Reorganizing Agencies to Reduce Federal Redundancy: Not the First Attempt

Published: March 16, 2017


On March 13th, President Trump released an Executive Order calling for reorganization of the executive branch to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability by eliminating or reorganizing unnecessary or redundant agencies, component agencies, or programs.

The order calls for OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney, to develop and submit a plan to the president within the next year (360 days) for reorganizing the executive branch by merging functions and eliminating unnecessary agencies and programs. The proposed plan is to also include recommendations for “any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.”

Mulvaney is to solicit plans from each agency head, as well as recommendations from the public.  When formulating the plan, OMB is to consider the following:

  • Would it be better for this function to be performed by state or local government, or the private sector?
  • Are these functions redundant with another agency, component, or program?
  • Are the administrative capabilities necessary for operating an agency, a component, or a program redundant?
  • Are the costs of continuing to operate an agency, a component, or a program justified by the public benefits it provides?
  • What are the costs of shutting down or merging agencies, components, or programs, including the costs of addressing the equities of affected agency staff?

The Trump administration cites GAO’s April 2016 report on “Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap and Duplication,” and the government’s failure to act on the recommendations. The White House press release following the issuance of the executive order states, “The Executive Branch has failed to fully follow through 53% of the time, failing to act on 243 of the 459 GAO recommended actions to reduce bureaucratic duplication and waste. Congress has failed to fully follow through 62% of the time, failing to act on 53 of the 85 GAO recommended actions to reduce bureaucratic duplication and waste.” GAO has been studying and publishing their research on duplication, overlap and fragmentation since 2011.  

However, Trump is not the first president to attempt to consolidate federal functions to gain efficiencies.  In 2012, the Obama administration submitted to Congress the Reforming and Consolidating Government Act to set up an expedited process to review government consolidation proposals. This legislation would have reinstituted the president’s authority to consolidate, abolish or create agencies, which former presidents enjoyed from the 1930s to the 1980s.

In April of last year, on the heels of the 2016 GAO duplication report, bipartisan legislation was introduced to require agencies to identify, consolidate and eliminate unnecessary duplicative government programs. Dubbed the GREAT Act (Getting Results through Enhanced Accountability and Transparency Act of 2016), its purpose was to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government in measuring and managing unnecessary duplication, fragmentation and overlap in government programs and to address recommendations from the GAO. The legislation died in the 114th Congress.

GAO estimates that over $125 billion will be saved from 2010-2025 due to agency actions taken as a result of GAO’s previous recommendations. GAO also estimates that tens of billions in additional funds could be saved if agencies further implemented their recommendations. 

These types of efforts and consolidations may go a long way in finding the $54 billion in civilian budget cuts that the Trump administration is seeking. However, attempts to consolidate agencies and programs, and eliminate duplication have seen marginal success in the past.  It will be interesting to see if the Trump administration can garner more success.