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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson July 15, 2020
Emily Venezky
By Emily Venezky July 15, 2020

The President can’t change the organization of every department

In 2017, President Donald Trump announced an executive order to have executive agencies give a report on extra spending within their departments, so the White House could work on reorganizing the Executive Branch to minimize wasteful spending and make agencies more efficient. 

In 2018, after evaluating agency reports, the White House announced reforms in a project it called, "Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century."  Some of the biggest changes proposed were merging the food safety department shared between the FDA and USDA, merging the Education and Labor departments into a single cabinet agency, and creating a new Bureau of Economic Growth within the Department of Commerce. 

Most of these reorganizing efforts would need approval from Congress, which none received. A few smaller changes don't need congressional approval, but Congress can still stall action by withholding funds. 

One example of a reform from Trump's plan that has been stalled is a merger of the government's human resources agency, the Office of Personnel Management, with the General Services Administration. The two agencies have been meeting and planning the merger for over two years now, but have been unable to agree on a merger plan.

Congress has taken other steps to stop or slow down some of the re-organizing efforts.

The first deal for the 2019 fiscal funding bill included a joint statement dismissing the administration's proposal for reorganizing the Army Corps of Engineers. The news website Government Executive reported that the statement said lawmakers were "perplexed as to why there was no notification or discussion with members of Congress and committees staffs on an action of this magnitude that crosses multiple subcommittees' jurisdiction." They clarified that "no funds provided in this act or any previous act to any agency shall be used to implement this proposal."

Congress went on to formally block the Office of Personnel Management merger in the 2019 defense authorization bill, asking for a congressionally chartered organization to study the structure of the office and write a report. 

Without clear congressional support and with bureaucratic processes slowing down reorganizing efforts, Trump's reorganization plan did not succeed in eliminating wasteful spending in every department. We rate this Promise Broken.

Allison Colburn
By Allison Colburn November 9, 2017

Trump administration asks agencies to ‘reorganize’

Among President Donald Trump's campaign promises was a pledge to eliminate "wasteful" spending in every sector of the federal government.

Specifically, he said he would "ask every department head and government to provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate" in his first 100 days.

"The politicians have talked about this for years, but I'm going to do it," Trump said during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

Trump has taken action here. But it appears what he proposed is just a normal part of the job.

Three federal agencies contacted by PolitiFact interpreted the president's words as a reference to the list of budget priorities each agency compiles every year. The White House did not respond to a request for clarification.

The annual federal budget process begins around 17 months prior to the fiscal year when the president and the Office of Management and Budget solicit requests to agencies for each department's budget priorities, including what should be cut or what funding should increase. The office then gives each agency feedback on the proposals.

Agencies are barred from submitting their budget requests directly to Congress, per the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act.

Usually in February, the president submits his budget request to Congress, which may consider the president's request when creating the budget.

The White House publicly released its fiscal year 2018 request in May. Details of the final budget were still being ironed out in Congress at the end of October, behind the budget's Oct. 1 deadline.

In its 2019 budget guidance, which was sent to agencies on July 7, the Office of Management and Budget asked the agencies to submit plans to "reform" their departments in accordance with an executive order signed on March 13.

That order requested agencies to come up with a way to "reorganize the agency, if appropriate, in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency." The Office of Management and Budget's director will then decide whether to "eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions."

The agency budget proposals along with their plans for restructuring or possibly cutting portions of the agencies were due to the Office of Budget and Management on Sept. 11.

Even though compiling a list of budget priorities and possible areas in which cuts can be made is an annual task for federal agencies, Trump did emphasize his goal to cut down on spending that he deems wasteful in an executive order. Whether cuts are made will be largely left up to Congress. For now we rate this In the Works.

Our Sources

Vox, "Full transcript of Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the RNC," July 22, 2016

Congressional Research Service, "Introduction to the Federal Budget Process," Dec. 3, 2012

White House, Fiscal year 2018 budget, May 23, 2017

White House, "Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch," March 13, 2017

Office of Budget and Management memo, Fiscal Year 2019 budget guidance, July 7, 2017

Email, Bill Hall, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deputy assistant secretary of public affairs for public health, Oct. 31, 2017

Email, U.S. Department of Agriculture communications office, Oct. 31, 2017

Email, Nicole Thompson, U.S. Department of State Office of Press Relations, Oct. 31, 2017

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