An array of proposals put forward last week by the Trump administration to reorganize and reform federal agencies would have major impacts on their workforces.
The plan did not spell out specific procedures for shedding federal jobs—as the White House initially called for—and officials said they were not concerned about slashing rolls. Some proposals would have obvious and long-lasting impacts on federal employees, such as significantly shrinking the role of the Office of Personnel Management, merging the departments of Education and Labor, and privatizing the U.S. Postal Service.
Other ideas garnered less attention, but would still have major impacts on agency workers and operations. The White House pledged to begin acting on some proposals immediately, as they would not require congressional approval. Here is a look at proposals federal employees will want to keep an eye on:
- The GEAR Center: The administration proposed the creation of the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center, which would function as a non-governmental public-private partnership to engage academics, nonprofits and private industry to help government agencies better deliver on their missions. The center would help create a “forward-looking view on how the operating entities of the executive branch should evolve management practices for the 21st century.” The White House suggested the General Services Administration could establish the GEAR Center under existing authority; it could be housed at a university, think tank or research institution, the plan said. It would be funded from multiple agencies as well as the private sector. Among its charges would be determining how government can best harness new technology for “federal workforce skill/reskilling requirements.”
- Defederalizing Government Entities: The White House proposed selling off several entities currently owned and operated by the federal government. One would be the Tennessee Valley Authority and other transmission outlets within the Energy Department, such as the Southwestern Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration and Bonneville Power Administration. Doing so would “encourage a more efficient allocation of economic resources and mitigate unnecessary risk to taxpayers,” the administration said. The federal assets compose 14 percent of the nation’s transmission lines, but the White House said that ownership would be better carried out by the private sector and would save the government $9.5 billion over 10 years.
- Transportation Privatization: The reorganization included a familiar proposal to shift air traffic control away from the Federal Aviation Administration and into a nonprofit entity. The idea has for years been a popular one among some Republicans and many air traffic controllers themselves, but has yet to garner the requisite momentum in Congress. The White House also proposed privatizing government’s management of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a series of locks on the U.S.-Canada border currently managed by the Transportation Department. The changes would provide those programs with “better governance structures and insulation from the political system, and allow them to better assess fees based on actual usage of their systems,” the administration said.
- Shrink the Army Corps of Engineers: The primary functions of the corps’ Civil Works division would be absorbed elsewhere, with navigation functions going to the Transportation Department. Flood and storm damage reduction, aquatic ecosystem restoration, regulatory and other responsibilities would go to the Interior Department. The shift would lead to more consistent and rational federal policy and a broader view of transportation and infrastructure decision-making. It would also enable the Pentagon to focus on its core mission of national defense, the White House said.
- More Civilians in the Health Corps: The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, housed within the Health and Human Services Department, is one of seven federal uniformed services. The Trump administration would like to reduce its size from 6,500 to no more than 4,000. The corps should instead rely on civilian employees to fill the gaps during crises, who would serve in a reserve capacity, the plan said. The White House would also encourage the use of more civilians by forcing agencies to pay for the accrued retirement costs of the officers they employ.
- Shedding Offices, Moving Employees: The White House proposed as part of the reorganization “moving federal offices and jobs for better quality of life and a more capable workforce.” The plan would reform the process by which agencies dispose of unneeded federal property and better incentivize them to do so, create a revolving fund for the creation or restoration of federal property and require analysis into relocating offices. The latter effort would emphasize moving staff outside of the Washington, D.C., area.
- Protecting Federal Officials: The Trump administration is looking to consolidate control over the security protections its top officials receive by giving more authority to the U.S. Marshals Service. The agency would provide its own personnel to agency leaders, with advice from the Secret Service, rather than allow agencies to make their own decisions on which employees to protect and how much security to provide. At many federal offices, USMS deputizes security personnel selected by the agencies, leading to protection that varies in background, training and experience. Putting more authority at one agency would “leverage expertise of government agencies trained in protective missions and threat analysis, ensure more efficient use of government resources and provide designated government officials with appropriate protection tailored to their individual circumstances,” the White House said.
- Improving Federal Decision-Making: While there has been a big push for boosting program evaluations in recent years, including in Congress, the White House said, “There are many programs and policies across the government for which we have no evidence on program effectiveness, thus making evidence-based policymaking difficult.” Agencies lack incentives, guidance or expectations for gathering evidence on the effectiveness of their programs, the administration said. The White House will ask agencies to designate an official to deliver program evaluations, dedicate resources to those efforts, provide more standardized information and create multi-year “learning agendas” for implementing that information.
CORRECTION: The fourth item in this story has been changed to reflect that the reorganization plan would reassign functions of the Army Corps' Civil Works division to the Transportation and Interior departments, but would leave the rest of the Army Corps intact.