Update on White House Efforts to Reform the Executive Branch

Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President of the United States (seal)On April 12, 2017, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued agency guidance on how to fulfill the requirements of both the January 23, 2017, Presidential Memorandum imposing a hiring freeze and the March 13, 2017, Executive Order directing OMB to submit a comprehensive plan to reorganize federal agencies while aligning those initiatives with the President’s March 16, 2017, Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Blueprint. This guidance requires all agencies to:

  • Begin taking immediate actions to achieve near-term workforce reductions and cost savings, including planning for funding levels in the President’s FY 2018 Budget;
  • Develop a plan to maximize employee performance by June 30, 2017; and
  • Submit an Agency Reform Plan to OMB in September 2017 as part of the agency’s FY 2019 Budget submission to OMB that includes long-term workforce reductions.

With the issuance of this new guidance, the government-wide hiring freeze for federal agencies is lifted and in its place, agencies are to adhere to the principles, requirements, and actions laid out in the new guidance when hiring new employees. At the same time, the President’s FY 2018 Budget request, expected to be released in May, which will propose decreasing or eliminating funding for many programs across the federal government, and in some cases, redefining agency missions, should drive agencies’ planning for workforce reductions and inform their Agency Reform Plans. OMB and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will help facilitate reductions and monitor progress.

Under the guidance, agencies are to provide the following to OMB by June 30, 2017:

  • A high-level draft of their Agency Reform Plan that includes the areas the agency is developing for their reforms;
  • Progress on near-term workforce reduction actions; and
  • A plan to maximize employee performance.

OMB laid out a series of guidelines for determining how to eliminate positions in the long term:

  • Use data-driven workforce planning: Agencies should examine various data sources to determine how many people are required to perform tasks rather than simply going off the previous year’s numbers.
  • Determine total personnel cost: In searching for efficiencies, OMB said simply looking at staffing levels may not present the full picture. They should consider consolidating higher-grade positions and downgrading management-level positions.
  • Revise organizational design: Agencies should ensure they have the fewest amount of management layers needed to provide for appropriate risk management, oversight and accountability.
  • Streamline policy creation: OMB suggested agencies look at potential redundancies at the component or regional levels.
  • Review positions as they become vacant: Agencies should verify that each job that comes open reflects current mission needs.
  • Ensure positions are still relevant: OMB said some jobs may have become obsolete because of technology, especially in fields undergoing rapid transformation such as database administration, invoice processing and financial management.

As part of their FY 2019 Budget submissions to OMB in fall 2017, agencies will submit their proposed Agency Reform Plans to OMB. The Plan must include proposals for the agency’s long-term workforce reduction and be aligned with the draft agency strategic plan. OMB will release the final Government-wide Reform Plan as part of the President’s FY 2019 Budget request to Congress. The final reforms included in the Government-wide Reform Plan and the President’s FY 2019 Budget should be reflected in agency strategic plans, human capital operating plans, and IT strategic plans.

Starting in February 2018, OMB will begin tracking progress on the Government-wide Reform Plan. Sections of the Plan will be tracked through the Federal Performance Framework, including on Performance.gov. This will include periodic progress updates from agencies and oversight by the President’s Management Council, as appropriate. This includes public reporting of workforce reductions in all major agencies.

While some reforms will require congressional action, others can be implemented more quickly and without Congress. OPM will provide streamlined templates to enable agencies to request Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP), or buyouts that enable OPM to approve the requests within 30 days. OMB Director Mulvaney also encouraged agencies to begin eliminating unnecessary vacant positions immediately. Outside of the FY18 Budget Blueprint where 3,200 jobs have already been proposed to be eliminated for the Environmental Protection Agency, OMB stated that it will not prescribe specific targets for cuts and declined to elaborate on whether layoffs may ultimately factor into their plans.

Director Mulvaney also confirmed the administration plans to propose a 1.9% pay raise for January 2018. However, he stated that while high-performing employees needed to be rewarded and should welcome this guidance, agencies also needed to remove poor performers in order to make government more responsive and effective. The guidance includes a section on “Maximizing Employee Performance,” that states that “it is important that managers recognize high performers, help employees identify and address areas in need of improvement, and move quickly to address employees who are not meeting performance expectations.” By June 30, agencies are to review and update policies, procedures, and guidance on how to address poor performance and conduct, and instructed to “remove steps not required in statute or regulation to streamline (these) processes.” The OMB Director also is asking agencies to review whether employees currently on administrative leave because of performance or misconduct should be allowed back to work. Agencies will be required to provide every manager with the rules for performance improvement plans, to have managers and supervisors complete training on managing employee performance and conduct, to provide management with “real-time” support forums from labor relations and human resources for personnel actions requiring immediate action, and to hold management officials accountable in their individual performance plans for how well they address employee performance and conduct issues.

This is NTEU CountryNTEU is deeply concerned with agencies being directed to make drastic reductions in the workforce, in particular without congressional approval, and based upon unreleased budgets (FY 18 and FY 19). Additionally, we oppose proposed staffing reductions of federal employees with the aim of contracting out agency functions and services, which will only cost taxpayers more money, not less, and will in fact provide the public with less transparency and accountability. NTEU will work with Congress to halt the administration’s proposed workforce reductions, and will continue to press for a higher pay raise following years of no or very small pay increases, and to ensure federal workers maintain their employee rights and due process protections. However, we do support agencies providing adequate training to managers and supervisors, and have long supported bills on Capitol Hill to ensure management officials are capable of being effective managers, as well as fully aware of employee rights and due process procedures. NTEU is in strong agreement that there are too many layers of management as referenced in this guidance, and believes more functions could be handled instead by frontline employees. Lastly, NTEU will make it clear that any meaningful and lasting proposals and reforms to the Executive branch must include the ideas and recommendations of frontline employees who understand the work and interface with the public.