White House Calls For Deep Agency Cuts
By Ian Kullgren and Matthew Nussbaum Politico April 11, 2017
The White House on Wednesday will direct federal agencies to make deep personnel cuts over the next year, according to the White House budget chief and documents provided to POLITICO.
Agency heads will receive a 14-page memorandum outlining changes. The memo, which replaces the federal hiring ban Trump enacted in January, outlines cuts based on Trump’s "skinny" budget, released last month. The budget proposal called for deep cuts to domestic programs and an increase in military spending.
The memo tells agencies to “begin taking immediate actions to achieve near-term workforce reductions." It also instructs agencies to develop by June 30 a plan to “maximize employee performance” — i.e., take steps to reward employees deemed effective while working to improve or dismiss weak performers. The memo also calls for delivery by September of an agency reform plan to shrink personnel to accommodate long term budget reductions outlined in the skinny budget.
Speaking to reporters, budget chief Mick Mulvaney said the end result will likely take effect in about 11 months. The executive branch will be dramatically different, Mulvaney said, with agencies operating more like private businesses. Mulvaney downplayed the cuts, saying the focus was on making agencies more efficient, not just smaller.
“Really what you’re talking about doing is restructuring Washington, D.C.,” Mulvaney said. “That is how you drain the swamp.”
“At the end of the day,” Mulvaney added, “this leads to a government that is dramatically more accountable, dramatically more efficient, and dramatically more effective at following through on the promises that the president made during the campaign.”
The White House’s latest instructions to the agencies would appear to bear the fingerprints of chief strategist Steve Bannon, who pledged himself publicly to "deconstruction of the administrative state."
Mulvaney did not discuss specifics of the cuts, including how many jobs will be slashed. That, he said, will be left up to the agencies. But Mulvaney did single out the EPA — perhaps the agency most-loathed by Republicans — as a particular target.
“Everybody acknowledges, given the proposed reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency in the budget, they would have to reduce the size of their workforce,” Mulvaney said. “And it’s just sort of up to them to come up with ideas on how to do that effectively.”
But the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments will increase staffing, Mulvaney said, though he didn’t elaborate on how that will occur. He didn’t address whether agencies might hire contract workers to replace cut positions.
The memo says that agencies should eliminate programs that are duplicative, non-essential to the agency’s mission, or are already carried out in some form by state and local government. It also tells agencies to cut any program that is “not justified by the unique public benefit it provides,” and to restructure programs to provide better customer service.
The memo also tells agencies to explore new technologies to “automate processes and result in increased efficiency and budgetary savings.”
Not all of the staffing cuts will be achieved through layoffs. Trump has yet to fill scores of positions, and the guidance says any vacant posts judged unnecessary can be eliminated immediately.
Mulvaney insisted the process could be bipartisan and include public input.
“We are not just asking conservative right wing think tanks to give us ideas on how to fix this,” said Mulvaney, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina. “We’re asking the general public: intellectuals, academia and the private sector to give us ideas, and it may well be they come in and make suggestions that might be the exact opposite of a former right-wing member of Congress.”