Lawmakers debate employee role in ‘fast-track’ reorganization

Lawmakers Thursday vowed to include the input of federal employees and other key stakeholders in the plan to grant the president "fast-track" authority to reorganize federal agencies.

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., is pushing to reinstate the president's power to propose major organizational changes to federal agencies while allowing Congress to disapprove or approve the action without lengthy debate. A provision in the 1932 Economy Act granted executive branch officials such fast-track authority, and Congress routinely reauthorized the provision until 1984, when President Reagan let it lapse.

Davis pledged that any reauthorization legislation would include provisions to ensure that federal employee unions are included in the decision-making process. "We will put safeguards in this legislation," he said. "We want everybody to be comfortable with the language."

Nancy Dorn, deputy director for the Office of Management and Budget, said such safeguards are not necessary because fast-track authority is a procedure that "doesn't get [the president] anything in and of itself." Congress, she said, still must approve any changes the president seeks to implement.

Without fast-track authority, presidents will lack the "ability to bring sense to the chaos that is the federal government," Dorn said. Authority to expedite agencies' reorganization efforts is a central component of the president's management agenda, a five-part plan to streamline government operations, she said.

The movement to reinstate fast-track authority is gaining momentum. Davis said he believes such authority would limit political turf fights over major reorganizations necessary to improve government efficiency and bring agencies into the information age. The National Commission on the Public Service, a 10-member bipartisan group of former federal officials, also endorsed fast-track authority in a Jan. 7 report.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the input of employees and other government stakeholders is key to the policy-making process. "It is the legislative process, particularly congressional hearings, which provide agency managers, employees and individuals and businesses who deal with federal agencies, with the meaningful opportunity to comment on the structure and function of their government."

Kelley noted that if President Bush had been allowed to place legislation establishing the Homeland Security Department on a fast track, the final law would not have included the whistleblower protections for workers in the new department-a provision lawmakers added after long debate. A "fast track" scenario eliminates "all meaningful dialogue and review by Congress," she said.

Comptroller General David Walker said he believes Davis can draft fast-track legislation that satisfies the executive branch, lawmakers and unions. The legislation must be detailed and should ensure adequate discussion, especially over "substantive" reorganizations that involve eliminating federal programs or altering workers' rights, Walker said. Separate laws might be necessary for substantive reorganizations versus those that simply involve physically housing agencies under different roofs, he said.

Davis said he hoped all the stakeholders could agree that "certain operational restructurings that have a minimal impact on federal policy may best be initiated and developed by the 'experts' in the executive branch rather than by the generalists within Congress."

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