Health and Human Services streamlines management functions

Carrying through on the president's mandate to create a "citizen-centered" government, the Department of Health and Human Services is consolidating a number of management functions. Through its so-called One Department Initiative, detailed in the 2003 budget proposal, HHS plans to eliminate what officials deem redundant and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. "HHS today has 40 different human resources offices, all of which conduct independent-and often competing-recruitment, hiring, and training activities," according to the budget document. "In 2003, that number will be cut to four, as HHS consolidates personnel matters into offices in Baltimore, Rockville, and Bethesda, Md., and Atlanta, Ga. Such a consolidation will not be pain-free for HHS' 13 agencies, some HR officials said. Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for instance, worry about being stretched too thin. To consolidate human resources functions with the department, CMS has to reconfigure its computer systems. Doing so requires shifting resources from other high-priority projects, including the modernization of Medicare's mission-critical computer systems and putting in place new payment systems. HHS spokesman William Pierce said the department will work with its agencies to strike a balance between department mandates and other projects. The ultimate goal, he said, is the help the department think more strategically about its human resources needs. The One Department Initiative will also centralize all public and legislative affairs offices. Currently, HHS has more than 50 public affairs offices and 20 legislative affairs offices. At the National Institutes of Health, for example, each of the 27 institutes and centers has its own communications staff. According to Pierce, there is little accountability for public affairs. Agencies do not report directly to the main HHS public affairs office. Consolidating public affairs, he said, will ensure that the department speaks with one voice. The department will also look for ways to combine publications and public relations contracts. Within the agencies, there is some concern that the approach will stifle creative approaches for reaching out to various audiences, including Medicare beneficiaries and medical researchers. "Our goal is not to impose on the operating divisions, but to work with them and create something that works for them," said Pierce. HHS also plans to consolidate capital planning. Currently, the agency does not have department-wide performance measure for maintaining its facilities. "As a result, construction projects often get selected for reasons other than merit, including congressional earmarks," the budget stated. To rectify the situation, HHS hopes to create a framework for prioritizing all capital projects and developing measurable goals.