Executive Order 13781: Federal Execs, the Clock is Ticking!

The author analyzes a recent executive order with an approaching deadline to “improve the Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Accountability of Federal Agencies.”

By September 11, 2017, every Federal Department, Agency, Board, Commission, must submit to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a plan. Oh, but what a plan it must be.

By September 11, 2017, the head of each agency shall submit to the Director (of OMB) a proposed plan, according to Executive Order 13781, to “improve the Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Accountability of Federal Agencies, Including, as Appropriate, to Eliminate or Reorganize Unnecessary or Redundant Federal Agencies.” (Order’s caps not mine.) Wow, that’s a big chore.

The Real Shock in EO 13781

Less than 3% of presidential appointees are in place as I write this, so who will author this plan or at least lead the starting efforts?

The career Senior Executive Service has got the job. Despite claims by the Carter administration in the late 1970s that civil servants invented civil service reform, those of us around at the time (I worked for the Civil Service Commission then) knew that it was all politically driven down to nouns, verbs and objects in the proposed law and reorganization plans.

If you or the senior manager in your Agency are reading this now and looking around for who has the ball, don’t look far, it may well be you. Do you want to be the person on September 11 of this year who tells OMB or POTUS, for that matter, that you couldn’t get on this because you had no political appointee to tell you what to do? Apparently, the current occupant of the White House has provided direction and expects your Agency to get on it.

Now What?

This Executive Order asks really tough questions, but my guess is that few people get to an SES level that haven’t pondered many of them in their climb to the top. Among them:

  • What mission or missions absolutely, positively have to be done?
  • Which have to be done by my Agency?
  • Which can be better done by another Agency?
  • Which by a consolidated Agency?
  • Which by a state or local government body?
  • Which by a private concern, overseen by the government or not?

Lots of issues here such as what is “inherently governmental” in 2017. Remember the criteria are efficiency, effectiveness and accountability not institutional or job preservation. The latter were not even mentioned except to state that the plan must address “the costs of shutting down or merging agencies, components, or programs, including the costs of addressing the equities of affected agency staff.” I’ve visited other countries in which the major government mission was creating jobs for future government employees. Apparently not here, or, at least, not here anymore.

The order will create, I predict, new buzzwords, among them “functional redundancy”.

So, if the Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety and Inspection Service both inspect food, someone on Pennsylvania Avenue or 17th Street in DC may say these folks are functionally redundant. It appears the Order envisions cooperation between the Agencies to address that.

In Canada, many of these two U.S. Agencies’ functions are done by industry subject to oversight. I’m not picking on these guys, just pointing out that they are likely within the bullseye for examination along with anybody else who does similar things.

I understand there are people in the Defense Department who make sure the food the troops get is safe. Will they join the party as well?

You may remember the creation of Homeland Security. I understand the gunfights (just kidding… maybe) took place all over DC, including the Hill, over who went where and whose committee got to gain or lose control. Do you remember the scene in the Godfather where Clemenza tells Michael that there has to be a war every ten years or so to clean out the bad blood? Get ready.

Another set of buzzwords, “administrative functional redundancy”

Somebody who helped draft this order got that there are literally hundreds of offices performing each of the following functions within the beltway alone not counting the duplication in a lot of regional Federal buildings out there:

  • Human resources (15 or 20 different programs)
  • Contracting – Is this the same as procurement?
  • Travel
  • Payroll
  • Ethics counseling
  • A literal cornucopia of EEO related stuff
  • Training administration
  • IGs- no matter how big or small
  • Finance
  • Public affairs
  • Congressional affairs
  • Facility management
  • IT (inside and out)
  • Safety
  • I know I didn’t get them all

Most interesting is that most of these offices don’t ever talk to other similar offices within a department, much less between Agencies. OPM has an office that tries to get Agencies to link up for common services. I’m sure they have gotten a bloody nose from time to time just pointing out the logic of such a thing to those who own a particular rice bowl in an Agency.

A Scary But Encouraging Thought

We are almost a month into the time allotted by the Order to get a plan to OMB. Remember Jeff Goldblum’s ticking clock at the beginning of Independence Day? Perhaps someone should put one of these up outside the top manager’s office (or in it) to remind us that a critical day is coming.

The good news in all this is that civil servants may actually get a chance to propose changes that have been needed for some time.

Admiral Rickover (a famous rice bowl owner) interestingly said “If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won’t.”

As always, anything construed as an opinion is my sole responsibility. Folks I’m working with or for shouldn’t blamed in any way for my comments.

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.