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Trump Seeks Merger of Gov't Agencies   06/22 06:14

   Taking aim at the sprawling federal bureaucracy, President Donald Trump's 
administration released a detailed proposal Thursday to reorganize a number of 
federal agencies and merge the Education and Labor departments. The latest in a 
long string of attempts to rein in the government, the plan met with instant 
skepticism and faced long odds in Congress.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Taking aim at the sprawling federal bureaucracy, 
President Donald Trump's administration released a detailed proposal Thursday 
to reorganize a number of federal agencies and merge the Education and Labor 
departments. The latest in a long string of attempts to rein in the government, 
the plan met with instant skepticism and faced long odds in Congress.

   Trump teed up his budget director to present highlights of the plan with an 
acknowledgement that the topic can make eyes glaze over: "Would the media like 
to hear Mick Mulvaney's report, or would you find it extraordinarily boring and 
therefore not fit for camera?" Trump teased to reporters at a Cabinet meeting.

   Undeterred, Mulvaney jumped right in, styling the document as a "drain the 
swamp" plan meant to control Washington's bureaucracy on a grand scale and 
saying past presidents' efforts had failed for lack of follow-through.

   Mulvaney said the plan would modernize the federal government through 
consolidations and reorganizations not seen since the days of President 
Franklin Roosevelt. "We're almost 20 percent into the 21st century but we're 
still dealing with a government that is from the early 20th century," Mulvaney 
said.

   The budget chief offered several examples underscoring the byzantine nature 
of federal regulations.

   Mulvaney told the president that a salmon swimming in the ocean is regulated 
by the Commerce Department, but once it swims upriver it's overseen by the 
Interior Department. And if it uses a fish ladder, that's governed by the U.S. 
Army Corps of Engineers. "This is stupid, this makes no sense," Mulvaney said.

   That brought to mind President Barack Obama's 2011 State of the Union 
address, in which he pointed to the different regulatory agencies overseeing 
salmon, whether the fish is swimming in fresh water or salt water. "And I hear 
it gets even more complicated once they're smoked," Obama said at the time.

   When the Clinton administration sought to "reinvent" the government in the 
1990s, Vice President Al Gore famously donned safety glasses on David 
Letterman's late-night show as he smashed an ash tray with a hammer to 
demonstrate cumbersome government regulations.

   Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said 
various reorganization plans have been hashed and rehashed for decades but have 
ultimately failed because of stubborn resistance in Congress.

   "You're not just asking members of Congress to reorganize agencies, you're 
asking them to reorganize the appropriations process and give up their 
subcommittee positions," Light said. "There's not a single member of Congress 
ready to give up those authorities."

   "You can put these pieces together in many ways," Light said. "But that 
doesn't make them work any better."

   The latest plan was met with skepticism among lawmakers, too. Sen. Patty 
Murray, D-Wash., said members of both parties had pushed back against Trump's 
proposals "to drastically gut investments in education, health care and workers 
--- and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make 
government work worse for the people it serves."

   Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor 
and Pensions Committee, which oversees the two departments that would be merged 
under the plan, said he was open to changes. "I think it's always wise to look 
for greater efficiency in how our government operates and will study the 
proposal carefully," he said.

   The proposal stems from an order signed by Trump in March 2017 calling for a 
review of the federal government aimed at identifying redundancies and 
streamlining agencies.

   Among the specific proposals outlined is a plan to merge the departments of 
Education and Labor into a single Department of Education and the Workforce, or 
DEW. The combined agency would oversee programs for students and workers, 
ranging from education and developing skills to workplace protections and 
retirement security.

   It would also create a single food safety agency under the Agriculture 
Department and move the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known 
as SNAP, from the USDA to Health and Human Services, which would be renamed the 
Department of Health and Public Welfare and be refocused more broadly on public 
assistance programs.

   OMB did not offer a specific timeline for which it would seek the various 
changes but said it would work with Congress.

   Trump is the latest Republican president to try to streamline the role of 
the Education Department, which was created during President Jimmy Carter's 
administration. President Ronald Reagan sought to eliminate the department 
during the 1980s but backed down amid a lack of support in Congress.

   Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a 
union representing 1.7 million teachers and education professionals, said under 
normal circumstances combining the education and labor departments might make 
sense as a way of bringing together education and workforce development 
programs.

   "But there is nothing normal about this administration, so we're extremely 
skeptical of the motivations here, given how hostile (Education Secretary) 
Betsy DeVos and President Trump have been to public education, workers and 
unions," Weingarten said.

   Light, meanwhile, said he hoped the plan might mark the end of fish tales 
when a president seeks to refit the government.

   "I've heard this salmon story so many times, it made me stop eating salmon," 
Light said. "It's been recycled by one administration after another. It's the 
poster child of this movement. But I'm telling you every salmon that is 
swimming up that river is ultimately going to Congress."


(KA)

 
 
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