself? (Part I)

Last month, the Senate held a hearing on re-tooling government for the 21st century. What’s the background behind recent pushes to reorganize the government and how do they different from perennial calls to do so over the past three decades that have gone no where?

The Senate hearing focused on recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on duplicative and fragmented programs and the Obama Administration’s efforts to undertake reorganization efforts.

The committee chairman, retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, said during the hearing that this issue was on his “bucket list” of things he wanted to get done before the end of the year. Why now?

The Context

The late Senator William Roth (R-DE) was a member of the Senate Finance Committee in the 1980s and lobbied to have the trade functions in government organized into a new department. As chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he promoted broader reorganization efforts, like the successful 1947 Hoover Commission, but never succeeded. No president had supported his efforts, even when his reorganization legislation passed the Congress.

But the climate today is different. President Obama in his Inaugural Address declared “we cannot meet 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy.” In his 2011 State of the Union address he said: “We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.” And then he promised: “In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.”

In early 2012 he offered a proposal to streamline the government’s trade and export functions and then in his 2012 State of the Union address, he asked Congress to “grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy so that our government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive.”

The president’s push to reorganize government has been bolstered by a series of GAO reports describing the extent of program and agency overlaps and duplication in dozens of areas. These annual reports are a relatively new requirement in law. Its initial report in 2011 was one of its most-read GAO reports of the year. Earlier this year, it issued a second major report describing programmatic overlaps and duplication, along with a status report on progress on its earlier recommendations. Each of these reports increased attention on this issue.

So the rhetoric for reorganization has now culminated in a specific action step: granting the president authority to reorganize agencies.

Tomorrow: What Is Presidential Reorganization Authority?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Jerry R. Whetstone

I don’t think reorganization will work in the government because no one is willing to give up what they have.

I work for a City and we have done more for less for so long that it is the normal now.

John Kamensky

HI Jerry – You seem to be predicting my future blog posts on this topic! But maybe there’s some hope. . . stay tuned!

Curt Klun

With zero based budgeting under President Carter and reinvention of government under President Clinton, attempts based on calls for efficiency have found marginal success. . . I thought that a direct attack on our country in 2001 would be enough for us to update our government’s structure. Yet since then, the 9-11 Commission and the Project on National Security Reform, with their significant political stature and connections, were not able to gain traction to move their findings from recommendations to reality.

While rice bowls as well as constitutional and statutory authorities play significant roles in the friction, I believe the linchpin is the US Legislature, where I think we’ll find significant friction too. After all, what committee chair would be in his/her right mind to vote for the elimination or subjugation of the committee that they’ve worked and sacrificed so much for to obtain?

I applaud Senator Lieberman’s intent and initiative, and perhaps political winds or economic necessity will lead to success after November’s election.