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Trump signs government reorganization order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday calling for agencies to analyze their efforts in preparation for a major reorganization.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said March 13 at the daily briefing that the order will ask agencies to identify where money is being wasted, how services can be improved and whether or not the services are benefiting the nation.

“This is the beginning of a long overdue reorganization of the federal government and another significant step toward the President’s often stated goal of making it more efficient, effective and accountable to the American people,” Spicer said.

The final order gives agencies 180 days to submit to the Office of Management and Budget a plan to reorganize the agency.

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OMB then will publish that plan in the Federal Register for public comment and 180 days after the public comment closes, OMB will submit a final plan to the President.

“The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions,” the EO stated. “The proposed plan shall include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.”

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Trump, who signed the EO after the first meeting of the cabinet, said at the meeting that he would submit the final plan to Congress.

“Based on this input, we will develop a detailed plan to make the federal government work better, reorganizing, consolidating and eliminating where necessary. In other words, making the federal government more efficient and very, very cost productive. So we’re going to do something, I think, very, very special,” Trump said.

Spicer said Trump also provided direction to the secretaries to bring back to their departments to ensure the entire administration is working toward the same goals.

Donald Kettl, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, said asking secretaries to take the lead might end up limiting  the administration’s reorganization plans.

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“That may be again because there’s relatively few people who are political appointees inside OMB who can do it themselves, but it’s unlikely that any cabinet secretary is going to volunteer to give up several of his or her own agencies to another department,” Kettl said. “There are opportunities for interesting consolidations that might happen if it happened across agency borders.”

It’s unclear still how much change the administration wants as an end result of the reorganization effort.

Both Kettl and David Lewis, a political science professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, said what’s interesting is that talk of agency reorganization was already happening prior to the EO’s release.

“If you believe the leaks, there’s already things in the budget that look like they’re going to be axed or cut or at least sort of targets,” Lewis said. “We don’t know if that will prove to be the case, that’s sort of the rumor. It would be interesting if that process plays itself out before the report is even turned in.”

“What this really does is set up a proposal that would be presumably folded in to the next budget,” Kettl said. “So that might have something to do with the timing on this … even though it doesn’t say that in the executive order.”

Spicer said Mick Mulvaney, director of OMB, may not have a target, but wants to evaluate each program on what they do or don’t do.

“There is no set number we are driving down to as we review government,” Spicer said. “Sometimes you just walk into an agency and you realize that mission is no longer relevant or that it’s duplicative in three other agencies or there are too many people performing a function that no longer exists for a variety of reasons. That’s why the mission is critical that Director Mulvaney was given the mandate to go out and get all these different agencies and departments to review themselves and to provide feedback to him as to where we could go.”

Mulvaney said in an emailed statement that talk over the years about reducing waste, inefficiencies and redundancies is turning to action with the order.

“The stated intention of this Executive Order is to modernize and improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the federal government. The reality is that this is a desperately needed, top-to-bottom look at how our government works and, sadly, doesn’t. With every American’s share of the national debt now $60,000 and growing, this call to action isn’t just necessary — it’s long overdue,” Mulvaney said. “When we spend trillions on a war on poverty that we don’t win, when half the callers to the IRS can’t get live help, and when everyone agrees that redundancy and duplication should end — it’s time for action. At the end of this process, OMB will propose a plan to comprehensively reorganize Washington, which could include the sale of real estate, functional consolidations and the wholesale elimination of agencies and programs.”

Lewis said the EO gives “a little juice” to Mulvaney, to get the agencies to act.

“It tells the OMB director ‘produce a report for me after you’ve got input from all the agencies, and then I’ll see if I want to do anything about it,’ is effectively what it says,” Lewis said. “That fine, for what it is. The federal government is not necessarily designed to be effective per se, so reorganization is kind of always on the agenda.”

Starting with government structure isn’t where Lewis said he would start if he were looking to reorganize, but “it might be part of a larger set of things I would look at.”

“One of the criticisms of reorganization historically has been that you can reorganize the structure and move around the boxes, but it doesn’t change what the government is supposed to do,” Lewis said. “So I think that this is sort of an effort to say we’re going to avoid that problem, we’re going to recommend not only through reorganizing the structure but also the elimination of some things that government ought not to do, so that we’re not just moving boxes around but there may be efficiencies gained or something like that.”

The EO lays out the relevant factors agencies should consider when developing their reorganization plans.

These include:

  • Whether some or all of the functions of an agency, a component or a program are appropriate for the federal government or would be better left to state or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise;
  • Whether some or all of the functions of an agency, a component or a program are redundant, including with those of another agency, component or program;
  • Whether certain administrative capabilities necessary for operating an agency, a component or a program are redundant with those of another agency, component or program;
  • Whether the costs of continuing to operate an agency, a component or a program are justified by the public benefits it provides; and
  •  The costs of shutting down or merging agencies, components or programs, including the costs of addressing the equities of affected agency staff.

Transferring responsibilities to state and local government is already a brewing battle, Kettl said, pointing to the ongoing health care debate as one example.

“Then more to the private sector through free enterprise, that really sets the stage for a fresh cut at the A-76 process,” Kettl said. “Not only in terms of the government getting out of the business completely, but whether or not government contracting ought to be expanded.”

Circular A-76 for most of the early 2000s governed the competitive sourcing process. Congress placed a moratorium  in 2008 on the use of A-76,

Citizens Against Government Waste reacted positively about the executive order.

Tom Shatz, the president of CAGW, said the organization will be an active participant in the process to recommend areas where the government can become more efficient and effective. The organization released a study called Prime Cuts 2016, which contains 618 recommendations to cut the federal budget that would save taxpayers $644.1 billion in the first year and $2.6 trillion over five years.

“Taxpayers can be confident that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney will carry out this order promptly and effectively. The cabinet secretaries, who we have called ‘disruptors,’ include many individuals who have substantial experience managing large, complex organizations. We expect that the final plan will result in a more efficient government at a lower cost to taxpayers,” Schatz said.

Federal News Radio first reported the development of an executive order to reorganize the government in February.

The idea of reorganizing the government isn’t a new one. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush tried their hands at it. President Bush accomplished the most recent reorg by creating the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

President Obama asked Congress for reorganization authority in 2012. The White House submitted to Congress a legislative proposal called the Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012 would have allowed Obama to streamline executive branch agencies, a power the office of the President last held in 1984. However, the law requires that any consolidation plan the administration comes up with must reduce the number of agencies or cut costs.

He also proposed reorganizing agencies in 2011.