Wanted: Thoughtful Ideas & Spirited Debate

Last month the Administration released its long-awaited agency reorganization plans and proposals.

Predictably, prior to any substantive public debate many partisans and stakeholders quickly fled to their respective corners and talking points. As was on display during a June 27 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the reorganization plans, Republicans generally lauded the Administration for thinking big and bold whereas Democrats generally decried the plans as half-baked notions on how to destroy the government and the civil service all at once.

Surely, reality must fall somewhere in the middle; and that is the space SEA intends to occupy. Our nation’s capital should be a crucible of ideas and vigorous debate consistent with the vision laid out by our Founding Fathers.

We at SEA have ideas, and questions, and we’re not shy about sharing them.

Running the world’s largest enterprise (the United States Government) should not be and is not an easy task. But it is entirely plausible there might be better ways to organize the system to ensure it delivers real value and impact for those it serves, American taxpaying citizens. Based on the testimony of OMB Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert at the hearing and conversations with her and other Administration officials that SEA has had in recent months, forcing this most fundamental conversation is a key goal of the reorganization plans themselves, and indeed builds on previous work of the Administration including the release of the President’s Management Agenda.

SEA supports the Administration’s proposal to elevate the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) human capital policy functions into the Executive Office of the President (EOP). SEA’s President issued the following statement on the day the reorganization plans were released:

“Since 2001, GAO has listed human capital challenges as a ‘high risk issue’ facing the Federal government. Both the proposed structural streamlining – including the elevation of OPM to within the Executive Office of the President – and the added emphasis on OPM’s core functions of providing human capital policy and oversight solve many problems that have for nearly two decades plagued Federal human capital processes and practices,” said SEA President Bill Valdez.  “Every major corporation in America has a C-Suite human capital office for a reason: it is a core business function that supports operating units and enables those operating units to be more effective and efficient.

“OPM’s current structure prevents it from being the expert consultative human capital office the Federal government desperately needs. SEA is eager to work with the Administration, Congress and other key stakeholders to fully implement this bold new vision for human capital,” Valdez concluded.

SEA’s support for this concept does not mean we don’t have questions about exactly how this change would be effectuated or potential thoughts on other ways to achieve similar objectives. OPM does many things, like managing FEHBP and retirement services, quite well. Given that OPM is already run by a political leader, it is unclear how on its face elevating OPM human capital policy to EOP would politicize it – the federal controller, federal CIO, federal procurement administrator all reside in EOP and are not seen as politicized organizations. Former DHS CHCO Jeff Neal offered constructive thoughts about the OPM proposal (blog 1; blog 2) that also deserve discussion.

In SEA’s view more broadly than the OPM proposal, the methods and means by which federal agencies are authorized, funding is appropriated, oversight including program evaluation is conducted are all very important topics that should be debated more than they currently are. Ditto for how Congress is organized, funded, staffed, etc. 

In advance of the House Oversight hearing on the reorganization plans, SEA shared the following list of potential questions with majority and minority committee staff.

  • This is a 90,000 foot plan. What are the next steps to actual implementation? What is the timeline? How do you ensure that this doesn’t actually end up disrupting services and causing higher costs to taxpayers?
  • How are agencies being directed to engage their workforce and provide clarity on next steps?
  • We have heard that essentially no career staff were involved in reorganization plans at agencies. Initial feedback suggests skepticism about the efficacy of these plans based on their experience. How will you address this?
  • The reorganization proposes merging some agencies with missions potentially at odds with one another – for example those focused on conservation versus utilization of a commodity.  What is the plan for addressing practical and cultural challenges that would come, if those reorganizations were approved and executed?
  • OPM has a large number of employees who currently work on policy. Would all of those employees be moved to the EOP? How do you determine what the appropriate number of employees is? Could the current number actually be too little?
  • What are the skillsets and PDs of the policy jobs that are needed? Who will determine those? If the current construction of OPM in terms of policy isn’t working, how is moving the shop wholesale to the EOP going to change that?
  • GSA has largely focused on its core mission of PBS and FAS. How will it build the necessary leadership understanding and strategic plan to absorb HRS and appropriate staff and manage a Human capital function?
  • You say People and the Workforce of the Future are one of the key drivers of reform. How will this break up of OPM change the civil service framework or how the workforce is being managed and supported?
  • Do you envision this new Human Capital policy operation as a separate entity of the EOP akin to OMB, or as a new Management Office like OFCIO, PPM, OFPP, OFFM?
  • OPM is an agency in and of itself, and as such has its own HR support, acquisition, office of general counsel, etc. Where do you envision those offices and employees transferring to in this new vision?

Our core governmental systems must be updated to ensure federal employees and the United States Government (all three branches) can meet the demands of the 21st Century.  As this conversation continues, SEA will remain an advocate for thoughtful change while also pushing to ensure appropriate due diligence is provided to change management, stakeholder engagement, leadership involvement and communication.  Absent these key ingredients any efforts around modernization and/or reform are likely to fail.

The American people deserve a positive outcome out of all of this, and you as senior leaders can help ensure such an outcome is derived.

Please be sure to share your insights and perspective – about what is working, what is not working, what needs additional attention - with SEA so we can ensure that information gets to the right people, whether that be in the Administration, Congress, stakeholder organizations, or the media.

Tags: capitol hill, Jason Briefel


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