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White House prepping government reorg executive order

The White House is preparing a new executive order to require agencies to plan and suggest ways to reorganize the government.

Federal News Radio has learned that a draft order is circulating in the government and could be issued this week after the expected Senate confirmation of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The draft order includes a series of requirements for agencies to quickly turn around plans to improve how the department meets its mission. The draft also details a list of elements the agencies need to include in those plans ranging from a list of programs that are duplicative to whether state and local governments or the private sector could do the work better to the costs of ending or merging the capabilities. The draft order also calls on agencies to determine if back-office functions are duplicative with other services within another agency, bureau or program and if so, could they be consolidated.

The draft order coincides with a growing concern among agency budget officials about dramatic cuts to agency discretionary spending.

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A federal deputy chief financial officer, who requested anonymity to speak about internal budget discussions, said they’ve been told to expect reductions of 5 percent-to-20 percent starting in fiscal 2018, but really taking hold in 2019.

The deputy CFO said any spending reduction larger than 10 percent would mean their agency would have to layoff federal employees. The source said most agencies would face similar workforce decisions.

The source said they hope the Trump administration considers both value the program brings and the risk factors to the mission area in the discussions to reduce agency budgets. These may include better understanding what work no longer needs to be done and what positions would no longer be required.

The deputy CFO said it was unclear whether the Trump administration considered the risk and value propositions when it issued the hiring freeze. The source said they are fearful of losing critical people that may not easily be replaced.

The White House signaled these changes on Feb. 9 when press secretary Sean Spicer responded to a question about the higher than typical rate of pay for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau employees.

“We are going to continue to review all aspects of government. I think you’ll see further announcements as far as how he’s going to look at — how he’s going to approach and innovate and update government,” Spicer said during his daily press briefing. “The bottom line is that we should be paying people a fair wage for their service to this country, but that we should doing it in the most effective and efficient manner. And I think that’s what the President has already shown towards his commitment towards helping reduce the cost of several programs through the government and bringing back jobs. But there’s going to be a respect for taxpayers in this administration, so that whether it’s salaries or actual positions or programs, he’s going to have a very, very tough look at how we’re operating government, how many positions they’re in, what people are getting paid.”

Spicer also said last week that this reorganization effort is not just about one agency but how the entire government operates.

“The President understands that most Americans are out there working night and day trying to get by, and that Washington truly needs to respect the money that they spend, and that we should be doing it in a way that shows that — with a level of respect in terms of how many people are hiring, what they’re paid, what programs we’re looking at, whether or not that program is duplicative,” he said.

The draft order would require OMB to send a governmentwide plan to President Donald Trump that would provide ideas to end or merge agencies or agency functions, and suggest any legislative or regulatory changes that are needed to reorganize the government.

Additionally, OMB should request public comment on reorganization planning.

An OMB spokesman couldn’t offer a comment or any details on the draft executive order.

The goal of reorganizing the government is not new. President Barack Obama kicked off a similar initiative in January 2011 and formally asked Congress for reorganization authority in February 2012. Obama asked Congress to reinstate the President’s authority to consolidate agencies — a power held by presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan until the original law sunset in 1984.

Obama proposed merging six agencies or departments into one new one, including the Commerce Department’s “core business and trade functions,” the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade and Development Agency.

The administration got little to no traction on the initiative and eventually gave up asking Congress for the reorganization authority.

In 2003, President George W. Bush reorganized the homeland security agencies after the Sept. 11 attacks but that came under special circumstances.

President Trump would face the same challenges Obama faced. Most if not all of what agencies propose would have to be approved by Congress or lawmakers would have to reapprove the consolidation authorities.