OMB plan would put Corps of Engineers partly in USDOT

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WASHINGTON — A 132-page reorganization plan for key federal agencies released by the Office of Management and Budget on June 21 calls for, among other things, shifting the civil works program Army Corps of Engineers out of the Department of Defense and splitting it between the U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of the Interior, while “spinning off” federal responsibility for operating the nation’s air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration and USDOT altogether.

According to an article in the Journal of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Offices, the report concluded “today’s executive branch is still aligned to the stove-piped organizational constructs of the 20th century, which in many cases have grown inefficient and out-of-date. Consequently, the public and our workforce are frustrated with government’s ability to deliver its mission in an effective, efficient, and secure way.”

OMB also stressed in its report while some of its recommendations can be achieved via “executive administrative action,” more significant changes will require legislative action as well, the AASHTO Journal article said.

“Aligning and consolidating the Corps civil works mission areas into those of USDOT and DOI would increase consistency of federal policy and actions in both transportation and natural resource management, resulting in more rational public policy outcomes,” OMB said. “It would also enable the broadest possible view of both transportation and land and water management infrastructure, thereby leading to improved federal investment decisions.”

Cabinet-level changes are part of the proposed 32-point reorganization as well.

They include:

  • Merging the Departments of Education and Labor into a single cabinet agency, which would be called the Department of Education and the Workforce
  • Consolidating the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics within the Commerce Department as those three agencies account for 53 percent of the U.S. statistical system’s annual budget of $2.26 billion and share unique synergies in their collection of economic and demographic data and analysis of key national indicators.
  • Reorganizing the USDOT by (as noted previously) spinning off federal responsibility for operating the nation’s air traffic control system and the locks along the Saint Lawrence Seaway, while integrating into the agency certain coastal and inland waterways commercial navigation activities and transportation security programs, plus reassessing the structure and responsibilities of the Transportation Secretary.
  • Establishing a unified “cyber workforce” capability, working through the Department of Homeland Security and OMB in coordination with all federal departments and agencies, ensuring government-wide visibility into talent gaps, as well as unified solutions to fill those gaps in a timely and prioritized manner.

D.J. Gribbin, founder of consulting firm Madrus LLC and the former infrastructure policy adviser to President Donald Trump, told the AASHTO Journal that the “overall philosophy” driving this reorganization effort is the recognition that the government processes put in place a generation ago in the 1950s “don’t make sense” in today’s world.

“Our country, our economy, and our technology are all very different today; so we need to change government to be more reflective of where are economy and culture are now,” Gribbin said. “We need to develop a government that is more responsive, more accountable, and one that engenders the public trust.”

He pointed to the move to transition the air traffic control system from government control to that of a non-profit private sector entity as one example of this philosophy in action.

“We have a very good, safe air traffic control system but it is not efficient – it consumes more fuel and is hampered by delays,” Gribbin noted. “It’s also essentially a technology business so we need to take this entity and transform it so it becomes easier to innovate and implement new technologies.”

“Recent decades have demonstrated that the federal government will continue to change,” OMB said in its report. “The question is whether short-sighted, piecemeal change will continue to sell taxpayers short and ignore fundamental shortcomings or whether transformation will elevate government to the level of efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability that the public deserves.”

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