Obama's effort to reorganize government results in little progress

Friday - 9/14/2012, 5:00am EDT

John Powers, principal, Deloitte Consulting

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President Barack Obama, in his second annual State of the Union address, laid out his vision for a major government reorganization.

"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," he told lawmakers.

The plan Obama unveiled nearly a year later included merging six agencies focused on business and trade into a single cabinet-level department.

But while experts complimented the announcement as a step in the right direction, actual substantive changes have been underwhelming.

Why the Reorganization of Government was rated ineffective
Reason #1: No action on House and Senate bills to consolidate agencies

Reason #2: Small Business Administration elevated to Cabinet rank

Reason #3: Business.USA.gov launched

(More primary source material available on The Obama Impact Resource Page)

Federal News Radio believes the efforts taken, so far, made toward the proposed reorganization of business- and trade-related agencies have been ineffective.

The rating is part of our special week-long, multimedia series, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years. Throughout the series, Federal News Radio examines 23 different ideas and initiatives instituted by the Obama Administration and ranks them as effective, ineffective or more progress needed.

The reorganization effort was an uphill climb from the start.

First, the President had to ask Congress to reinstate his authority to consolidate agencies &mdash a power held by presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan until the original law sunset in 1984.

Despite the historical precedence for the authority, some lawmakers saw the President's request as an attempt to circumvent Congress. And while lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced bills earlier this year to reinstate the consolidation authority, but both bills languished in committee.

Incremental steps taken

In the absence of widescale reorganizations, agencies often take small steps on their own, said John Powers, a principal at Deloittet Consulting, LLP.

Agencies "don't give up generally; they proceed to what space they can take or what room they can move into," Powers said, such as consolidating disparate back-office functions to increase efficiency and drive better performance.

(Photo: Deloitte)

In his estimation, the President's consolidation proposal was a "reasonable" one, Powers said, even though it failed to garner enough support in Congress.

The current Congress is "not letting things happen at the speed or in the magnitude for a variety of reasons," Powers said. "They're certainly not enabling the agencies to move."

The administration could have pushed for more "small-bore exercises" instead, Powers said. But the President's request for fast-track authority to consolidate agencies seemed an appropriate method of achieving the end goal, improving the services provided by the government to citizens.

"I think we have to ask the government to be bolder," he said. "And that was a bold proposition."

More from the special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years

Part 1: Evaluating the Obama administration's management initiatives

Part 2: Evaluating Obama's technology reforms

Part 3: Evaluating Obama's workforce initiatives

Part 4: Evaluating Obama's acquisition efforts

Part 5A: What would a second-term for President Obama mean for feds?

Part 5B: What would a Romney presidency mean for federal workers?