DorobekInsider EXCLUSIVE: USDA undertakes extensive management reorg – downgrading the CIO, CFO, and seeking early retirements

Saturday - 10/17/2009, 7:30pm EDT

Agriculture Secretary Thomas Thomas J. Vilsack last week rolled out a major management reorganization of the agency that downgrades the roles of the USDA chief information officer and chief financial officer. As part of the plan, the agency has also requested the Office of Personnel Management grant USDA permission to proceed forward with early retirements.

The plan: Create a uber-USDA “Departmental Administration” — including operations such as procurement, IT, human resources and finance.

The goal: A more efficient organization, according to a series of memos obtained by FederalNewsRadio.com’s DorobekInsider.

Combining the various operations like procurement, information technology, human resources and finance into a unified USDA management area will eliminate duplicate functions and organizational layering; improve quality of services and communications; and streamline processes and improve transparency to customers. Ultimately, effective USDA management means effective results for taxpayers and the people USDA serves.

Here is the memo that was sent out to USDA personnel:

FROM: Alma C. Hobbs
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration

DATE: October 1, 2009

SUBJECT: Creation of the New USDA Departmental Management

Every day, USDA programs touch people across the country. We have a responsibility to make sure that these programs meet the needs of the American Public and that they are managed in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Over the years, there have been many changes in Departmental Administration creating duplication of functions, fragmentation and organizational layering. This has created inefficiencies and reduced the effectiveness of the Administrative programs. We have an opportunity now to realign these programs, strengthen integration of activities and create an organization that will increase our capacity for accomplishing mission critical work.

We are pleased to announce the creation of the USDA Departmental Management organization. This new organization will replace the current Departmental Administration organization, effective today. The reorganization will improve the management of USDA and reflect Secretary Vilsack’s desire to transform USDA into a model organization. On July 29, the Secretary approved the organizational structure for the new Departmental Management. On September 8, 2009, the Secretary issued a Memorandum to effect the changes necessary to implement the reorganization beginning October 1, 2009. There will be staffing changes effective October 11, 2009, the date of the first pay period of the new fiscal year.

We need your assistance to make this effort successful. Improved integration of management support activities at the Departmental level will move us collectively towards achieving a model organization, positioned to meet the present and future needs of our programs. This transformation is a tremendous opportunity for us to decrease redundancy, increase efficiency, and improve employee morale, and for all of us to make better use of our resources.

We would also like to reiterate Secretary Vilsack’s point that no employee will lose their employment, grade, or commuting area as a direct result of this reorganization. We have also engaged Unions to ensure that bargaining unit employees are represented throughout this process. As we move to the new organization, all employees will be treated fairly and consistently.

Leadership will schedule meetings with employees soon to discuss the reorganization and any necessary realignments or reassignments. These meetings will also provide opportunities for employees to ask questions. Also, we are establishing a web site to go live on Friday, October 2 (www.hqnet.usda.gov/DM_reorg) that will provide a list of frequently asked questions and updates on our progress. A Fact Sheet, Frequently Asked Questions, Secretary Vilsack’s June 18 letter, and an approved Organizational Chart are included for your information.

We are also pursuing Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) authority from the Office of Personnel Management to present as many positive options as possible during this transformation. A fact sheet on this topic is also included for your review.

As we implement this new organization, we are going to need everyone’s support to make this reorganization a success. We encourage you to stay engaged to ensure a seamless transition that benefits not only our organization, but the American taxpayers as well.

It has been clear that USDA has been in management chaos for some time — but most people believe that was the result of specific personnel, not the structure. (The Bush administration has combined the CIO and CFO job one person — Charles Christopherson — and the agency is still struggling to recovery from the senior people who managed to escape.

I certainly hope that the Obama administration isn’t following a model where they come in and spring a reorganization on employees without asking for ideas? There are also questions about how USDA manages to dodge the CFO Act and the Clinger-Cohen Act, which require that agency CFOs and CIOs respectively report directly to the secretary?