In addition to repeating proposals regarding pay and benefits, a White House budget set for release February 12 is expected to include more detailed plans to restructure agencies and make them more efficient as OMB directed in a memo last spring. That memo said that while some changes would be within an agency’s discretion others would require changes in law and pointed to this upcoming budget plan as the vehicle for proposing such changes.
Federal employee organizations commonly see “restructuring” and “efficiency” as code for downsizing the federal workforce and contracting out jobs to the private sector–although during the first year of the Trump administration federal employment was essentially flat and Congress specifically barred restarting the “OMB Circular A-76” process of considering federal jobs for contractor performance.
Congress did, however, expand a prior program of allowing more treatment of veterans at non-VA facilities–a policy that Trump cited as a positive in his State of the Union speech Tuesday evening but that the AFGE union that represents many VA employees considers to be a form of privatization.
Shared Services, con’t
That OMB memo also anticipated combining entities with similar functions within or across agencies, continuing a long-running move toward “shared services” and consolidating common operations such as data centers.
The Interior Department meanwhile has signaled an intent–which already has support from Republicans on a key House committee overseeing that department–to move positions from the Washington area to put them closer to the lands and resources they oversee.
A similar argument is being prepared regarding other agencies in a newly offered House bill (HR-4863) that would allow agencies to propose moving headquarters functions out of the national capital area, a bidding process for jurisdictions interested in receiving them, and paying for the costs of relocation through selling their current headquarters buildings.
Some agencies could see increases in funding, meanwhile. For example, the IRS has said it needs additional money to carry out the recently enacted changes in the tax code and to replace obsolete computer hardware and software. DoD and the VA also are expected to see recommended increases, particularly the former, although such increases would not necessarily translate into equivalent increases in jobs at those departments. However, agencies such as EPA, State and Interior could see a repeat of the reductions proposed last year, and a proposal to eliminate two dozen small agencies or units of larger agencies could be repeated, as well.
Limits on employee appeals
Also, in his speech Trump signaled desire to restrict federal employee appeal rights in the name of accountability. He cited an increase in firings at the VA after passage of a law in mid-2017 that shortened the time available to that department’s employees to challenge notices of proposed discipline and to appeal final agency actions to the MSPB, and that eased management’s burden of proof in some cases.
Trump called on Congress to give all agencies similar authority to “remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people,” although providing no further detail.