The Trump administration on Thursday released its long-awaited plan to reorganize the federal government, which delivered on proposing major overhauls to dozens of federal agencies but failed to put forward the promised initiative to slash the federal workforce.
The proposal outlined 32 ideas for streamlining or reorienting federal offices, most of which will require congressional approval. While those moves would inevitably consolidate federal functions, the plan did not propose any specific measures to reduce agency workforce rolls. Instead, the White House said it would reskill and relocate federal employees. Still, the document did not overtly deliver on the title of a “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce,” which Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney gave his memorandum that launched the reorganization effort.
“The objective of this exercise was to focus on aligning our resources to pursue what our federal employees want us to pursue, which is the mission first, service to the American people and fiscal stewardship,” Margaret Weichert, OMB’s deputy director for management, said on a call with reporters Thursday. “It was not an attempt to cut jobs.”
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She conceded that some positions may be lost in the process of implementing the administration’s reforms, but she was more focused on adding federal workers.
“Changing, and moving, and identifying efficiencies may in fact dislocate employees,” Weichert said. “I am not concerned about us having too many workers, I’m concerned that 60 percent are eligible to retire in the next 10 years. What my bigger concern about the workforce is [is that] we have willing, dedicated civil servants whose skills aren’t aligned with the skills we need today and [we] can’t fill [the gaps].”
In his budget released in February, President Trump called for shifting employees from legacy positions into emerging fields through a process called “reskilling.” One of the proposals in the reorganization plan called for a new, non-governmental, public-private partnership center that would work with private industry and nonprofits to identify ways to harness technology for reskilling the federal workforce.
Weichert specifically highlighted shortages in the cyber workforce—another focus of the reorganization blueprint—data science positions, other information technology jobs and law enforcement. The “tight labor market” has made those gaps even more difficult to fill, Weichert said.
“We’re as interested in retraining and reskilling and redeploying as anything else,” she explained. “The message I would have is this isn’t really about big impacts to the federal workforce in terms of numbers.” The “dislocations” that do occur, she said, would play out in the normal budget process.
Mulvaney’s memo, issued after a Trump executive order calling for a reorganization of government, specifically tasked agencies with identifying long and short-term plans to slash their workforces. Some agencies have offered employees separation incentives and the overall number of employees has ticked down since Trump took office, but specific plans from federal offices have never been made public.
While the reorganization plan did not lay out specific proposals for cutting federal jobs, it did suggest moving them around. In addition to shifting responsibilities for an array of programs from one agency to another, the White House suggested physically moving workers out of the Washington, D.C., area. As part of a larger effort to reduce the government’s real estate footprint, the administration said agencies would consider “opportunities to reposition” their property holdings, including “relocating staff and offices to locations outside of the National Capital Region.”
While many of the proposals are considered longshots to ever win approval from Congress, Weichert said federal workers will feel inspired by the document to root out government waste.
“Shining a light on those examples should cause the well-intentioned civil servants who administer these programs to look for ways to better integrate and better provide service with greater efficiency,” she said.
Federal employee advocates were not impressed with Trump’s proposals.
“This administration has displayed nothing but contempt for the 2 million federal workers who serve the public each and every day,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “There’s little reason to believe this reorganization plan is anything more than a scheme to eliminate essential programs and public-service jobs, reward or punish political appointees depending on their allegiance to the White House, and privatize government programs to reward political donors.”
He added that the proposal amounted to “an unprecedented power grab” that has “nothing do with improving the efficiency or effectiveness of government.”
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, bemoaned the administration's failure to consult federal employees in putting the plan together. (The White House said many of the ideas stemmed from submissions from or conversations with rank-and-file workers).
“Federal agencies are not pieces on a chess board that can just be moved around at will,” Reardon said. "They are institutions, shaped over time to meet the changing needs of the American public. A reorganization of the executive branch has the potential to be highly disruptive and costly for taxpayers, and does nothing to address the chronic underfunding and understaffing that many agencies and programs are experiencing, or to tackle the glaring training and development needs of the workforce.”