Reorganizing Uncle Sam: Missing Out on Retiree Input?

It was recently announced that Jeffrey Zients, Deputy OMB Director was going to reorganize all of the Trade Agencies in three months. There is a Federal employee website to solicit input but no such vehicle for retirees or other stakeholders to provide their insights. So Fedsmith and the author have teamed up on a survey to see what its readers might think of some longer term suggestions. The author explains his choices for how to proceed.

On March 11, the President in a memo directed Deputy OMB Chief and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients to create a plan to reorganize a number of Agencies involved in trade by June 11 of this year.  In what was a great idea, Mr. Zients established a website to get the views of Federal employees.

I thought it might consider Federal retirees ideas as well so I tried using it.  Sorry, but it won’t let you play unless you have a Federal email address.  So aren’t they interested in the ideas of Federal retirees or other stakeholders?  I sent an email to OMB asking that question but they haven’t responded. So I thought, let’s look at some ideas and see how Fedsmith readers might respond as many, if not all, are folks with a Federal interest.

Fedsmith’s survey asks six questions. Here they are:

1. Should the government use a BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission type effort to assess civilian Agencies, programs and facilities?

Virtually everyone involved believed the BRAC effort was bipartisan, operated under a specific criteria and was accomplished within a reasonable time. The BRAC Commission didn’t cherry pick (as appears the case in the current effort) but looked at DoD-wide needs and through a comprehensive process decided what facilities should and shouldn’t be closed.  While BRAC, as constituted, wouldn’t work for reorganization, its model certainly would.

2. Should civilian Agencies consolidate services (Such as Human Resources, Agency Counsel, EEO, Inspectors General, Information Systems, Finance/payroll, Security etc) wherever doing so would save money?

Scroll through WIKI’s list of government agencies.  BRAC (above) was part of a determined effort, very painful at the time, to eliminate as much duplication of effort as possible in DOD.  In that effort, human resources offices were consolidated as were a number of other common services.  For example, my favorite Federal Agency, the Federal Labor Relations Authority according to its 2011 report, has its own IG, Human Resources, Budget and Finance staff and other administration to the tune of at least 13 FTEs to provide common services to 101 other staff.  The Merit Systems Protection Board, in its budget, says it has 29 management support people to provide common services to 184 staff.  These folks are blocks apart in DC. If you drew a circle with the FLRA as the center and having a one mile radius, I bet you could save tens of millions a year consolidating common services among only the small agencies in that circle.  Get smart, Mr. Zients, here’s some low hanging fruit.

3. Should small Agencies, Boards, Commissions (there are lots of these)be consolidated wherever doing so saves money and makes sense?

Did you know that there are separate Federal commissions dealing with marine mammals, migratory birds, and endangered species?  Now I’m up for saving the whales, ducks and snail darters but do we need a slew of these little Agencies and the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and whoever else deals with these issues to each have their own separate organization?

4. Should there be a single government-wide system for such matters as granting security clearances, contracting, police and guards, travel, etc.?

Just about every Agency has a sizable contracting function, lots of these Agencies do their own security screening and I once read that there are thirteen different Federal police departments in DC. I mean, now really!

5. Should all Federal Agencies be required to use government office space when available?

I’ve done a bunch of training over the years and spent a lot of time in Federal space.  The one rule that appeared consistent was that there was no consistency in the management of space.  GSA does try to rein in the players but enabling legislation often lets people off the hook.  I was always amazed, by the way, at how very little is done to share training space and, as a result, how much hotel space (Expensive!) is used as a result.  The company I work with offers lower prices or free tuition in exchange for an Agency sponsoring a program by allowing it to be held in its space.  Everybody saves everybody wins.  I’ve also noticed that when established agencies lost people, frequently the space went unused.  Couldn’t we house the Morris Udall Foundation, Millenium Challenge Corporation or maybe the Denali Commission in an unused office at USDA or Interior?

6. Should there be a required up or down congressional vote on each government program periodically?

Perhaps year, on the day before they go home for Christmas, the Congress could set up a process whereby it took, let’s say, 1/5 of Uncle Sam’s programs and voted whether we should continue, modify or end them.  If we did that, every 5 years we’d have a shot at putting no longer relevant programs behind us.  Of course, the Congress is no friend of government reorganization.  For example, when the Dept. of Transportation was set up, its component Agencies were still overseen by the same old Congressional committees.  When my spouse and I worked in DC, there was talk of a furlough at DOT but my wife’s Agency, the Maritime Administration, wasn’t worried since it wasn’t covered by the appropriations bill that funded the rest of DOT.  I wasn’t worried either because my employer at the time, the National Transportation Safety Board, wasn’t part of DOT, go figure.

All of what has happened to construct the inherent wackiness of government organization wasn’t created in three months or three years or even three decades.  If I still worked in a Federal Agency, I’d be worried about the wisdom of Mr. Zients, the private sector wonder boy, trying to unscramble it on the fly.  Mr. Zients isn’t trying, of course, for good government but rather political fodder.  Few administrations try to understand how government got where it is as a primer to try and make it better and these guys are no exception.  I just hope Mr. Zients does more good than harm for once.  Go talk to the BRAC folks Jeff!  They actually tried to understand the problem before they started to dismantle Humpty Dumpty’s wall.

As always, the above is my opinion and mine alone.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.