What do you think of Obama’s announcement to reorg the Federal Government during the SOTU?

Home Forums Budgeting What do you think of Obama’s announcement to reorg the Federal Government during the SOTU?

This topic contains 25 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Bill Brantley 9 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #121558

    Jaime Vogt

    Surprised to hear this announcement tonight. Curious of your thoughts…

  • #121608

    Bill Brantley

    SILO WARS: The New Hope

    Great idea in theory but Scylla and Charybdis in actually implementing it.

    There is a lot duplication in government but the hard choice is which agencies will be cut/merged in favor of other agencies? For example, if you have five different departments that manage air safety how do you decide which department is the best one to manage air safety? Do you base it on performance measures, cost savings, number of stakeholders, the agencies’ mission, etc.?

  • #121606

    Ed Albetski

    Ditto to Bill’s comment. This is one of those things that everyone agrees needs to be done, but no one will ever agree on how to do it. As an old hand, you can see the failure of this project coming. Heels will be dug in and faces will turn blue.

    This sounds like on of those ideas that goes to a committee for study and stays there.

  • #121604

    Peter Sperry

    Actually a great deal of duplication in federal programs is intentional and derives from FDR’s approach to managing the New Deal. His basic idea was for government to intiate multiple approaches to solving the same problem and let them compete too determine which was optimal. Ideally over time five programs would become three than one as more effective solutions proved their worth. Under New Deal managment workers hired for and than displaced from ineffective programs would be rotated elsewhere in the government.

    The concept has some merit but hasn’t worked out too well in practice. During the 30s to 70s, strong autocratic agency directors protected by Civil Service regulations used the multiple new programs to develop fiefdoms that challanged the elected leadership. (Think J.Edgar Hoover at FBI and Floyd Dominy at Bureau of Reclamation). The spent as much or more time conducting turf wars as providing public services. Ineffective agencies were rarely terminated and when they were, their equally ineffective programs were simply redistributed among other agencies. This dynamic has been a major contributing cause of some poor opinions of federal government employees. Reforming it would help provide better public service as well as improve the image of public service.

  • #121602

    Steve Ressler

    Wasn’t aware of it but not a bad idea in concept of creating competition

  • #121600

    Steve Ressler

    Again – most of us would agree that there is at least some merit to the idea. The problem is execution. When DOD Secretary Gates tried to close a large division in Norfolk, VA that was deemed unnecessary, Congress wouldn’t let him. That’s the hard part – seems good at a high level, but local politics make it hard

  • #121598

    I’m hoping it’s fairly clear from his budget what will be scaled back…until I see that, I’m withholding judgment.

  • #121596

    Jeff Ribeira

    Good question, Bill. I had similar thoughts. How do you even go about combining agencies? Definitely seems like a worthy endeavor though. I’m always up for increased efficiency…as long as it’s effective.

  • #121594

    When I heard that last night, my first thought was “and that was so easy when we created DHS, right?” I’m with everyone else…great idea in theory, but almost impossible in practice.

  • #121592

    From @complexified on Twitter:

    – begin by asking citizens to discuss needed & wanted services

    – with clear missions, ask employees how work should best be organizd

    – aims: better, faster, cheaper, & happier (employees & citizens)

  • #121590

    Co-locate similar cross-agency functions in one place…then run a workforce assessment…cut where duplicates.

  • #121588

    P. Rivers

    What is the cost of the reorganization compared to the possible cost savings due to reorganization?

  • #121586

    Mark Hammer

    We get pronouncements of government cutbacks, hiring freezes, and re-orgs here in Canada. Inevitably, they result in more hiring and expansion. I don’t think it is deliberate smokescreen, but the question has to be asked: “Why?”.

    I’m going to hazard a guess that such re-orgs tend to come in the face of budget deficits, and when that happens, the urge to provide “accountability” accompanies the urge to save money by cutting. You get a spate of people involved in reporting and gathering data for reporting purposes, and reading reports, and it can seem like there are now more people tasked with oversight of fewer people doing fewer things. There’s a re-org, there’s less money spent on programs, but the salary and operating costs don’t budge.

    Moreover, as much as citizens kvetch about “big government”, they come to rely on, and take for granted, the services and oversight government provides. So while they will applaud cutbacks and re-orgs, they will not want any diminuition of the services that interest them. Ultimately, like it or not, governments get locked into spending, with few available opportunities to back away. It’s like this huge interstate, and unless you’re prepared to drive into the ditch, the next turnoff doesn’t come for another 100 miles so you just have to keep driving.

  • #121584

    James Hendrix

    I personally think ALL agencies can be reorganized and consolidated.

    Department of Agriculture has appx 85K employees, how many farms do we have?

    Department of Energy has over 16k employees and 100K contractors.

    Department of HHS has over 64K employees.

    Department of Homeland Security has 200K employees. Our borders are secure?? Not.

    The ATF, FBI, and CIA also could use some help.

    We have 60K troops in Germany, 10-15K in England, appx 60-90K in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq; could we bring our troops home and protect our borders? They would do a hell of a lot better job, and would be fighting off foreign enemies defending the soil of America.

    Bring back 100% manufacturing back to America, steel, and textiles, and especially ALL foods. That would put our citizens to work with a great career they could feel proud of.

  • #121582

    Denise Petet

    I’m sure it sounded good, but I doubt anything will really happen. Government, in general, is too full of ‘friends of friends’, lobbyist funded rules and regs and individuals that spend more time keeping their sponsors happy than remembering they’re supposed to be doing the thngs that do the most good for the most people.

    You will have the rank and file workers rebelling, because they know if jobs are to be cut, it’s rarely the upper management that gets cut but those in the lower ranks.

    You will get the corporations, afraid of losing contracts if agencies merge, rallying their lobbyists or making phone calls, probably playing the ‘you’re hurting business’ card.

    And you will have upper management calling in favors and friends to preserve their own job.

    The only way to get it done and get it done even halfway fairly is to have someone(s) totally independant, doing research, reading honest reports (not those spindoctored for fear of being cut) and making practical decisions.

    Of course there is a lot of red tape, duplication of jobs, impracticality and waste….but those that are benefitting from it will fight with their last breath to keep it.

    My prediction is that there will be a few token efforts made…just enough to be trotted out for the 2012 election. And then it’ll stop.

    There are too many people with too many personal agendas for anything to really happen.

  • #121580

    Bill Brantley

    Sounds like the consensus is that reorganization isn’t going to happen. Well, what is the alternative where you can make government work better and not have to close down agencies and lay off large numbers of government employees?

    I think a good solution is to introduce better management techniques such as lean and agile project management while making the leap to a collaborative workplace. Once we unleash the change vanguard that exists in each agency you will see more cost savings and better efficiencies than just shutting down programs.

  • #121578

    Heather Thomas

    I was just reading an article in the Harvard Business Review – A Decision-Driven Organization. Fascinating read that is quite relevant to this discussion.


    However, it remains to be seen if that many players involved can move toward a common vision. Only time will tell!

  • #121576

    Mark Hammer

    There are too many people with too many personal agendas for anything to really happen.”

    I’ll accept that statement, but let’s make a distinction between the agendas that people have because they’ve been working on something, or in service of some program or mission, for 20 years and they’re not about to give up now, and the “personal agenda” of someone who gets paid 6 figures to pretend to do something useful and knows they couldn’t get a sweeter deal anywhere else.

    I know we would like to believe that the latter type exists in large numbers, and are the source of our misery and respective deficits. But heck, you can pick any government agency, any government supplier (including military suppliers), and there are all manner of people who have thrown themselves into what they do, believe in what they do, have precious little perspective about anything else other than what they do, and are going to fight tooth and nail to continue being able to do what they do. Very very few people are going to say “Yeah, I can see where, in the grand scheme of things, it would be kind of silly for me to keep on believing in the value of our program, or maintain my commitment to it, and sap money away from those things over there.”

    And that’s the enduring bane of government’s existence: EVERYBODY is deeply committed to one little chunk of it, and NOBODY has perspective on all of it. That’s why sacrifice tends not to happen, and when it does it makes little sense to anybody (i.e., the cuts were simply carried out, and not carried out in a way that indicates perspective).

  • #121574

    Paul G. Claeyssens

    One area of government that embraces competition is the Forest Service’s Enterprise Program: 17 disparate teams of professionals in various fields, decoupled from appropriated funds, operating like internal consulting groups. Their work depends on such pvt sector values, as choice, competition, efficiency and management of costs. It was born from earlier attempts at government reorganization during the Clinton/Gore Admin under Reinventing Government , and based on such work as Pinchot’s The End of Bureacracy and the Rise of the Intelligent Organizations Pinchot & Pinchot, For more info on the USDA FS Enterprise Program

  • #121572

    Mark Hammer

    I think you’ve nailed it.

    Personally, I find that policy based on, or in reaction to, isolated events or insights, tends to be poorly drafted policy. It could be in response to a tragedy, like Gulf spill or the Tuscon shooting, or it could be in response to an economic event like the edge-of-precipice events at GM and Chrysler.

    So, while I personally have little faith in pleasing and practical outcomes arising from “reorganizations”, I have every faith that organizations and staff are able to identify ways in which savings can be made, redundancies identified, and efficiencies created, on an ongoing basis. Listen to staff and they have all manner of great ideas that, over time, can save a bundle. Set modest cost-reduction goals each year, and over time, 2% here and 3.25% there adds up. I don’t suppose that sort of thing could save Greece or Ireland in the needed time frame, but then part of their problem was they were doing it all along.

    Now that I think of it, it’s a bit like dieting, isn’t it? If you aim to drop 30lbs suddenly to fit into this or that, or just because you want to, chances are quite good it won’t stay off for long. If the intent is to simply adopt good habits that can be easily integrated into your daily routine, and which, over time, will undoubtedly result in benefits, the weight will come off slowly, but stay off for good.

    Of course, is that the sort of message voters and politicians want to hear? (“Don’t worry, we’ll get there.”) Is it the sort of thing bureaucrats can sustain, or does it require a certain strategy of maintaining bureaucratic leadership to achieve? Is it the sort of thing you can build in mechanisms to instigate, while recognizing that some years are not going to provide “yet more savings”? How long can people keep tightening belts for, while still feeling it is a reasonable thing to keep doing?

    Stupid details!

  • #121570

    Tim Evans

    Excellent distraction: send the Republicans down the re-org rathole and let the burn off their energy uselessly there.

  • #121568

    Allen Sheaprd

    Great idea,

    Ask people what they see as needed.

    I’m still leary as cutting the government puts more people out of work.

    Plus we are already cutting our budgents and staff *again* this year. Hopefully there really is duplication of effort. Else, the work will have to be done by the private sector.

  • #121566

    Jaime Vogt

    Wow, thanks Peter. I totally learned something today.

  • #121564

    Paul G. Claeyssens

    Good point Tim! Having gone through no less than 5 re-orgs in my 30+ year federal career, they were generally time and money pits, with less employees ending up doing more (service delivery, planning, boots on the ground, while mgt and on-the-rise employees get sucked into endless meetings, org chars, econ feasibilities and power-points.

  • #121562

    Great event next week at NAPA on this topic:


  • #121560


    With Commerce Secretary Gary Locke headed for a new job as ambassador to China, there was buzz in DC about what’s next for Commerce – the agency expected to be the center of a competitiveness focused reorganization. I listened to a vastly experienced cast of candid public servants – many who are now formers – at the National Academy of Public Administration event on Government Reorganization today. A key takeaway regarding the administration reorganization plan is, First, do no harm.

    Alan Balutis, Director and Distinguished Fellow of the Cisco –Business Solutions Group who spent years at Commerce noted, public managers have to be good surgeons, operating after a proper diagnosis. This is not something you do multiples times. You have to get it right.

    In surgery as in government, “Disruption has a huge cost,” warned Beryl Radin, author of the Public Management and Change series. “The illusion of cost savings evaporates in a minute.” (To Mark Hammer, who posted earlier on GovLoop, it’s not really like dieting. A full-scale reorganization sounds more like preparing for a marathon of fasting.)

    Bob Tobias, Director of Public Sector Education at American University and a veteran of IRS reform, had even more practical advice on what action to take first: Define your goal – tell us, what is competitiveness? Include your people – that’s all the people who will be impacted in Congress, agency employees, unions, stakeholders, other representatives of the executive branch.

    Dwight Ink, President Emeritus of the Institute of Public Administration, said good leaders are critical. “If you don’t have good people, it doesn’t make any difference” what organizational structure you have. He fondly remembered a a few successes involving career servants who worked with congressional staff to achieve new goals in decades past.

    It’s possible that government reorganization is not the best approach to competitiveness leadership. Jim Locher, President and CEO of the Project on National Security Reform, mentioned that appointing a chief of mission might be a good route, provides there’s the support of an expert interagency task force. The Drug Czar had both a symbolic and actual impact.

    When it comes to getting it done at this stage in the political calendar, merely using GPRA to evaluate programs may be a good route too, said Robert Shea of Grant Thornton LLP.

    “We worship the god of efficiency” to our detriment, Radin said, forgetting politics, effectiveness, equity, and federalism. Sometimes, Radin offered, we can learn from middle managers or state managers about making do with different funding streams, conflicting expectations and tradeoffs.

    In The Public Manager, we’ll continue the discussion of 21st Century government – offering the best tools and approaches – things like GPRA – and a few more lessons from past efforts.

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