Making Trump's Government Reforms Stick

Agency plans are due this week — that’s just the beginning for federal managers.

Under President Trump’s Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch, all agencies are to submit reform plans by the end of this week. The administration’s aim is to make agencies more efficient, effective and accountable. Unfortunately, many government employees have little experience with the level of reform the president mandated.

In early August, The Center for Organizational Excellence held a reform summit designed to help agencies prepare for the initiative. Three of the panelists — Bridgette Garchek Stone, deputy director of program analysis and evaluation in Office of the Chief Financial Officer at Homeland Security; David Eagles, chief operating officer at Housing and Urban Development; and Joseph Loddo, chief operating officer at the  Small Business Administration — commented on a key concern for reform: Now is the time for agencies to think about long-term systemic reform, and to accomplish this, agencies must consider how plans will be enforced and sustained.

Sustainability of reform will encompass a variety of factors, they  noted: clarity of vision, execution skills, and support from employees and lawmakers, among others. According to Stone, agency leaders are taking the long view with comprehensive plans, and the panelists agreed that leaders appear committed and decisive, which will bode well for ensuring the right attention is placed on the initiatives over time.

Already there are certain processes in place that will be useful in moving forward with this initiative. Panelists made clear that agencies do not need to hit the restart button; instead, they should be mindful of utilizing what they already have and apply it in their newly developed plans. Maintaining a strong structure will prove critical in enacting specific actions from comprehensive plans. Many ideas submitted have been on the shelf, so instead of starting over, use them to drive reform and make it last.

Buy-in from federal employees will be a determining factor in whether reforms stick, the panelists said noted. Agencies must engage with employees; meaningful and lasting reform will require commitment and endurance to maintain momentum. Employees must remain engaged, and that ultimately falls on leadership. Eagles suggested identifying key policy goals and a unified plan driven from the top, as this is fundamental to making the reform stick. Pushing managers to keep employees involved will be critical in the long term.

Throughout this process, it is imperative that leaders effectively communicate, and there are a lot of stakeholders to communicate with. Every agency’s reform team must develop robust, two-way communications plans — agency leaders need to receive feedback from employees to know how their plan is taking effect.

Panelists also mentioned the importance of tracking both successes and failures. Essentially, agencies must remain accountable by establishing clear metrics that are transparent throughout the organization.

This reform initiative has come early in the administration, thus granting agencies time to be successful. Still, according to a recent COE poll, 58 percent of summit attendees believe changing the culture at agencies is the biggest reform challenge. Fortunately, there is time to be innovative and find what works. Leadership just needs to stay focused.

Fred Panzer, Ph.D, is a director of client solutions for the Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. He can be reached at Anna Weldon is a writer/editor for the Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. She can be reached at