In 2003, the House Government Reform Committee proposed legislation to grant the president reorganization authority. The legislation went nowhere. In 2005, President Bush proposed legislation to create a series of government reorganization commissions. That too, went no where. In 2007, a legislative proposal to create a grand reform commission fell short, as well. But the topic still seems to be alive.
The most celebrated government-wide reorganization effort was 60 years ago — the 1947 Hoover Commission — which resulted in a major restructuring of many federal functions. While the Government Accountability Office has been urging the President and Congress to “re-examine the base of government,” the conventional opinion is that there seems to be little appetite to do anything big. Well, at least that’s what it seems on the surface.
In fact, there have been significant restructurings in recent years and more seem to be on its way. The difference from the Hoover Commission, though, is that these reorganization efforts are more mission-specific as opposed to a general reorganization of domestic agencies.
The most celebrated of the recently reorganization efforts was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security: This grew out of the political reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But the groundwork was laid by the Hart-Rudman Commission, officially called the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, which released its report shortly after President Bush took office in early 2001. That reorganization effort – which was reputedly run secretly out of the basement of the White House — resulted in a new cabinet department.
Following close behind was the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which serves as a coordinating function for the 16-member Intelligence Community. This reorganization effort – creating largely a virtual agency — stemmed from recommendations in the 2004 report of the 9/11 Commission.
A more current restructuring effort is the reexamination of the foreign aid functions in the federal government. Legislation created the HELP Commission to propose a restructuring of federal foreign assistance programs. It released its report in early December 2007, claiming the existing structure of the State Department needs upended. This issue will likely be left to the new President to address, unless legislation is adopted in the coming months.
Finally, there is another national security reform effort, which is to release its report before the Fall 2008 elections. Called the Project on National Security Reform, it is sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and has a series of working groups with a goal of revising the National Security Act of 1947 – which originally created the Defense Department. Again, this is likely to be an issue that will face the next President.
Are there any lessons for how to do this right? While each reorganization effort has its own dynamics, there are at least a trio of reports that can help, all prepared by the IBM Center.
The first is a report by Hannah Sistare, “Government Reorganization: Strategies and Tools to Get It Done.” This report looks at different approaches used historically to decide on how to reorganize, then it describes different options for how to structure any reorganization. The second report, by Peter Frumpkin, “Making Public Sector Mergers Work” picks up after a reorganization is underway. It offers advice to the agency heads involved, addressing what their options are and how should they move forward. And the third report, by Tom Stanton, “Moving Towards More Capable Government: A Guide for Organizational Design,” which can help policymakers decide between what kind of an organization to create, once a decision is made to restructure.
So, while the next president may not have reorganization on his or her agenda, it might wind up on the agenda anyway. After all, the last two major reorganizations weren’t on President Bush’s agenda!