Department of the Future

Can a systemwide shuffling help us 'win the future?'

Perhaps reflecting the economic malaise that still afflicts many Americans, President Obama has taken to saying that government must help us "win the future." This newly minted cliché combines with an older bromide-"when in doubt, reorganize"-to produce the notion that government might need a Department of Competitiveness.

To win, after all, one must compete. And we are not exactly winning the future now. We aren't educating the next generation as well as other nations. We are losing high-value manufacturing jobs at a rapid rate. We face huge fiscal deficits that discourage federal, state and local governments from making investments that could help us grow. Unemployment remains high. There's no political consensus about what we should do to improve things. Other nations, like Germany, are doing better.

Reorganization is a serious enough idea to have made it into President Obama's State of the Union message this year. "In the coming months," he said, "my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America." On Jan. 30, a White House blog post announced: "Jeff Zients Will Lead Reorganization of Federal Government." Zients, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management, is working with White House aide Lisa Brown to define the effort.

So reorganization, usually dismissed as interesting only to public administration theorists, has clambered onto the president's agenda. And the idea does have the support of influential people. When Paul Volcker chaired the National Commission on the Public Service in 2003, he found a federal civil service "at sea in an archipelago of agencies and departments that have grown without logical structure, deterring intelligent policymaking." The Volcker commission strongly recommended reorganization. In the past few months, the Center for American Progress, led by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, has published reports advocating reorganization around the competitiveness theme. And the National Academy of Public Administration (on whose board I serve) has convened expert panels to examine prospects for effective reorganization.

It's possible that American business leaders might get behind the idea as well. It would resonate, for instance, with Andrew N. Liveris, chairman and chief executive officer of The Dow Chemical Co., author of a new book titled Make It in America (John Wiley & Sons, 2011). Liveris describes what he sees as crisis in the American manufacturing sector, which now accounts for just 11.5 percent of gross domestic product. In the past decade alone, he reports, companies closed 42,000 factories in this country at the cost of 5.5 million manufacturing jobs. Without manufacturing, he writes, innovation will languish as researchers move abroad. Liveris argues for reforms in spending, tax, regulatory, immigration and education policies to promote competitiveness.

Such a business-oriented agenda might emerge from broad-minded policy planning processes of a kind that simply do not exist in the executive or legislative branches of our government today. Absent that, it might be tempting to believe that we could improve our economic prospects by creating a Department of Business, Trade and Technology, as suggested in the Center for American Progress report, or more ambitiously, with more functions, a Department of Competitiveness. But it is not at all clear that moving agencies around, with all the attendant disruption, would make much of a difference. Indeed, small nimble agencies might be stifled in new bureaucratic layers.

It would make no difference in the assignments of people who do the work Congress has authorized and funded. For that, we'd need more than new organization charts, we'd need new laws. And Congress, even more balkanized than the executive branch, does not yet have a Win the Future Committee.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.