Reviewing Reorg

The world has changed a lot since the 1950s, the last time a major reorganization of the federal government occurred. Our lives today are totally different from those of our grandparents and the era of black and white TV has given way to the information age – but while the times have changed, in many ways, our government hasn’t.

For example, following the 2000 Census, the Census Bureau decided to invest in developing handheld technologies to help workers do their counts. But after spending tens of millions of dollars, they ran into timing and development problems. So in 2010, in an era of smart phones and high-speed wireless, our census-takers were pounding the pavement with pens and paper. 

Starting with his earliest days in office, the President has called for us to modernize government and make sure we are rooting out waste and operating as effectively and efficiently as possible. Today I spoke at the Brookings Institution’s Alfred Taubman Forum on Improving Government Performance about the steps we have taken since the beginning of the Obama Administration to make the Federal government work better. We have made significant progress, from improving government technology and developing a plan to sell off excess real estate that has remained on the books for years, to finally cutting contracting costs after more than a decade of escalating costs on the backs of American taxpayers.

In his State of the Union address , the President said that we must go even further, and take a hard look at how the federal government is organized --  because in order to win the future, we must reform our government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive and innovative America. In the time since our last major reorganization, our global competitors, including South Korea, the United Kingdom and Germany, have taken aggressive efforts to reorganize and streamline their governments to better promote trade and exports.

Today, our government has more than 12 different government agencies involved in trade and exports, many of which are doing the same thing. Not surprisingly, many businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, are confused about where to go for export assistance. 

The President has set a goal of doubling exports by 2015. And we need to make sure that our government is doing everything possible to help our businesses meet that goal – to help them get their products to markets around the world so they can create jobs here at home.   He set a 90-day timeline for us to report back to him with recommendations.

As we work to develop recommendations for the President, we are gathering ideas, input, and advice from as many stakeholders as possible.  Because those on the frontlines often know best what’s really working and what isn’t, we are launching a website where government employees can share their advice and ideas. Similarly, we are asking businesses of all sizes about their experience with the government. We’re speaking with agency heads, former Cabinet Secretaries, unions and good government experts. And we’re starting to meet with Members of Congress and their staffs and will continue to do so going forward.

We have no illusions about how difficult any reorganization will be.  But we also know that we are at a critical moment and failing to act simply isn’t an option.  While we’re very much at the beginning stages of our work, and we don’t have any preconceived notions of what changes should be made, we know we can do better.  We know that it’s been far too long since we’ve taken a hard look at the structure and organization of our government.  We know we have a real opportunity here to better support our businesses, so we can create jobs and strengthen our economy.  And we know that other countries are moving forward, and if we don’t act, they may soon join us at the head of the pack.

Jeffrey Zients is the Federal Chief Performance Officer and the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Related Topics: Fiscal Responsibility