White House proposes massive government reorganization; 'Drain the swamp' plan

OMB director Mick Mulvaney at White House cabinet meeting.

Mark Trahant

OMB director says it's been 100 years since government reorganized at this scale

President Donald J. Trump’s cabinet met at the White House today to learn about a government-wide organization. He called it a “drain the swamp” cabinet meeting.

"It's been almost 100 years since anybody really reorganized the government at this type of scale,” said OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. “We're still dealing with a government that is from the early 20th Century."

The government’s plan is in a document, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century, Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.”

“Public trust in the federal government has declined over the last decade, calling into question how well the current organizational constructs of government are aligned to meet Americans’ needs in the digital age,” the report said. “Government in the 21st Century is fundamentally a services business, and modern information technology should be at the heart of the U.S. government service delivery model. And yet, today’s executive branch is still aligned to the stove-piped organizational constructs of the 20th Century.”

The plan would consolidate the Departments of Education and Labor into a new workforce agency.

The Interior Department realignment is included in the plan. A letter went to tribes in May outlining a consultation schedule. However at the recent National Congress of American Indians Mid Year meeting, a resolution was enacted that expressed concern about the reorganization time frame “and lack of information available to tribes regarding the reorganization will undoubtedly limit the effectiveness of these scheduled consultations, thereby stifling tribal input.” The resolution said that Interior should “take action upon more pressing proposals put forward by tribes to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability.”

Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda III told tribal leaders they could opt out of the reorganization for the BIA itself. But tribes would still be impacted by other agencies, such as proposed changes to the Bureau of Land Management.

The government’s plan would also move all salmon recovery efforts to the Interior Department and out of the Commerce Department.

Another program that would impact American Indians and Alaska Natives is to move food assistance programs out of the Department of Agriculture and into the Department of Health and Human Services (which would be renamed, the Department of Health and Public Welfare.) There would also be a new Council on Public Assistance with statutory authority to set cross-program policies, including uniform work requirements.

The Commerce Department would also be realigned to include a new Bureau of Economic Growth. “Federal economic assistance programs that serve states, localities, and tribes are broadly dispersed among federal agencies with different purposes, eligibility criteria, time horizons, and reporting requirements,” the plan said. “As a result, communities must navigate a complicated web of rules and regulations to determine which programs they might be eligible for, comply with different application requirements on a variety of timelines, and report on performance measures that differ in definition and reporting periods.”

Another program shift, if enacted, that would have a direct bearing on Indian Country is a proposal to sharply reduce the Commissioned Officers Corps of the Public Health Service. The corps plays a critical role in the staffing doctors, nurses, dieticians, and dentists, in Indian Health Service facilities. “Under this proposal, HHS would reduce the size of the corps to no more than 4,000 officers” from 6,500 at current levels. It would create a reserve force that would “deploy in times of national need.”

In addition to reducing the size of the corps, the proposed reorganization would charge more for agencies where the officers are placed “to ensure each agency pays its fair share.” This would increase the cost for medical professionals at the Indian Health Service, and tribal and non profit health facilities.

There are dozens of other proposals, ranging from changing the way the federal government manages educational fellowships to real estate. And, as the report points out, other reform proposals have not been approved by Congress. In 1971 President Richard Nixon sought to create four super cabinet agencies. He suggested four “goal-oriented departments concerned with our communities, our earth, our economy, and our potential as individuals … A Department of Community Development, a Department of Natural Resources, a Department of Economic Affairs, and a Department of Human Resources would be created.”

The problem for Nixon was that a streamlined federal government also meant fewer committee chairs in Congress and a loss of power for members in the House and Senate.

Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said this reorganization will be expensive and it’s being proposed without any cost-benefit analysis. “That’s too big a price tag for this Congress,” she said. “Changing for changing sake is not good enough these days.”

Then the real goal of this proposal is a smaller federal government.

The White House proposal is here.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports


(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)