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By Ben Penn
The Labor Department’s budget proposal Feb. 12 may offer a first glimpse at how the agency wants to eliminate waste within its bureaucracy.
DOL leaders have so far kept under wraps how they will fulfill the White House directive for agencies to reorganize and eventually shrink their civilian workforces. This has stakeholders, former agency officials, and the DOL’s internal staff union speculating about what Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team have in mind.
Proposals bandied about in prior decades on ways to consolidate or phase out certain DOL offices are now resurfacing in anticipation of the reform plan’s unveiling on Monday. The DOL and other agencies are slated to include at least some reorganization pitches in their requests for fiscal year 2019 funding. However, an Office of Management and Budget official told reporters Feb. 8 that the initial reform rollouts mark just the start of a larger overhaul process. More comprehensive, challenging proposals are still being worked out, the official said.
The department solicited public input on the reform initiative last fall as part of the notice and comment period on the agency’s broader four-year strategic plan. Yet, the DOL’s draft plan was noticeably silent on how Acosta plans to carry out the Office of Management and Budget initiative to restructure the federal government by reducing the workforce and eliminating unnecessary programs.
At least one major Washington business group wasn’t pleased with the secrecy.
It is “problematic that the DOL’s Draft Strategic Plan does not provide any detail on the proposed reform plan initiatives in the text of the draft,” the National Association of Home Builders wrote in comments submitted on the draft. “Unfortunately, this approach circumvents the ability of interested stakeholders to meaningfully participate.”
The DOL’s omission of substantive policies in the four-year plan comes as many White House nominations for senior personnel linger in the Senate. Several high-level slots don’t even have nominees yet. It’s not clear whether the shorthanded political staff will lead to a reform proposal Feb. 12 that’s still short on details, at least compared with those of other Cabinet agencies.
The goal of trimming career staff, be it with a scalpel or a sledgehammer, has left some longtime labor officials wondering whether an agency that already shrank considerably during the Ronald Reagan years can achieve its mission with another significant round of personnel cuts.
“If you ask somebody at OMB is it possible to cut staff at agencies, I don’t think anybody will say, ‘No, it’s not possible,’” a former OMB labor branch chief told Bloomberg Law. “But the Department of Labor is, above everything else, a regulatory agency, and if you’re going to enforce your laws and regulations, you need staff out there to ensure people are complying.”
A DOL spokesman referred Bloomberg Law to the OMB. The OMB representative didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“The goal is to create a more efficient and accountable department that works for job seekers, workers, employers and retirees across the U.S.,” the DOL said in an April statement announcing the reform agenda.
Here are some possibilities for what a Trump DOL reform might look like:
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