The Trump administration outlined its intention to dramatically alter the federal workforce with an April 12 executive order that portends a massive restructuring of agencies and will include job reductions.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney touched on the broad strokes of a plan in an April 11 press conference, detailing the White House's goal to reorganize the executive branch with a focus on maximizing efficiency and improving the delivery of services.
"This is something that goes much deeper and into the structure of government," Mulvaney said. "The executive branch of government has never been rebuilt. It has grown organically over the course of the last 240 years.
"And the president of the United States has asked all of us in the executive branch to start from scratch."
The new executive order is closely aligned with President Trump's 2018 budget, which calls for double-digit cuts for agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department and the Labor and Agriculture departments.
Based on the budget’s numbers, agency leaders will have to plan for workforce reductions where necessary, as well as develop agency reform plans to submit to OMB by June 30.
Those plans would have to be ready to be put into effect by the end of fiscal 2017 in September.
Mulvaney called the order a more surgical plan than the hiring freeze — which ends April 12 — noting that the so-called "skinny budget" outlines which agencies will likely grow and which will almost certainly see workforce reductions.
"I think that everybody acknowledges that given the proposed reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency in the budget, they would have to reduce the size of their workforce," he said. "It’s up to them to come up with ideas on how to do that and effectively put the president’s priorities into play.
"At the other end of the spectrum, clearly you would expect the DoD and Veterans Administration to get larger."
To determine the level of workforce reductions required, agencies will have to assess personnel staffing levels needed, total personnel costs, organizational design, policy creation, the need to fill vacant positions and where technology may be applied for some positions.
Reorganization plans will come online in fiscal 2019, after the administration has outlined new efficiencies and possibly new operations and functions for the agencies.
The OMB director said the administration would reach out to Congress, the private sector and even the public to solicit ideas on how agencies and programs could operate more efficiently under the reorganization plans.
"This is about good government," he said. "It’s not about big government, it’s not about small government, it’s about good government.
"You go back home and look at Washington, D.C., and if you are on the left, the right, the middle — they don’t know where they are philosophically, they know that Washington doesn’t function well. And what the businessman-in-chief has essentially come to us and said is, ‘Look, make sure this government functions properly.’ That means it’s going to be more efficient, more accountable and more effective at providing the services that we need."
That may still be a tall order for the White House, who must still navigate budget negotiations to avert a possible shutdown by April 28 and get its full budget passed through Congress.
And after that, for the Trump administration to permanently reorganize the executive branch it needs more legislation and statutory reforms to ensure they wouldn’t be overturned by another president.
But while Mulvaney acknowledged that the White House is confined to reform through executive order unless it gets congressional support, the reverberations of this policy temblor will be tough to undo.
"Don’t discount the power of inertia," he said. "Because what we are battling against right now is the inertia of 240 years of federal government weighing down on its ability to change government. It starts to work to your advantage when you change it because then it becomes very hard to change again."