11 Major Agency Reforms in Obama’s Budget
Consolidations, expansions and staffing change proposals in the fiscal 2016 blueprint.
In a less-than-shocking development, it appears unlikely Congress will pass President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget blueprint in full.
That does not make the document irrelevant, however. The budget includes a number of large proposals to revamp agency structures and operations, some of which the Obama administration can undertake unilaterally and some of which the White House will prioritize when dealing with Congress. Many of the proposals involve consolidating the number of federal offices with oversight over certain issues.
“In effect, the president is asking to have the same authority that any business owner has to reorganize or streamline operations to meet changing circumstances and customer demand,” the White House said.
We’ve combed through the budget and its supplemental documents to uncover some of the biggest reform proposals, including both cross-government and agency-specific initiatives.
1) Field staffing: Obama pitched boosting funding for agency field staff as part of a larger effort to provide services tailored more specifically to the needs of communities. The funding would reform programs provided through the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education and Agriculture.
The White House said the agencies’ field staffers are “well versed in both the community’s needs and the federal resources that can address them” and can “serve as community coordinators on the ground to help those communities maximize the impact of assistance from all sources.”
2) Homeland Security’s “unity of effort:” The Homeland Security Department has a lot to worry about in the days to come, with Congress threatening to shut the agency down if lawmakers fail to pass a spending bill before Feb. 27. Taking a longer term view, Obama wants all DHS components to act more cohesively.
DHS would also benefit from 2,300 Customs and Border Protection officers, while the Border Patrol would have to employ at least its current number of agents.
3) Food safety consolidation: The White House outlined the complexities involved in many different agencies having jurisdiction over food inspection, calling the current system “fragmented.” The budget specifically noted a pepperoni pizza has to go through multiple federal offices before it can be approved for consumption. Obama proposed housing one food safety agency at Health and Human Services, while eliminating the Agriculture Department’s responsibilities.
“A single federal food safety agency would provide focused, centralized leadership, a primary voice on food safety standards and compliance with those standards, and clear lines of responsibility and accountability that will enhance both prevention of and responses to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses,” the White House wrote. “It would rationalize the food safety regulatory regime and allow the federal government to better allocate resources and responsibilities.”
4) Business and trade consolidation: Obama revived a 2012 plan to shrink core business and trade components of the Commerce Department, Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency into a single entity. The White House said the move would save $10 billion over 10 years.
5) STEM consolidation: The White House doubled down on a plan to consolidate science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs from more than a dozen agencies down to two main programs at the Education Department and National Science Foundation. Obama proposed spending $3 billion on the initiative.
6) Health care staffing: The Obama administration is looking to boost staffing levels at two agencies, one of which is already funded. The White House proposed $110 million for the Bureau of Prisons for recidivism reduction efforts, including the hiring of more mental health workers. Last year, Congress provided $5 billion to the Veterans Affairs Department as part of a larger reform bill to hire more physicians and staff, and to update facilities.
Obama said in his budget he plans to see that hiring through, though he proposed shifting some of the other reforms called for in the new VA law. The agency has begun allowing veterans to seek private care on the government’s dime. The White House said that in the coming months, the administration will submit legislation to Congress “to realign that funding” to support budget-neutral investments.
7) Flexible spending: Obama outlined two initiatives to give agencies more wiggle room with their annual appropriations. One would allow one agency to transfer up to $15 million to another to fund cross-agency efforts. The effort would enable federal offices to deliver “across agency boundaries,” the White House said.
Another proposal would allow certain agencies to spend funds over longer periods of time to allow for more data on the effectiveness of their programs.
“These flexibilities will allow agencies to better target funds to reflect changing circumstances on the ground,” the White House said.
8) Idea labs: Obama wants to expand an initiative already under way at the Health and Human Services Department to the Commerce, Education and Treasury departments, as well as SBA and the General Services Administration. The White House said the funding for idea labs would provide “the support, resources and recognition for agency employees with promising new ideas for improving agency functions to pilot and develop their proposals.”
9) Pentagon cuts: The budget would continue to implement a Defense Department plan to cut spending at headquarters offices by 20 percent. The cuts include workforce reductions, facility consolidations and the third rail of Base Realignment and Closures.
“Taken together with the larger-scale reorganization proposals,” the White House said, “these efforts represent the president’s ongoing commitment to promoting government efficiency, preventing duplication, and making government work better and smarter for the American people.”
10) IRS gains: After five years of spending cuts, the Internal Revenue Service would see a 17 percent increase to $12.9 billion under Obama’s plan. While the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to go along with such a dramatic boost, advocates say IRS -- which has dropped 13,000 employees in recent years -- desperately needs it.
The increase “would help restore funding for important taxpayer service and enforcement activities that have been slashed in recent years,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
11) Digital service teams: The White House proposed spending $105 million to expand the recently launched U.S. Digital Service by creating agency-level digital teams within the 25 largest federal agencies. The new funding would implement “cutting-edge digital and technology practices,” the White House wrote.
(Image via Anna Hoychuk / Shutterstock.com)