Erich Wagner | June 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

Heritage Report Could Provide Clues About Coming Agency Reorganization Plans

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As federal employees and observers await the release of the Office of Management and Budget's upcoming agency reorganization plans later this month, a 2017 report from a conservative think tank could shed some light on the types of proposals that could be included in the document.

Last week, Politico reported that the document, which is “nearly ready” for release, includes plans to move the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, and other cash assistance programs from the Agriculture Department to Health and Human Services. That proposal aligns closely with recommendations made by the Heritage Foundation in a 2017 report outlining how the think tank would reorganize federal agencies.

An OMB senior adviser told Government Executive that the agency does not “comment on leaks and will not discuss deliberative and pre-decisional information.” But if the Trump administration’s reorganization plan continues to follow proposals laid out by the Heritage Foundation, it could have vast ramifications for federal workers.

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Here are a few of the most drastic agency reorganization proposals in the 2017 Heritage Foundation report:

Education: The organization’s recommendations for the Education Department included an extensive effort to consolidate the Performance Improvement Office, Risk Management Service and the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization into a public-private partnership. Heritage would also eliminate the Office of Educational Technology, “scale back” the Office for Civil Rights, and consolidate several other offices that have “similar missions.”

“Over the years, the federal Department of Education has grown in size and scope, interfering to a greater and greater extent with local school policy while failing to improve the educational outcomes of students,” Heritage wrote. “That growth has rendered state departments of education and local school districts mere compliance mechanisms to Washington. Streamlining the Department of Education by merging some program offices and eliminating others will help better serve students by focusing the department on core agency functions.”

Additionally, the plan called for the closure of the department’s 13 field offices and 11 regional offices around the country, arguing they “make little sense today” because of the advent of the Internet. And it would transfer the administration of the federal student aid program to the Treasury Department.

Environmental Protection Agency: Heritage proposed a broad restructuring of EPA, including a number of office closures and shifting of responsibilities to individual state regulators.

The proposal eliminated the Office of Public Engagement and Environmental Education, which Heritage said “is largely focused on generating agency propaganda,” and would close all 10 of EPA’s regional offices.

“States are better equipped to customize policies for local conditions, and land owners have greater incentives than the government to protect private property,” the think tank wrote. “Both groups can act regionally when there are cross-border components to environmental issues. There is no need for the EPA’s 10 regional offices, which interfere with state conservation activities and expose citizens to regulatory redundancy.”

The plan also would shift Superfund cleanup management to state regulators, and give states “all authority” for implementing and enforcing provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Veterans Affairs: The Heritage Foundation’s plan for the Veterans Affairs Department would amount to a full redesign of the agency’s structure. The think tank proposed the closure of at least 42 offices, and the consolidation of at least 31 offices tasked with performance analysis.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs has retained many offices that were created to address single issues,” Heritage stated. “These same offices become barriers to timely, effective and integrated responses to veterans. In name, each office sounds valuable, but in practice they are adding to the bureaucratization of veteran services.”

In that vein, the organization also proposed consolidating nine offices related to training, HR and workforce management with the aim of improving the agency’s cross-operational capability.

“VA employees experience inconsistent development for cross-operational capability,” the organization said. “The training services that are provided tend to be misaligned to work operations, lack consistent up-skilling for career advancement, and are easily abused as means of avoiding work responsibilities. A single VA office, responsible for measurably increasing the value of employees within their mix of operational requirements, could create an engaged and devoted workforce, uniformly qualified to provide services to veterans.”

Small agency closures: Heritage advocated for the abolition of eight independent agencies often targeted by conservatives and Republican administrations.

Among agencies on the chopping block would be the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Export-Import Bank. Heritage’s proposal also would eliminate the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities, as well as the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

The proposal recommended working with Congress to privatize the functions of—and then eliminate—the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

OMB has confirmed that, after many delays, its reorganization plan will be released “later this month.”

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