Being the title “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Solutions,” the Trump administration has launched a comprehensive reform of the executive branch of the federal government, focusing on IT solutions and proposals that the White House should take direct control of policymaking on the management of federal personnel. The 32-point plan seeks to avoid duplication of effort amongst the many departments and agencies, while improving civil servants capabilities and and aligning government services with citizens’ needs.
Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney said, according to a statement: “This effort, along with the recent executive orders on federal unions, are the biggest pieces so far of our plan to drain the swamp.”
The release of the plan came less than a month after President Donald Trump signed three executive orders to rein in civil service labor unions and facilitate the dismissal of under-performing federal employees.
The proposals are divided into three areas: organizational realignment; management and efficiency improvements; and new capability requirements.
Organizational realignment will mean fusing the Departments of Labor and Education,creating a new Bureau of Economic Growth within the Department of Commerce, and putting all food safety functions under the authority of a single agency. It would mean selling government functions, including US Postal Service and various power transmission assets, in addition to moving the policy-making functions of the Office of Personnel Management into the Executive Office of the President. IT services, human resources and background investigations would all be placed under “other federal entities better aligned to provide non-strategic transaction processing services that meet 21st Century needs.”
According to the plan, “This new structure would better accommodate an overhaul of the Federal civil service statutory and regulatory framework.”
Management and efficiency improvements would include selling off underutilized property that would be paired spending on renovating and creating new facilities. The plan suggests moving the recording keeping and business processes of federal agencies into a fully electronic environment. Capability improvements would include proposals to resolve current federal cyber-security workforce shortages by establishing a unified cyber workforce capability.
The plan calls for creating a Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center that would partner with the private sector to help the government “respond to innovative technologies, business practices, and research findings that present opportunities to improve mission delivery.” The manner that policies are evaluated would also be evaluated. Attempts to reform the civil service have been stymied in the past, and 13 federal employee unions have filed a lawsuit to prevent President Donald Trump’s three executive orders regarding union powers to take effect. The unions claim that the orders violate existing law.
Research and science affected
According to the 132-page plan, the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) would be merged with the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior (DOI). This has been proposed by other presidents in previous decades with the aim of bringing together the administration and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The White House notes that the “jurisdictions under these two laws is generally split based on habitat type, with FWS covering species that spend time on land or in inland fisheries, while NMFS covers mostly marine species. This split jurisdiction … creates a confusing permitting landscape for project proponents.” For example, dam operators often must seek permits from both agencies to operate.
During his administration, then-President Barack Obama proposed a grander version of the merger that would have meant moving NMFS and parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, from the Department of Commerce Department to DOI. It never happened. Environmentalist groups are not happy about the merger plans.
Under the plan, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would get authority to run all federal graduate fellowship programs. In 2013, the Obama White House made a proposal that was broader and sought to reorganize the federal government’s $3 billion science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education portfolio among more than a dozen federal agencies. The Trump plan is limited to graduate research fellowships, but would utilize the NSF’s expertise to shrink and eliminate staff at other agencies offering similar fellowships.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) applied energy programs would be moved into a new Office of Energy Innovation, while absorbing the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Currently, DOE’s research is organized by energy source, with focuses on nuclear, fossil, and renewable energy sources funding the relevant applied research. Echoing critics who claim that the current structure has fostered fragmentation, the Trump White House plan said that the DOE’s “entrenched” structure “parallels the stakeholder community,”which means that “the programs can be influenced by the strongly held beliefs of the technology and fuel champions of their respective areas, which have biases that are often counter to identifying solutions that are good for the Nation as a whole.” According to the plan, merging these into one “has the potential to reduce a practice of picking energy technology winners and losers and pitting fuel types against one another for Government funding and attention,” the proposal states.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics would be brought into the Department of Commerce and paired with the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which are already within the Commerce Department. The Trump plan asserts that bringing the 13 federal statistical agencies into one department will save taxpayer funds, improve data quality, and reduce the burden on businesses and the public.
Food safety is currently divided between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA. The plan suggests creating a federal Food Safety Agency within USDA. While USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service oversees meat, poultry, processed egg products, and catfish, the FDA inspects all other food products and their production. The plan would merge approximately 5000 “full-time equivalent” FDA employees and $1.3 billion in FDA funding with the 9200 personnel and $1 billion in USDA resources to form the new center.
Jennifer Kuzma, a social scientist who co-directs the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, likes the idea—not a new one—of housing food safety within one agency but questions whether USDA’s mission to promote agriculture industry makes it a good fit. An agency dedicated to protecting public health or the environment would make more sense, she says.
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who has proposed consolidating food safety programs in a new independent agency, not under USDA, criticized the White House proposal. “The Trump administration’s proposal does not have the best interests of consumers at its core," she said in a statement. "Under this administration, the USDA has been tasked with promoting the interests of big agribusinesses instead of all Americans, and their proposal makes it clear that food safety will continue to take a backseat to those corporate interests.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to the plan, would be restructured. “NIH’s administrative functions to ensure operations are efficient and efficient.” NIH has already begun working on this effort. In addition, three new institutes at NIH would be created by fusing three agencies focused on health care research, occupational safety, and disability research that are now located elsewhere in the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump proposed such a merger in his 2019 budget request to Congress. However, the Republican-controlled appropriations committee in the House of Representatives with jurisdiction over the agency rejected the plan in a draft spending bill that must still be approved by Congress.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.