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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Rhetoric of Reorganization

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I continued to be intrigued by the talk coming out of the White House on the subject of reorganizing government. On the one hand, the rhetoric is sweeping. "We cannot win the future with a government built for the past," President Obama said in his memo to agencies on reorganization today. "We live and do business in the information age, but the organization of the federal government has not kept pace. Government agencies have grown without overall strategic planning and duplicative programs have sprung up, making it harder for each to reach its goals."

On the other hand, though, when it comes to specifics, all of the talk is about business-related agencies, especially trade-related ones. Indeed, Obama said, the first phase of the reorganization, to unfold over the next 90 days, will focus "on the executive departments and agencies and the functions that support one of our most important priorities: increasing trade, exports, and our overall competitiveness."

The question is, will there be a second phase? There are reasons to wonder.

First, look at Obama's rationale for reorganization: "Winning the future will take a government that judiciously allocates scarce government resources to maximize its efficiency and effectiveness so that it can best support American competitiveness and innovation," he said. Arguably, one could achieve that goal with the trade-related reorgnization alone.

Second, there's the question of whether Obama is prepared to move beyond phase one, which is likely to involve a battle with interest groups, members of Congress and agency officials. Depending on how bruising that battle is, it might just convince the White House that wide-scale reorganization is simply a bridge too far. It certainly wouldn't be the first time an administration reached that conclusion.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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