Five Facts: The President’s Power to Reorganize Government
Last week, news reports surfaced that President Trump was taking steps to eliminate the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), a 5,565-person agency. If this action does occur, the agency’s wide-ranging responsibilities are expected to be assumed by the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the Office of Management and Budget. There are not expected to be layoffs.
This proposal is part of President Trump’s campaign to shrink the federal government and ensure it is more efficient and cost-effective for taxpayers.
Here are five facts on OPM and the president’s power to reorganize government:
1. OPM is responsible for “providing human resources leadership and support to federal agencies” as they serve the American people, according to its website. Its list of responsibilities is long and includes managing the civilian federal workforce, coordinating hiring, recruiting and performance policies, overseeing health insurance and retirement benefits, and ensuring employees’ rights are respected, The Washington Post reports.
2. According to CNN, while few details of OPM’s dismantling have been finalized, the process will likely take place in several stages. The preliminary steps to dissolve the agency are expected to begin this fall by executive order. Other necessary actions to finalize the decision will take more time and require congressional approval.
3. Washington lawmakers have attempted to put safeguards in place to protect OPM and other agencies. In their FY 2019 appropriations bills, both the Senate and the House of Representatives included provisions to prevent President Trump from taking unilateral action to reorganize the government. Unions are also concerned about President Trump’s plan and believe it could have severely negative consequences for members.
4. It is exceedingly rare for a president to dismantle a federal agency, especially one with a scope and annual budget as large as OPM’s. The Washington Post reports that no president has been successful in this endeavor in decades. In 1943, the Works Progress Administration, which was tasked with putting millions of Americans to work during the Great Depression, was dissolved. In 1981, Congress voted to get rid of the Community Services Administration, which coordinated federal antipoverty programs. However, since World War II a number of federal agencies have been created, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 and the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.
5. Federal law makes it exceedingly difficult for presidents to reorganize their cabinets, despite redundancy of function throughout many agencies. This wasn’t always the case; the Reorganization Act of 1939 gave the president authority to reorganize his executive branch while still ensuring there was congressional oversight. While this legislation was up for renewal during the Reagan administration, it ultimately was not acted upon.
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