President Donald Trump signed an executive order in March 2017 directing the Office of Management and Budget to develop federal agency reorganization plans to increase government efficiency. The American public was encouraged to submit their ideas for federal improvements and by June 2017 OMB announced that it had received more than 100,000 submissions.
Less than a year later, OMB said that “no responsive records were located” in answer to a Freedom of Information Act request for the public submissions registered by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
“How could they not locate 100,000 comments?” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch in a news release on the FOIA request. “The White House call for public involvement in reforming government seems to have been merely a cynical stunt.”
Four experts from think tanks and executive agencies testified on the potential effects of federal reorganization, as well as give their own recommendations on the issue.
OMB promised in an April 12, 2017, memo on the reorganization efforts to be responsible for coordinating the public’s submissions, stating that the agency would “share the public feedback with agencies as appropriate for their consideration.”
The FOIA request, filed by PEER in July 2017, called for records of the topic areas covered by public suggestion, how OMB analyzed the public’s ideas and what follow-up the agency took or plans to take.
OMB failed to respond to the original request, prompting PEER to sue OMB in January 2018. OMB then sent a letter on April 30, 2018, notifying PEER that OMB was unable to locate any records reflecting what the organization had requested.
The executive order and subsequent call for reorganization plans has come under scrutiny as an attempt to cut federal employees whose work is deemed duplicative or unnecessary. The reform plans developed by OMB and individual agencies were supposed to be submitted as part of the president’s FY19 budget proposal, though the actual proposal provided little detail on the individual agency plans.
The White House is betting its new reorganization plan will help the slumping morale of the federal workforce.
“We will likely never know if the public registered strong preferences supporting or exactly opposite what the Trump team has done,” said Ruch.
OMB did not return a request for comment at the time of publication.