The Trump administration on Thursday released a 132-page plan outlining sweeping reforms and recommendations for reorganizing the federal government, including merging the Education and Labor departments, stripping the Office of Personnel Management of its policy functions, and transitioning agencies’ business processes and recordkeeping to a fully electronic state.
The plan, [called “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century”] provides a broad vision, principles and 34 concrete examples of transformational changes that will align executive branch agencies to better meet the needs of the American people in the digital age,” Margaret Weichert, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management, told reporters via conference call on Thursday.
Weichert cited several examples of “excessive bureaucracy” that have hampered the federal government from effectively serving citizens, specifically food safety regulations. One example she shared is that egg sellers in Indiana face different regulators depending on whether they are selling liquid eggs in a carton or eggs still in the shells.
“The objective of this exercise was to focus on aligning our resources to pursue what our federal employees want us to pursue, which is the mission,” she said of the plan. “It is not an attempt to cut jobs. Now, changing and moving and identifying efficiencies may, in fact, dislocate employees.”
When asked about the impact this plan will have on federal employees, Weichert said she is not concerned about the government having too many workers. “I am concerned that 60 percent of our workforce is eligible to retire in the next 10 years.”
Her bigger concern is that employees skills aren’t aligned with what agencies need, including cybersecurity, data science, IT and law enforcement. “We’re as interested in retraining and reskilling and redeploying as anything else. The message I would have is that this really isn’t about big impact to the federal workforce in terms of numbers. To the extent there are dislocations they’ll be included in the normal budget process.”
The plan comes slightly more than a year after President Donald Trump charged OMB with creating a comprehensive plan to reorganize the executive branch. It takes into account more than 100,000 comments from the public and feedback from government agencies, industry and academia.
As far as implementing any of the reform measures, some will come through executive order, while others will require legislative action or be rolled out through the budget process. There will be more to come this summer.
“This reform plan will not be implanted overnight, but rather can be used to frame the public discourse over the coming years,” Weichert said. She added that “shining a light on those examples [of inefficiencies] should call the well-intentioned civil servants who administer these programs to look for ways to integrate and better provide services.”
The administration’s plan proposes a host of other changes, including moving a number of nutrition assistance programs housed in the Agriculture Department — specifically the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — to the Health and Human Services Department and moving USDA housing programs to the Housing and Urban Development Department.
In terms of promoting a more digital government, the plan “would transition Federal agencies’ business processes and recordkeeping to a fully electronic environment, and end NARA’s [National Archives and Records Administration] acceptance of paper records by December 31, 2022,” according to the document. “Establishing a deadline by which NARA will no longer accept paper records will force agencies to direct attention and resources to this issue in a way that has not occurred previously.
In response to the proposal, Partnership for Public Service President and CEO Max Stier expressed his concerns, noting that a plan of this scale requires bipartisan support, upfront investments and a plan for sustained attention over many years.
“When our government fails to meet citizen expectations, the problems typically stem from people and culture issues, such as shortages in mission-critical talent and the performance and management skills of senior leaders, not how an agency is organized,” Stier said in a statement. “No one can reasonably dispute that our government needs reform, but structural reorganizations are rarely the most effective way to improve service to our citizens.”
Below we highlight a few recommendations outlined in the plan.
Merging the Education and Labor Departments.
President Trump’s administration has proposed merging the Education and Labor departments. The agency would be called the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW) and focus on reducing bureaucratic red tape and smoothing out the education-to-career pipeline.
“We absolutely believe that this proposal has rich merit,” Weichert said. “[It’s to] really integrate and reshape our thinking in terms of education and entering the labor workforce,” she added.
DEW would have four main sub-agencies centered on K-12, higher education/workforce development, enforcement, and research/evaluation/administration, if created.
“The new merged department would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, streamline access and better integrate education and workforce programs, and allow the Administration to more effectively address the full range of issues affecting American students and workers,” the White House said in a statement.
Restructuring the Postal Service
Thursday’s plan also proposed restructuring the Postal Service so that it either has a sustainable business model or could potentially be privatized.
“USPS can no longer support the obligations created by its enormous infrastructure and personnel requirements,” the statement said.
“A new model that adequately finances USPS while meeting the needs of rural and urban communities, large mailers, and small businesses is needed,” it added.
The White House cited “no clear path to profitability” for the Postal Service without an overhaul that may include privatization.
“A privatized Postal Service would have a substantially lower cost structure, be able to adapt to changing customer needs and make business decisions free from political interference and have access to private capital markets to fund operational improvements without burdening taxpayers,” according to the statement.
Governmentwide Customer Experience (CX) Improvement Capability
The proposal additionally suggested a customer experience improvement capability for improving interactions between citizens and the federal government.
OMB will establish the capability, which will partner with agencies to identify key customer groups, such as farmers and military veterans. The groups would have their journeys across the entire federal infrastructure mapped from end-to-end, with the goal of helping to improve their experience across delivery channels and organizational silos.
“As individual agencies make investments – particularly information technology investments – maturing the capability to improve customer experience across agency silos will help the Government meet 21st Century needs and expectations,” the plan said. “At the same time, improving customer focus can lead to greater efficiency and effectiveness in agency operations.”
In general, OPM activities and functions fall into two categories: human resources policy and compliance and human resources service delivery and implementation. The administration’s proposal would elevate human resources policy functions into the Executive Office of the President (EOP), “and provide it with a whole-of-Government mandate that OPM currently lacks,” according to the plan.
“This EOP office would centralize policy decisions in areas such as employee compensation; workforce supply and demand; identification of future workforce skill needs; leadership and talent management; and other important issues,” the plan noted. As part of the OPM realignment, some functions would be transferred to a new entity called the Government Services Agency, which would also include service units within the existing offices of the General Services Administration.
Addressing Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Shortage
By fall 2018, the federal agencies are excepted to have cataloged the entire cybersecurity workforce to better understand current knowledge, skills, abilities, and identify any gaps. “This catalog will give us Government-wide insight into where our most pressing needs are, and, for the first time, enable the development of an enterprise-wide approach to the recruitment, placement, and training of cybersecurity talent.”
Agencies are directed to use the NICE framework to determine which workforce gaps are most critical. The plan calls for the creation of a prioritized list of critical cybersecurity vacancies across government. In fiscal 2019, OMB and the Homeland Security Department will collaborate to develop a governmentwide approach to identify or recruit new employees or reskill existing employees.
Mark Hensch contributed to this report.