July 17, 2017

Cleaning the Federal Policy House

If You Haven’t Used it in Two…or 15 Years, It’s Time to Throw it Away.

On June 15, the White House released Memorandum M-17-26 to agencies, to eliminate, modify, or pause 59 policies that they deemed out of date or unnecessary. These policies cover information technology (IT), human capital, acquisition, financial management, and real estate, and were applicable across Federal Government agencies. Many of these policies are no longer relevant for government’s current business operations or were overwritten by subsequent policies, such as the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA 2014). Yet had not been taken off of the books. Others addressed very temporary issues such as the Y2K bug (seems like we all made it past that one) and the BP oil spill in 2010. Yet, agencies were still required to report on these events. #savetime: Not so much.

“Too often, burdensome tasks have piled up without consideration of whether the requirements collectively make sense. In many cases, agencies are asked to spend more time and resources complying with low-value activities versus allocating taxpayer dollars to meet their core agency mission,” said Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney in the memo to agencies.

In early 2016, OMB began identifying federal policies that were burdensome to agencies and produced little benefit for government and its constituents. This work accelerated when the new administration entered office, as eliminating government waste is a top priority.

OMB reviewed policies dating back to 1997 to see which were unnecessary drains on the government’s resources. The agency also found that some policies conflicted with others or were overwritten by newer guidance, and yet agencies were never given the green light to stop implementing the old policy. Additionally, OMB officials solicited information from agencies to get their input on which federal policies were worth eliminating or modifying based on their experience and resources. The result of this effort is the identification of 59 OMB memoranda that were deemed irrelevant and wasteful.

What does this mean for agencies and their staff?

  • Outlined in the new guidance from OMB is the potential to streamline the business case process for certain procurement activities. Prior to June 15, all inter- and agency-specific contracts required the submission and approval of a business case. The process was complex and inadvertently discouraged agencies from entering into new contracts with vendors. OMB is piloting a revised process that will kick off in August 2017. The intended outcome is to make it easier for agencies to do business with industry and vice versa, and allow agencies to make purchasing decisions that best suit their needs.
  • With the release of Memorandum M-17-26, the Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR) was disbanded. COFAR was an interagency group of Chief Financial Officers that made “recommendations to OMB on policies and actions necessary to report on grants and cooperative agreements, and share with executive departments and agencies best practices and innovative ideas for transforming the delivery of this assistance.” The White House has not given any specific guidance on how this will impact federal grants management in the future. The COFAR landing page on https://cfo.gov/ has been taken down.

This exercise is one of many efforts to eliminate waste in government. It is expected that other agencies will follow suit and do similar reviews of their policies to see what makes sense to toss out or revamp. Outlined in the memorandum, OMB is rethinking how it issues policy, with particular consideration for the long-lasting impact new policy will have on agencies and when policy should expire. Additionally, the agency intends to improve communication with other agencies and the public to provide clarity when guidance is superseded by new policy requirements. These efforts will ensure agencies only take action to implement active policy priorities, reducing confusion and burden within the government, and allowing agencies to better utilize resources to provide improved services to the American people.

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