Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Last month, the Senate held a hearing on re-tooling government for the 21st century. What’s the background behind recent pushes to reorganize the government and how do they different from perennial calls to do so over the past three decades that have gone

The Senate hearing focused on recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on duplicative and fragmented programs and the Obama Administration’s efforts to undertake reorganization efforts. 

The committee chairman, retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, said during the hearing that this issue was on his “bucket list” of things he wanted to get done before the end of the year.  Why now?

The Context

The late Senator William Roth (R-DE) was a member of the Senate Finance Committee in the 1980s and lobbied to have the trade functions in government organized into a new department.  As chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he promoted broader reorganization efforts, like the successful 1947 Hoover Commission, but never succeeded.  No president had supported his efforts, even when his reorganization legislation passed the Congress.

But the climate today is different.  President Obama in his Inaugural Address declared “we cannot meet 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy.”  In his 2011 State of the Union address he said: “We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.” And then he promised: “In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.”

In early 2012 he offered  a proposal to streamline the government’s trade and export functions and then in his 2012 State of the Union address, he asked Congress to “grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy so that our government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive.”

The president’s push to reorganize government has been bolstered by a series of GAO reports describing the extent of program and agency overlaps and duplication in dozens of areas.  These annual reports are a relatively new requirement in law.  Its initial report in 2011 was one of its most-read GAO reports of the year. Earlier this year, it issued a second major report describing programmatic overlaps and duplication, along with a status report on progress on its earlier recommendations.  Each of these reports increased attention on this issue.

So the rhetoric for reorganization has now culminated in a specific action step:  granting the president the authority to reorganize agencies.

Links to subsequent blog posts on reorganization:

Part II:  What Is Presidential Reorganization Authority?

Part III:  Insights from Good Government Advocates

Part IV:  Beyond Structural Reorganization: Virtual Agencies

Part V: Beyond Structural Reorganization: The Legos Approach

Part VI:  Legislative Authority to Collaborate