Obama government reorganization plan nearing release

OMB’s Zients draws ideas from watchdogs’ report on improving trade competitiveness.

The proposed first steps in the Obama administration's plans for removing duplication in government are on schedule for presentation to the president this month, according to Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients.

Zients told a gathering last week at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service that preparations for Phase 1 of a planned reorganization, which focuses on the trade and export agencies, have included meetings with current and past agency leaders, lawmakers, good government groups and the business community. The goal is to reorganize to become "customer driven," he said.

In a June 3 White House blog post, Zients gave further details. "Earlier this week, I met with several business owners in Fredericksburg, Va., who shared with me their challenges as they look to grow their companies," he wrote. "With a dozen different agencies to choose from, it's not surprising to learn that many businesses, particularly those trying to break into the export market for the first time, are confused about where to go for assistance. So we've been asking them, how can we do it better?"

Zients said the federal workforce has been prolific in generating suggestions via the White House "government voices" website. "Nearly 6,700 federal workers participated, submitting more than 5,000 ideas and casting 90,000 votes for others' ideas," Zients wrote. "Submissions ranged from innovative ways to inform small businesses of export-promoting services to large-scale reforms that would change the mission of some government agencies."

A clue to the direction of the reorganization plan may be contained in a new report from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which Zients praised as offering a way to help "eliminate duplication and fragmentation and better support the nation's competitiveness in a 21st century global economy."

The professional body of government IGs formed a working group to review its past examinations of the structure of all agencies and programs dealing with exports. The seven main agencies reviewed were the Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security and State departments, as well as the Small Business Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Though it made no recommendations, the report said the majority of the submissions from IGs governmentwide "identified inefficiencies, lack of clear program goals and strategies, and poor coordination and communication among various agencies involved in trade and competitiveness. A few inspectors general did address issues specifically related to duplication and overlap of federal trade functions," it said. "We believe policymakers should have this information as they consider how to improve the effectiveness of these activities."

One body the IG council singled out is the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, an interagency task force that ensures the coordination and development of a governmentwide export promotion plan. Chaired by the Commerce secretary and the undersecretary of Commerce for international trade, it reaches across 20 agencies.

The IGs observed that interagency collaboration under the task force "on specific trade promotion was not strong" and said there were "deficiencies" in the task force's database for trade leads.

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