Though their written plans remain shrouded from public view, agency officials charged by the Trump White House with making government more efficient say they are “excited” about what they see as a rare opportunity for systemic and lasting change to government operations.
Speaking Wednesday in Washington at the “first annual Agency Reform Summit” organized by the private Center for Organizational Excellence, incumbent officials at several key agencies gave upbeat assessments of prospects for the plans and offered a few details of what’s to come.
The Office of Management and Budget in April had asked agencies to submit restructuring plans by June 30, but OMB is not releasing those resulting memos because they “are pre-decisional and part of the 2019 budget process,” said Linda Springer, the recently retired Trump advisor and former OMB and Office of Personnel Management leader. Reorganization efforts await final approval from OMB by September, when it begins preparing the fiscal 2019 budget.
Steve Goodrich, the center’s president and CEO who has been consulting with OMB on the reorganization, offered a glimpse of what the plans contain. According to Goodrich, the White House by June had received 106,000 public comments on the project. He summarized the most significant in the eyes of OMB:
- Some 400 relevant comments dealt with cross-agency program duplication. They discussed “consolidation across regional offices and working directly with headquarters to collaborate to improve efficiency,” Goodrich said. Other proposals would realign agencies or increase the use of shared services for centralized administrative support.
- Another common theme was a “request for workforce flexibility,” such as direct hiring authority and shortening probationary periods, he said. Many employees proposed combining programs or moving them to other agencies.
“It’s interesting to me that many would like to do things differently,” Goodrich said of the quest for maximizing performance and making government more accountable for efficiency and effectiveness. “We need career people to make [changes] stick. We need champions, not just at headquarters, but peppered throughout agencies.”
Government reform should not be a partisan issue, Springer said: “What it is doing is creating value for the customer, which could be the public or other agencies.”
Agency heads shouldn’t assume they have to wait for Congress to make every change. Many things can can be changed administratively, she said. Springer called the current situation “an opportunity we have to go farther with reform than we have had in a long time.”
OPM has provided guidance and workforce “reshaping tools” on its website for those agencies preparing for reductions, said Mark Reinhold, OPM’s chief human capital officer. But “some agencies haven’t invested enough in thinking through whether to offer buyouts to all, or to focus on those [employees] who have surplus or obsolete skill sets,” he said. Urging workforce planners to focus both on today and the future, Reinhold said, “In times of change, it’s important to tend to the workforce, not just those going out the door, but those who are staying. Do they need new skills and development? Those are important drivers of employee engagement.”
Plans to Consolidate
The Homeland Security Department responded to OMB’s reorganization assignment by circulating the public comments relayed by OMB and conducting a week-long solicitation of ideas from 250,000 employees, said Bridgette Garchek Stone, deputy director for program analysis and evaluation in DHS’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Acting Secretary Elaine Duke just went on a listening tour. An initial batch of 2,400 ideas was culled down to 36 issues, and then five key cross-component issues, she said. “Small ideas for which you can take action immediately can signal big action,” Stone added. “Long-term success depends on how well the reforms are integrated” into the department’s strategic plan.
At the Housing and Urban Development Department, the plan was boiled down to three strategic goals, nine initiatives and six programmatic goals, said David Eagles, chief operating officer, saying that Trump will be remembered for pursuing “one of the greatest opportunities since the Reinventing Government” campaign of the Clinton administration.
The reforms to make HUD’s customer service delivery more sustainable will be driven from the top but “transparent” to the whole organization, Eagles said. Pursuing greater accountability and addressing poor performers will mean engaging three groups: the senior executives, the 100-200 “key influencers who probably drive morale,” and the front-line employees.
It’s important that the reorganization not deviate from the ongoing policy and management goals, Eagles said. “It’s not a vision issue but an execution issue.” Getting buy-in from employees can start small, he added, things as simple as improving lighting in the building or putting kitchenettes on every floor. “You can make an organization smaller and more efficient and still improve morale.”
At the Small Business Administration, “we’ve never had an opportunity like this to restructure and reorganize the agency,” said Chief Operating Officer Joseph Loddo. He cited productive ongoing meetings with the President’s Management Council, congressional committees and unions, which ultimately produced nine recommendations to the administrator, 34 others to program officers and eight that could be implemented immediately.
SBA has a staff communications package all ready to go once OMB gives the green light. “All know what to expect in changing the culture to maximize performance—it’s a combination of vision and execution skills,” Loddo added. Administrator Linda McMahon, he said, is always emphasizing that no one’s going to lose their job as they “focus on how to make it a better agency.”
Congress—both its oversight panels and the Government Accountability Office—have welcomed the Trump team’s efforts to tackle agency management and reorganization, agreed panelists discussing the interactions between agencies and lawmakers.
Trump’s commitment to continuing the ongoing effort to expand agency use of shared services earned kudos from Beth Angerman, executive director of Unified Shared Services Management at the General Services Administration. She pronounced herself “thrilled” at the president’s focus on persuading more agencies to trust service providers at other agencies to relieve them of such tasks as payroll and human resources.
Success will depend, she said, on agencies agreeing on standard definitions of services, the agency leader’s appetite for tapping into shared services, and the willingness to do things differently in the future.