By Jeff Harris
President Obama called on Congress last week to work with his administration to introduce reforms that would make the federal government more efficient. We asked some of our experts what they would recommend.
One way to modernize government is to combine those functions relating to the historic management of public lands into one federal agency. Currently, USDA's Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (Interior), and the National Park Service (Interior) separately administer tens of millions of acres of public lands and while the agencies generally work together well, many of their functions (tourism, forest and mining, land and species protection) are similar and there is duplicative staffing and bureaucracy, as well as conflicting regulatory authorities and public confusion. Changes, while politically difficult and often sensitive, could save tens of millions of dollars a year.
Clark Ervin, consultant for the Institute's Homeland Security Program and former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, suggested simplifying the department's role in the intelligence community:
The Department of Homeland Security should carry out only those functions that aren’t already being carried out, or are better carried out; or should be carried out by other agencies. For example, the department is one of the 16 agencies collectively constituting the “intelligence community.” In theory, having 16 different agencies all doing “intelligence" is the definition of inefficiency. On the other hand, no one intelligence agency is better positioned to collect intelligence from and disseminate it to state and local governments and private industry. This is the only intelligence role that unit should play.
Eric Motley, executive director of the Aspen-Rockefeller Foundation’s Commission to Reform the Federal Appointments Process and former special assistant to President George W. Bush for Presidential Personnel, highlighted the commission's work in this area:
For the last year and a half a special Aspen Institute bipartisan commission to help reform the Federal appointments process, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, has worked closely with representatives of the Senate, White House and relevant government agencies to consider measures to expedite the appointments process without lessening the attention paid to nominees’ qualifications. The reforms that we have been encouraging will help make it possible for the Senate to confirm (or deny) the appointment of more senior officials in the early months of a new administration, as they will have more time and available resources to do so. The new tools and capacities emanating from this work will make it possible for the Senate to get nominees’ background information with the nomination instead of weeks later; so they can begin their vetting process much sooner and increase their capacity to confirm nominees, particularly in the first months of a new administration.