Agency Reorganization Not About Cutting Workers, Official Says

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

A new White House proposal to reorganize federal agencies isn’t focused on cutting federal jobs, a top Trump administration official told reporters during a conference call June 21.

“I am not concerned about having too many workers,” said Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The object of the proposal is to better align the government’s resources with agency missions, she said. Too many federal workers’ skills aren’t aligned with the jobs their agencies should be doing, Weichert said. At the same time, about 60 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next 10 years, she said.

President Donald Trump’s proposal calls for, among other things, the policy function of the Office of Personnel Management to be moved to the Executive Office of the President at the White House. The Labor and the Education departments will also be merged into a single agency with four subgroups.

At the same time, responsibility for other functions currently overseen by the OPM—such as the federal retirement system and the background check system—would be moved to other agencies. The General Services Administration would take over administration of the federal retirement system and the Department of Defense would handle federal background checks, according to the proposal.

‘Long and Perilous Road’?

Government reorganizations “rarely meet expectations,” Max Stier , president of the Partnership for Public Service, told Bloomberg Law.

“The problem is that they often don’t occur and also can be a distraction” from addressing issues at federal agencies, Stier said. The last successful government reorganization—the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—was accomplished following “a dramatic attack on our country” and with bipartisan support from federal lawmakers, he said.

The administration will need to get “buy-in” from both parties in Congress and from stakeholder groups such as federal employee unions if the plan is to become a reality, Stier said.

“There’s a rationale for putting food safety agencies in one place,” Stier said, referring to another of the administration’s agency overhaul proposals. “But it’s a long and perilous road, and by taking that road you are diverting resources” from other initiatives such as those outlined in the President’s Management Agenda, he said.

Mixed Reception

A group representing senior executives in the federal government is hailing the proposed OPM changes.

“Both the proposed structural streamlining—including the elevation of OPM to within the Executive Office of the President—and the added emphasis on OPM’s core functions of providing human capital policy and oversight solve many problems that have for nearly two decades plagued Federal human capital processes and practices,” Bill Valdez , president of the Senior Executives Association, said in a statement.

The largest federal employee union has a different take.

The proposal to move the OPM’s policy function to the White House “is a straightforward attempt to politicize the civil service,” J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement.

“These proposals are out of touch and demonstrative of a president who not only does not respect the hard work of federal employees, but does not understand their expertise, service, or value,” Cox said.

The AFGE represents workers at the departments of Labor and Education.

‘Dialogue Starts Now’

The broad government overhaul being sought by the administration needs congressional approval, Weichert said during the media briefing.

The issues are worth debating, but the administration’s motive in proposing the overhaul is to make the government more effective and efficient, she said.

“We are sincere that the dialogue starts now,” she said.

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