Oversight Democrat Asks White House to Release Plans for 'Massive' Agency Downsizing

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked for the documents by Jan. 3. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., asked for the documents by Jan. 3. Alex Brandon / AP

A key member of Congress is calling on the Trump administration to immediately release its plans to downsize the federal workforce, saying any widespread effort to hurt civil servants should occur in the spotlight.

In September, agencies faced a deadline to turn in the final drafts of their reorganization plans, which were originally required by an executive order President Trump signed in January. Those submissions, according to guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget in April, were required to include both short and long-term plans to cut the size of their workforces. To date, those plans have remained a secret, with administration officials saying they would only be made public when the White House releases its fiscal 2019 budget.

Agencies first turned in rough drafts of their plans to OMB in April, which were also not made public. Efforts by Government Executive to obtain copies through Freedom of Information Act requests were denied, with the administration citing the deliberative process to prevent their release.

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Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney that his panel has oversight of the federal workforce and therefore the agency reform plans.

“The Trump administration is now in the midst of one of the largest reorganizations in decades with virtually no oversight by Congress,” Cummings said. “As members of this committee, we believe it is our job to analyze the administration’s plans to determine if, and to what extent, these massive reductions in staffing will impact the services the American people rely on every single day.”

Such reforms, the ranking member said, should take place in full view of the public and with proper oversight.

"The degradation of the federal workforce—particularly among those who dedicate their lives to protecting our national security, our environmental safety, and our health and wellness—should not occur in darkness,” Cummings said.

OMB did not respond to an inquiry on whether it would meet Cummings’ request, which asked for the documents by Jan. 3.

A panel of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has held two hearings to examine the reorganization plans. OMB declined to testify at both of those hearings, telling the subcommittee it was too early to offer its thoughts to Congress. Instead, leaders from various agencies gave broad outlines of their goals going into the process. Some officials downplayed the expectations of major workforce cuts, despite the requirements from Trump and OMB. Federal employee representatives and some lawmakers bemoaned the lack of transparency in the reorganization process, including a failure to include ideas from front-line personnel.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., the top Democrat on that subcommittee, last week complained about being left in the dark on OMB’s process. She pressed Margaret Weichert, Trump’s nominee to be OMB’s deputy director for management, at her confirmation hearing to provide more information to Congress on the plans. No one from OMB has provided an update to her committee, Heitkamp said, and the administration has not even confirmed that every agency turned in its reorganization plan by the Sept. 30 deadline.

“My problem with all of this is if we’re serious, the reorganization needs to be a bipartisan process,” Heitkamp said after the hearing. “Otherwise there’s no permanence to it.”

Cummings previously asked the chairman of the oversight committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to hold hearings on the agency reform plans.

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