Mick Mulvaney restarts his chainsaw

Working early the last dozen years, I’ve learned to get up and get ready in the dark. Lights would disturb my wife, who keeps a normal person’s hours.

For years our greyhound slept on a big round bed on the floor in front of my French Provincial armoire.  For years I tiptoed gingerly around her, lest I step on the sleeping pooch. For two years now we’ve been dog-less. Yet every morning I tiptoe around the spot where the dog once slept. It’s one of those muscle memory habits.

This came to mind reading the latest missive to federal agency heads from Mick Mulvaney. In this remarkable memo, the Office of Management and Budget director is getting around to major thicket-clearing. Last fall the administration identified 59 obsolete rules governing agency management. Some of them date back to when Frank Raines ran OMB during the Clinton administration. It deals with managing capital investment. Several have to do with the Year 2000 Conversion project. If your agency’s computers aren’t updated by now, it’s too late.

And guess what? The new memo identifies dozens and dozens more ancient pieces of guidance, some dating to 1999. They covered information technology plus procurement, financial and performance management. So if you’re still following 2004 guidance on reporting compliance with FISMA — stop it. If you’re still reporting costs on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, lay down your pencil.

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Mulvaney says the administration is working with Congress to eliminate 407 mandated plans and reports “because they are outdated or duplicative.” And, he might have said, probably no one reads them.

These and many other policies have built up, like layers of paint on Victorian woodwork. Now Mulvaney is ordering agencies to appoint someone to ride herd on management streamlining. He wants twice yearly reports. The net loss in reporting may therefore be 406.

I’m a little puzzled over the 59 rules rescinded in the older memo. Could anyone possibly be still following any of them? If you had dreary, pointless reports to do and a boss said, “Stop, it’s over!” would you still do it? It’s not as if the bureaucracy is made up Hiroo Onana types. He was the Japanese World War II soldier who didn’t surrender until 1974.

Mulvaney’s memo sweeps beyond merely outdated memos from Bert Lance or Jack Lew. It urges employees onto “high value” work. It calls on them to simplify promoting people to Senior Executive Service. It advises on ways to reduce data gathering and reporting. It reiterates the call to use more shared services to avoid low-value work.

No such memo would be complete without references to IT and procurement. There’s a reminder that Exhibits 53 and 300 have been replaced. And that in 2016 OMB struck 83 data fields from IT business case reports. “OMB remains committed to further reducing the burden of complying” with the IT capital planning process.

As for procurement, OMB is promising to “modernize operations through … Robotic Process Automation software” and artificial intelligence — all toward cutting administrative work now done by people. Good luck with that.

In the meantime, agency managers would be crazy not to take Mulvaney at his word, and get about this major decluttering effort. Maybe no one is following most of this dusty guidance anyhow. So much more reason for shredding them.