Robert Shea testifies before Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee

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Download the full testimony statement.Below is testimony delivered to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental  Affairs Subcommittee by Robert Shea on September 13, 2017. The hearing covered what it would take to successfully reorganize the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.

If implemented properly, the President’s Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch (Executive Order Number 13781) could be the most ambitious reorganization and restructuring of the federal government in its history. Countless reports and recommendations demonstrate that the government’s performance and efficiency could be improved if the impact of extensive overlap and duplication was minimized. To be successful, a great deal of collaboration with myriad stakeholders within and outside the Executive Branch will be critical. And that’s just on the front end. The real work begins when organizations launch the process of integration and optimization. But we shouldn’t even begin this journey unless we agree on what outcomes we are trying to accomplish and have evidence to suggest a reorganization will contribute to accomplishing them. Optimizing business structures to maximize results is ongoing in the private sector. Eliminating units or creating new organizations to improve performance are part of the DNA of business operations. The federal government lacks such agility, so policymakers are constantly trying to find ways to overcome such bureaucratic barriers to change. Because they haven’t succeeded, overlap and duplication among government programs continues to grow.

Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Annual Inventory of Overlap and Duplication We’re lucky that this committee has helped lay the groundwork for substantial reorganization and restructuring of the Executive Branch. As the Comptroller General reported to this Committee last spring, GAO had identified “645 actions in 249 areas for Congress or executive branch agencies to reduce, eliminate, or better manage fragmentation, overlap, or duplication; achieve cost savings; or enhance revenue.” GAO’s most recent report included “79 new actions across 29 new areas for Congress or executive branch agencies to reduce, eliminate, or better manage fragmentation, overlap, and duplication and achieve other financial benefits.” In its most recent report, GAO highlighted a few, new examples of the need for better coordination of potentially overlapping and duplicative programs:

  • GAO suggested the Army and Air Force need to improve the management and oversight of their virtual training programs to avoid fragmentation and potential wasteful acquisition of virtual devices. GAO said the government could save tens of millions of dollars.
  • GAO warned that the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Food and Nutrition Service, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not have a way to ensure their grants are reviewed for potential duplication and overlap.
  • GAO recommended the Department of Transportation assess the $3.6 billion it awards to “transit resilience projects” to ensure it does not duplicate other resilience efforts. Such duplication could include investments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or others.

These are small examples that illustrate the bigger issue of widespread overlap and duplication among government agencies and programs that GAO has documented for years.

GAO is quick to point out that not every area in which there is overlap or duplication would benefit from a reorganization or restructuring. Simply improving collaboration or coordination, in many cases, would go a long way to improving the government’s performance and efficiency. It takes leadership and commitment to overcome bureaucratic barriers and bring about that kind of collaboration. This committee, among the few in Congress with broad, cross-government jurisdiction, can play an important role in pushing agencies to improve collaboration among overlapping and duplicative programs and agencies.

Recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking I’d be remiss not to mention in my testimony the recent recommendations of the Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking, of which I served as a member. The Commission was a product of bipartisan collaboration between Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray and sought recommendations on ways to improve access to data for use in analysis of program performance and integration of the resulting evidence in policymaking. I was proud to be nominated to the Commission by Senate Majority Leader McConnell and we’ve been hard at work over the past year to develop practical recommendations you can act on to strengthen evidence-based practices across government. Among the recommendations we made in last week’s report:

  • Establish a National Secure Data Service by bringing together existing expertise now across government.
  • Resolve inconsistencies and barriers in law for better use of existing data.
  • Streamline the process by which researchers access data.
  • Conduct and disclose comprehensive risk assessments for publicly released deidentified confidential data.
  • Improve privacy protections with better technology and greater coordination.
  • Strengthen OMB’s existing guidance on maintaining public trust by codifying Statistical Policy Directive 1.
  • Align capacity for statistics, evaluation and policy research within and across departments and tailor administrative processes to make these efforts less costly for government to execute.
  • OMB should coordinate these efforts and consider strategies to prioritize evidencebuilding within OMB.

You can find a lot more detail about our findings and recommendations in the report we released last week. You can find the report here: Ultimately, our hope is Congress and the President can work together to rationalize the ad hoc way in which researchers access data for the purposes of conducting analysis and evaluation and agencies drive the development and use of evidence in their operations. If you are successful, you will have a lot better information with which to make decisions, including about potential reorganizations.

The President’s Executive Order on Government Reorganization presents our government with an enormous opportunity to fix glaring deficiencies that have significantly worsened in recent decades. Whether we take that opportunity depends in large part on the collaborative approach the Administration takes with its proposals and the willingness of this committee to enact them. And as I noted previously, the benefits of reorganization or restructuring will not be realized for years. However, it is my hope we will see the leadership and commitment necessary to make these long-overdue changes to our federal government, so that it works more effectively and efficiently for the American people.

Download the full testimony statement.
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Robert Shea
Principal, Public Sector
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