Is it possible to identify a veteran, long-suffering fed from a relative newcomer simply by gauging their reaction to three core words of any bureaucracy?
It may be if the words are:
A Democratic member of the House once told me he could always get 100, sometime up to 200 cosponsors if a legislative proposal had the word “reform” in it. Reform is good. Like postal reform and civil service reform, which, among other things, gave us the government’s elite, career Senior Executive Service. There are several thousand career executives averaging about $142,000 per year in salary.
The thought of “reform” has a nice ring to it. Who doesn’t want to reform something, especially if there is some direct benefit to the reformers? Reform is good, unless you’ve been through a couple and suffered a personal jolt, or seen the reformed outfit become more political and less able or willing to carry out its core mission.
The White House and many members of Congress think the government needs reforming, modernizing, rightsizing and, in some cases, expansion and in others consolidation.
Both the White House and senior Republicans in the House think government executives should be more mobile. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) thinks that career executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs should be moved every five years. He and others are angry over the VA bonus scandals. As chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, he’s in a position to do something about mandatory moves in the SES.
President Barack Obama has also endorsed more mobility for the SES. It has set up a program that will require potential SESers to work in different agencies for short periods. “Interns on steroids,’ is the way one career official describes it.
The White House will also ask Congress to consolidate people, power and responsibilities. That would impact some workers at Health and Human Services, Commerce and the Food and Drug Administration. A new department would be created composed of people from Commerce, SBA, the Export-Import Bank and Overseas Investment Corporation. Some inspection operations at HHS and Agriculture would be combined, if the proposed changes clear Congress.
All of the above proposals — whether from Democrats or Republicans — have some merit and can be explained as necessary. But veterans of government service know that enforced mobility, shakeups and consolidations also can be used to increase and enforce political loyalty.
Normally, budgets are shopping lists where Congress reduces, changes or eliminates many items. But in the case of the proposed SES changes, the fact that the White House and the House GOP want changes — including mobility and accountability — means there may be some changes in the wind.