Feds should expect minor tweaks in Obama’s second term

Federal News Radio's Jason Miller on The Federal Drive

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 4:21 pm

(The story was updated at 8:17 a.m. Nov. 7 to include comments from Don Kettl of the University of Maryland.)

Federal employees can expect only limited changes to the management of their agencies with the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

Agencies will continue to focus on high-priority, mission-centric goals. They should expect initiatives such as strategic sourcing, cloud computing and reform to the federal hiring process to march down a similar path as they have over the last four years.

The President defeated Gov. Mitt Romney Tuesday with 303 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. Florida’s 29 electoral votes were still up in the air at the time this article was posted.

The budget will remain the top driving factor in many of the performance initiatives in the second term. Obama is expected to increase the pressure on agencies to apply technology and people to save money.

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First, however, the President and Congress must deal with the looming cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next decade, of which $110 billion kicks in Jan. 2 because of sequestration.

The make-up of the Congress is staying relatively the same in the second Obama term, with Democrats remaining in control of the Senate and Republicans in control of the House. But retirements, term limits and a few new lawmakers will alter the leadership of some committees.

There are other budget-related issues such as Bush-era tax cuts and the fiscal 2013 spending bills for every agency, as well as Postal Service reform, comprehensive cybersecurity legislation and the Defense authorization bill, that Obama and lawmakers will have to address.

Despite the budget pressures, the administration’s push to improve services to citizens will continue, but the burden of having to do that with less money will remain strong.

Bipartisan opportunity

In his election night speech, Obama called for greater compromise moving forward.

“In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward,” Obama said.

Some experts say there could be an opportunity for bipartisanship in a second term.

Obama has a chance now to play the role of “senior statesman” to bring the two parties together, said Don Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, in an interview on The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

Obama could be “the guy who’s going to be stepping in and trying to find a way to bring sanity to the big problems that we’re facing,” Kettl said.

Republicans, then, will have the challenge of not becoming the “party of no,” he said.

Dan Blair, president of the National Academy of Public Administration and a former deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush’s administration, told Federal News Radio in September that “the two most productive years in the Bush administration were the two years after his re-election.”

During its second term, the Bush administration added to its management agenda with items such as federal asset management, reducing improper payments and faith- based and community initiatives.

However, Obama acknowledged in his speech that the road to compromise wouldn’t come easily.

“By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward,” he said. “But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over.”

There is a strong likelihood the Obama administration will expand a handful of its key management initiatives. For instance, the Office of Management and Budget is considering making strategic sourcing mandatory and giving more authority to agency chief information officers.

Additionally, OMB launched 13 cross-agency priority goals with the 2013 budget request, and those likely will receive a strong focus over the next four years.

“Twenty-four major federal agencies have also identified a limited number of two- year agency priority goals in the fiscal 2013 budget, aligned with their strategic goals and objectives,” according to OMB’s website. “Agency priority goals target areas where agency leaders want to achieve near-term performance acceleration through focused senior leadership attention. The administration has also adopted a limited number of cross-agency priority goals to improve cross-agency coordination and best practice sharing.”

Patching up relationship with feds

Obama will have his work cut out to restore broad support and confidence of federal workers. The administration froze employee pay for two years and asked for only a 0.5 percent increase in 2013. Additionally, federal employees believe the administration has abandoned them in the fight to protect and defend pay and benefits.

“It was his place to stand up and defend the federal worker and he didn’t do it,” said one respondent to a Federal News Radio poll in August. “He allowed Congress to demonize the workforce.”

The President also has struggled to live up to his promise to make government “cool again.”

Another challenge for the President as he enters his second term will be addressing the increasing number of employees who are retiring. OPM reported Tuesday that it expected to receive 7,000 retirement applications in October and actually received 8,138. While above expectations, it’s not quite the surge in applications received in September, when OPM got 11,952 applications when it only expected 7,000. OPM also beat its projections for processing retirement claims in October. The agency projected it would process 11,500 applications but actually processed 12,228. OPM has processed more claims than expected in every month this year but one.

The brain drain will impact both how agencies are able to meet their missions and how much they rely on contractors.

Federal vendors also should expect to see continued focus on contracting reforms, such as reducing the use of time and materials and labor hours contracts, and increased oversight over acquisition, especially by the Justice Department under the False Claims Act.

Contractors also should expect the federal acquisition budget to continue to shrink. OMB says the amount spent on federal procurement went down by $80 billion between 2009 and 2010, and expects it to either continue to drop or remain flat in the coming years. For instance, the IT budget could see as much as a 10 percent cut in 2014 and beyond.

(Federal News Radio’s full coverage of Election 2012 can be found here.)

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