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Feds surprised by Obama proposal to reorganize agencies

Jan. 26, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY and Comments
President Obama didn't offer many specifics on reorganizing federal agencies during his State of the Union address.
President Obama didn't offer many specifics on reorganizing federal agencies during his State of the Union address. (Nicholas Kamm / Agence France-Presse)

Management and union leaders expressed surprise Wednesday at President Obama's announced plan to reorganize government and impose a five-year domestic spending freeze.

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, which represents the government's top career executives, said that, while a reorganization of agencies may be worthwhile in the long term, "you know for certain in the short run there are going to be costs to do that."

And with managers already facing tough budgetary decisions, Bonosaro said, "now just seems like an extremely difficult time to do it."

"I don't know what he's talking about when he says merge or reorganize agencies," John Gage, head of the American Federation of Government Employees, told reporters in a conference call. "I'm very interested to see what he comes up with [on the reorganization] but I think he'll find there are solid reasons why the government is set up the way it is."

The proposed spending freeze on domestic programs would run through fiscal 2015 and apply to the overall amount of discretionary spending, not each agency's budgets. Exempt would be the Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs departments, as well as the National Nuclear Security Administration and the State Department's international programs. It follows a similar three-year spending lockdown proposed last year by Obama; because Congress has yet to approve a 2011 budget, lawmakers have never officially acted on it.">In unveiling his reorganization plans at his State of the Union address, Obama tied them to the broader goal of bolstering American economic competitiveness.

"We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable," he said. "We should give them a government that's more competent and more efficient."

The administration will begin putting a plan together in the next few weeks, White House budget spokeswoman Moira Mack said in an e-mail message. "We need to go through the federal government and identify where we can merge, consolidate and cut."

In a statement, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., called Obama's words "music to my ears." Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., believes the spending freeze is a start, but that lawmakers need to look further, a spokesman said. Warner is working with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., on a bipartisan bill that would incorporate recommendations from a federal deficit commission. Attempts to obtain a comment Wednesday from Chambliss' office on the proposed freeze and reorganization were unsuccessful.

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