Congress and the Obama administration have been busy creating new centralized federal decision- making bodies.
The House in July passed a bill to set up a commission to expand use of agency data evidence to evaluate program effectiveness. The Senate in November approved a bill to create a new program management policy council to coordinate new efficiencies.
And the Office of Management and Budget in October created a new central governing body for implementing shared services.
But perhaps an even more ambitious new commission could materialize next year if Congress passes the Government Transformation Act. It would create an independent, bipartisan seven-member board to cut through the myriad think tank and Government Accountability Office recommendations and target waste and efficiency in a manner similar to mission of the Grace Commission of the early 1980s.
Twin bills, S.2269, introduced in July by Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and a House companion, H.R. 2826, introduced a month earlier by Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., are now in the governmental affairs committees. They would focus both on the details and the larger picture of a government mired in debt. “By eliminating outdated and underutilized programs like agencies and offices that print documents already found online, we can save taxpayers millions,” as Kirk put it.
But this transformation board would aim higher. With private individuals appointed by the president and party leaders and outfitted with an expert staff, it would review all activities of government and develop specific legislative recommendations for up-or-down, time-restricted voting by Congress. Proposed reforms might address government management practices, financial controls, the alignment of specific programs with strategic goals and the elimination of failed programs.
“Its board would have the right to hold hearings, and subpoena power is being talked about, though it’s not in the current bills),” Steve Goodrich, CEO of the Center for Organizational Excellence Inc. and board chairman for the Association of Management Consulting Firms, told Government Executive in December.
Goodrich is vice chair of the Government Transformation Initiative, founded by former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker and based in Rockville, Md., which has been pushing for the legislation for three years, generating some opposition from federal union members who see it as a vehicle for increasing outsourcing.
Acknowledging some overlap with the Senate-passed bill to improve program management, Goodrich stressed that the new commission would work “under a two-year rolling schedule” subject to updates by Congress and the president. It would apply a “rigorous standardized assessment process” and provide what up until now has been an elusive definition of a discrete federal program.
“Building an aircraft carrier is a program, or putting together an information technology system for Social Security is a program,” Goodrich said, “while others say giving out Medicare benefits is a program. You have to be careful because if you go too big, you’re biting off too much.”
Agencies, he adds, sometimes deploy “smoke and mirrors” in reporting on their own programs, so the commission and staff would have to “trust but verify.”
Other tools in the bill that might give the new commission advantages over its predecessors include hiring staff exempt from U.S. Code Title 5 civil service competition and “bringing in details from other agencies. They would get training in efficiency and effectiveness so that when they go back to their agency, they become champions of building a culture of transformation,” Goodrich said.
The board would also create a repository, an entity for sharing best practices that can be imported to other agencies, such as sharing of software licenses. The board would monitor savings, a portion of which could go back to the agencies responsible for innovations.
“One thing the board will not do is set policy, whether it’s immigration reform, or a flat tax system—that’s Congress’s job,” Goodrich said. He said he hopes for passage of the bills in March or April.