Here’s how to reshape US government for the 21st century


Healthy business organizations are designed to change and adapt to customer needs and the demands of the free market. The United States government should be no different. Our founders crafted a remarkably enduring framework of government and constitution to serve the American people. However, our current model of federal government organization has not kept pace with the needs of the 21st century.

Despite dramatic technological changes, today’s federal government still functions as it did 50 years ago. The current government infrastructure is not well organized or aligned to provide the service and flexibility that Americans expect in the digital age. Americans are used to convenience and use online shopping, mobile banking and other modern solutions to make their lives easier. So I cringe when I hear stories about how ineffective it is for Americans to interact with federal agencies. This is not how Americans want government to work.

Job seekers must navigate more than 40 workforce development programs at 15 agencies, and small businesses face bureaucratic and overlapping certification processes and complicated paperwork issues when they try to work with the government. Poultry processors have to deal with multiple government offices and time-consuming paperwork as chickens and eggs are regulated by different agencies. Even frozen pizza makers face confusing oversight, as cheese pizza and pepperoni pizza are regulated by different agencies.

Visiting federal facilities in Kansas City, I learned firsthand how our veterans struggle to navigate the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security office to figure out how to handle their medical and disability benefits. This administration recognizes those challenges and frustrations. In March 2017, President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Dies at 77 Biden, Democrats Lose Ground with Independent, Suburban Voters: Poll Bipartisan Senate Group Discusses Election Law Changes MORE issued an executive order directing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to propose a plan to reform and reorganize government to better meet the needs of the American people. This plan aims to balance the mission, service, and stewardship responsibilities of the executive branch, while reducing inefficiency, risk, and duplication.

At its core, the reorganization aims to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the way government serves its people. It is not uncommon to see a large company change and realign its business model. Why should the federal government be any different? While breaking through bureaucracy and re-engineering old paper-based processes can be difficult, it is not impossible.

The President’s Management Agenda, released in March this year, highlights concrete efforts to drive this change. It is the administration’s blueprint for investing in modernizing information technology, the effective use of data, and the tools to enable our workforce to better serve the country. By realigning our own business model, we will be able to streamline processes that help the economy and create jobs.

Over the past year, the OMB has reviewed federal agency reform proposals and solicited ideas on our website, where we have received more than 100,000 suggestions from the public, academics, business groups interest and federal employees. We’ve also evaluated the latest cutting-edge solutions from leading think tanks and business experts. After synthesizing this information, we have developed recommendations for reorganization and reform that will be published today.

These recommendations will reflect a mix of “top-down” and “bottom-up” transformation proposals for both short- and long-term change. This approach balances the realities and challenges of effecting change in entrenched, outdated and bureaucratic processes, while signaling a new direction for the future.

A transformation of this magnitude will take time to implement. Some changes may be implemented directly within federal departments and agencies while other more complex proposals may require action by the President or Congress. Either way, this administration has an opportunity to highlight how private sector management and reorganization practices can bring practical improvements to government services.

We have already seen similar transformations at the state and local levels. Cities like Pittsburgh, Reno, Provo and Kansas City, and states like Georgia and North Carolina, are evolving from their industrial and agrarian roots to become beacons of digital and technological innovation.

In times of great change, a commitment to “government of the people, by the people and for the people” is essential. As the United States faces the challenge of meeting the diverse needs of our growing country, it is important to re-examine government services to ensure that executive branch is well aligned with the realities of the 21st century. After all, neither Rome nor Pittsburgh was built in a day.

Margaret Weichert is Deputy Director of Management at White House Office of Management and Budget.


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