As the administration makes its push to implement reforms and reorganize government under an audacious plan released on June 21, it’s finding modest success in some areas, but has somewhat faltered on initiatives where it did not cultivate appropriate stakeholder engagement.
Chris Mihm, managing director for strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, said Thursday that within the 132-page reform plan, he’s seen the response to the proposals therein fall into “three broad buckets.”
The first are those in which the administration “seems to be within their administrative authorities to take action on,” and he noted that those have largely proceeded at pace. A notable example he offered was the plan to shift all of the Federal government’s background investigations to the Pentagon, which seems to be supported by the leaders in that space.
Other recommendations, including merging functions of the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration, have also begun their initial steps.
The second bucket are those that are “purely notional,” and of the “Let’s just throw this out and see if anyone takes it up” category, as Mihm put it. “The silence has been deafening on those,” he said.
Mihm didn’t provide any specific examples, but it would seem likely that proposals like the one to merge the Departments of Education and Labor would fall into this bucket. After generating a lot of initial buzz back in June, the plan for the agency merger hasn’t been operationalized.
Other projects, like the proposed Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center, have made some headway but still lack a strong structure and definitive path forward.
The third bucket is where the administration is actually seeing pushback on some of those reforms, Mihm said.
“Congress is actually putting in prohibitions on some of the reorganizations. What that is, is a failure to have reached out to Congress ahead of time, to make sure that they were brought along and that they are key partners in any reorganization, from all three: authorization, appropriation, and oversight,” Mihm said. “If you don’t bring them along, you’re going to get legislation that stops it.”
His sentiments were echoed by private sector officials working to improve the effectiveness of public service.
“Really, you’ve got to engage the stakeholders,” said Terry Gerton, president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration. “Because we move so incrementally, interest gets built up in support of the status quo. Whenever you want to change the status quo, you have to engage the folks who are vested in no change and convince them that there’s a better opportunity on the other side.”
The administration has already seen firm evidence of the consequence when policies are proposed without cultivating the support necessary to see them through, according to another official. President Trump’s three executive orders regarding the Federal workforce were largely struck down by a U.S. district court judge late last month.
“At the level where the executive orders were written, I don’t believe the administration socialized them very well with stakeholders,” said Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association. He added that many of the reforms proposed in those executive orders are supported by a majority of Federal workers, who agree that there aren’t necessary procedures in place to remove poor performers in government.
He suggested that these lessons also apply to the reform plans, provided that another class of stakeholder, the public, is also brought to the table.
“Confidence in government is at an all-time low. And the only way to restore confidence in government is by better delivery of products and services,” he said. “I don’t believe you can do that without fully engaging the American taxpayer in this…These reforms, whatever they are, shared services, IT reform, whatever they are, the larger intent is the delivery of value to the American taxpayer.”