10 Things to Know About Government Reorganizations

Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The “soft” stuff turns out to be the hard stuff.

I have had a long and somewhat checkered career in public service. Among the things that stand out to me are the research and work I’ve done related to government reorganizations. I was involved in creating two new agencies, abolishing two others, and moving an agency from one Cabinet department to another.

While much has been written about the topic in general, a search for information about the effects of reorganizations is an unrewarding task. Almost no one has asked the question: What difference have past reorganization plans and executive orders made? How have they been implemented and with what results?

Here’s what we do know:

1. Reorganization is not a cure-all. At times, a careful analysis would have shown that a problem is caused more by faulty processes, a poorly trained workforce, or weak leadership than by the structure. Maybe the cause is a combination of the three. Success with large-scale reorganizations depends on the extent to which all three of these basic elements are addressed in tandem.

2. Lift the veil of secrecy quickly. Reorganization plans often need to be crafted relatively secretly, to ensure ideas don’t emerge stillborn. But once released, the circle should be expanded quickly to engage employees, unions, key stakeholders, substantive congressional players (not simply the government operations committees), and so on.

3. Reorganizations are often overhyped. Reorganizations are usually “designed” to simplify and streamline, bring about greater efficiency and economy, eliminate fragmentation, and so on. These goals are consistent with traditional public administration doctrine and characteristic of what Harold Seidman regarded as “administrative orthodox.” But it will be difficult, if not impossible, to measure success in terms of such proverbs or organizational platitudes.

4. There’s savings! What savings? Reorganizations always are justified in terms of a traditional public administration doctrine: economy and efficiency. But tracking agency savings, as almost any seasoned budget officer would tell you, is dealing with funny money. Most reorganization assessments have verified Rufus Miles’ assertion that savings, as a ground for a major reorganization, is a will-o’-the-wisp.

5. Implementation doesn’t follow automatically after policy formulation. Results will deviate from expectations. Any reorganized agency undertakes a heavy load of bureaucratic activities—budget, finance, grants, personnel, acquisition, security, real and personal property, and other administrative services. The magnitude of these endeavors can only be understood by someone familiar with the complexity and arduousness of federal management systems. But implementation often seems the missing link in reorganization.

6. Reorganizations have traumatic effects. Related to the above, serious concern with implementation is typically too little and too late. Enormous attention is devoted to analyzing and deciding what changes should be made. The problem of getting from here to there is addressed only belatedly. Government reorganizers must pay special attention to the problems that can be caused by excessive tinkering, Miles has noted:

“Traumatic reorganizations may be analogized to surgical operations. It is important that their  purposes be carefully assessed and a thoughtful judgement reached that the wielding of the surgical knife is going to achieve a purpose that, after a period of recuperation, will be worth the trauma inflicted. And the surgical knife should not be wielded again and again before the healing process from earlier incisions has been completed.”

7. Measure twice, cut once. The executive and legislative branches need to strike the right balance: a high-level blueprint, same flexibilities for the new leadership team to work out the details, engagement of empowered career executives as “co-owners,” with specifics on critical administrative authorities. It is important to get the newly created entity off on the right foot.   

8. The “soft” stuff often turns out to be the hard stuff. This ties back to my earlier points that reorganizations often are driven by hard-nosed finance and budget types who want to focus on “savings” and capture those up front. I was one of them when I was in government. But when you are phasing out programs and processes and standing up new ones—in effect, running them in parallel—costs will increase for a short transitional time before they level out. If one tries to make cuts then, programs are disrupted, services suffer, employees and customers are dissatisfied, and the reorganization falls under additional scrutiny and criticism. So patience, avoiding the thirst for instant gratification, treating employees properly, putting customer service at the forefront, all these “soft things” often have the larger impact on ultimate success and hence the bottom line.

9. If you do it, do it right. That encompasses all the points I’ve made earlier about the importance of implementation, but also includes using a reorganization to re-engineer, to rethink the field structure, and to use technology to transform the way one does business.

10. Finally, build a 21st century government. In his State of the Union address in January 2011, then-President Obama noted, “we cannot win the future with a government of the past.” Months later, he proposed a 1950’s or 60’s box shuffling trade reorganization “designed to eliminate government redundancies and consolidate overlapping functions.” Instead, as Chris Mihm of the Government Accountability Office has argued: “Federal reorganization should be more focused on creating and sustaining what has been referred to as ‘virtual organizations’ that use collaborative mechanisms to knit together various related programs and efforts that cut across federal agencies, levels of government, and even sectors.”

Alan P. Balutis is a senior director and distinguished fellow in Cisco Systems’ U.S. Public Sector.

NEXT STORY: Denver Offers $5,000 in Mortgage Aid for Eligible Federal Workers Hit by Shutdown

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.