Policy

Government Reorg Plan Greeted Without Fanfare

Key members of Congress seemed unaware of details as White House plan was released

The Office of Management and Budget, led by Director Mick Mulvaney, released a sweeping reorganization proposal on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Trump administration’s proposal to reorganize the federal government won’t likely be moving to the top of the Senate agenda anytime soon.

“This effort, along with the recent executive orders on federal unions, are the biggest pieces so far of our plan to drain the swamp,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said of the proposals. “I am eager to work with my colleagues across the executive branch and in Congress to deliver a more trusted and efficient government that puts the American taxpayer first.”

Some of the proposals have already proven to be nonstarters, like an effort to privatize the operation of air traffic control towers, which currently fall under the Federal Aviation Administration. Republicans on Capitol Hill have basically abandoned that idea in the current effort to reauthorize the FAA.

Key Republican senators said they would review the proposals released Thursday by the OMB that would shift important functions of the federal bureaucracy. But that was about it for initial reaction.

The speaker of the House, Paul D. Ryan, did not so much as mention it at his weekly press conference on Thursday morning. Nor were there any questions about it from the press. This suggests that either the administration gave little to no notice this was coming down the pike to the branch of government that needs to sign off on such a reorganization, or the GOP leadership did not think it worthy of commenting on. 

Some important members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for instance, did not seem to have been briefed about what the administration would like to see happen to departments and agencies within their purview.

That’s true of Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who was unfamiliar with a proposal that would place rural housing programs that currently belong to the Department of Agriculture under Housing and Urban Development.

Collins is chairwoman of the Transportation-HUD subcommittee. She noted that any broad bureaucratic overhaul would go through the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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Likewise, North Dakota GOP Sen. John Hoeven, the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the USDA, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, had not seen the plan ahead of release.

Hoeven is also a senior member of the Agriculture Committee.

“I haven’t seen it, so I’d have to look at it,” Hoeven said. “We plan to be on the floor next week with the farm bill, and we’re hoping to move it.”

Apprised of the proposal that would move SNAP out of the Agriculture Department and into a reconfigured Health and Human Services Department, Hoeven said, “We’ll look at this. That may be a longer-term proposition.”

Asked about whether Congress would be amenable to moving SNAP out of the Agriculture Department, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts left no room for negotiation.

“We're not doing that,” the Kansas Republican said in a brief interview.

Subsequently asked if the Senate would consider moving other rural development programs, Roberts said, “No, as in no.”

The most notable change in the package proposed Thursday by the OMB would consolidate the current Departments of Education and Labor into a single Department of Education and the Workforce (mimicking the name of the House authorizing committee with jurisdiction over both).

“I think it’s always wise to look for greater efficiency in how our government operates and will study the proposal carefully,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a statement.

The Tennessee Republican wears several relevant hats. He is a former Education secretary and currently serves as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

He also leads the Energy-Water subcommittee of Appropriations, managing much of the floor debate on the three-bill spending package this week that includes his measure. That bill funds projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is another target for division by OMB.

The budget office’s materials suggest dividing Army Corps domestic functions between the Interior and Transportation departments, with the important military components remaining at the Pentagon.

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