More than 3 years ago the Administration proposed that Congress grant the President authority to reorganize government agencies. The plan intended the authority to be used for “rethinking, reforming and remaking our government so that it can meet the challenges of our time.” When the proposal was made, the plan was to begin with 6 trade-related agencies (U.S. Department of Commerce’s core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency) and consolidate them into a single Department focused on helping American business succeed. The proposal went nowhere. The President revived the proposal in his 2016 budget plan.
The idea of restructuring the government is not partisan – it is simply good management. The federal government, like any large bureaucracy, has developed over many decades. Agencies have lost aspects of their missions and gained others. Like any good bureaucracy, agencies tend to focus a lot on self-preservation. When anyone proposes cutting their budget or diminishing their scope in any way, they respond by justifying their existence as though the world would end if they did not exist exactly the way they are now. So what we end up with is a collection of Departments and Agencies that are not quite what they were intended to be and that have evolved over time to be something that perhaps was never intended. The trade proposal was a great example of the overlap that exists in agencies today. Overlapping and conflicting missions generate more bureaucracy and more cost, but rarely result in anything that is better for the taxpayers.
If we are going to continue reducing the deficit, we have to find ways to cut costs that do not require cutting services. Even though most Americans agree we should cut federal spending, there is no agreement on what to cut. In fact, the majority of Americans polled on the subject did not want to cut any major programs other than foreign aid. When we get down from the macro whole-of-government level to the agency level, there is still little agreement. For example, when we talk about saving money on Defense spending, it appears the majority of people do not want to close bases or cut weapons systems. That does not leave much room to find the billions of dollars that need to be saved. The same thing happens across government.
If we really want to cut spending, we need to substantially rethink how government is organized. Every Department has bureaus, agencies, administrations or components that each have their own management and support structures that generate overhead costs. The more organizations we have, the higher the cost. Giving this or the next President the authority to restructure and combine programs and agencies has the potential to generate better results of the taxpayers, lower costs, generate a wealth of new ideas and give us and a government that works better for fewer dollars. It is not a Republican idea, a Democratic idea or any other party’s idea. It just makes sense.