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Federal managers see implementation challenges in Obama’s reorganization plan

Eighty percent expect leadership and management difficulties according to Government Executive’s survey of executives.

See more of the survey results here.

Federal executives are wary of the leadership challenges that could accompany the consolidation plan President Obama recently unveiled, according to a new survey.

To better understand the effects of consolidation on the federal workforce, the Government Business Council, the research division of Government Executive, surveyed 130 managers from the six agencies involved in the reorganization -- the Commerce Department, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Small Business Administration, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

The work of these organizations does overlap, but the level of redundancy may not be so great, according to managers on the inside. Certain business functions are reportedly repeated within each of these agencies, especially through financing and assistance programs, but the agencies have unique programs as well. Within the six agencies under consideration, only 11 percent of survey respondents believe that more than half of programs overlap.

"The agencies have programs that intercept each other, but the programs are not completely duplicative," one federal executive said. "They don't have the same mission, but their missions are part of a whole."

Obama's plan would help U.S. businesses succeed, according to more than half the respondents (55 percent). Part of the reorganization plan calls for standing up Business.USA.gov, a federal website to consolidate information and services for entrepreneurs. Many managers discussed the benefits that could come from a clear delineation of programs and regulations.

"The public doesn't care which agency offers it -- just that they can get the needed services," one manager reported.

While the plan may be good for business, federal managers anticipate difficulties with implementation. During consolidation, 80 percent expect to encounter leadership and management challenges, including morale and employee retention problems.

"These challenges are not new, they will just be highlighted because of the ambitious plan," explained one federal executive.

Three-fourths of managers say that the federal government's cultural resistance to change could pose problems for consolidation. Some question whether the reorganization would truly diminish the maze of bureaucratic barriers, or create a new set of problems.

"While the president may have good intentions, anyone who's been around the federal government for long knows that these initiatives tend to over-promise and under-deliver. Any streamlining would likely take years to fully be enacted," said one federal executive.

Still others worry about the likelihood of congressional approval, since committee structures and balances of power could change if reorganizations go into effect. Sixty-four percent of business and trade-related managers doubt that Congress will grant reorganization authority.