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White House Releases Governmental Reorganization for the 21st Century

This week, the Office of Management and Budget released a proposal, entitled, Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century. It is an action plan to meet the president’s commitment to reorganize and shrink federal bureaucracy.  The overall driver behind the plan is a priority to better align program management through consolidations, to enhance the use of technology to better deliver services, and to redesign existing bureaucratic orgaU.nizations to redirect efforts to higher priority needs.

The plan echoes past administrations’ attempts, dating back to the Carter Administration.  Overall, the plan targets the sprawling network of programs and agencies dedicated to public health and welfare needs.  From a natural resources perspective, the plan seeks incremental changes in various agencies’ program responsibilities, ranging from the management of fisheries to cleanups of contaminated sites to the delegation of program management to the states.  Much of the plan’s elements will require congressional approval before implementation can proceed.  The prospects of swift action in the months leading up to congressional elections seem slim.  However, several proposed actions, including moving the government’s programs administration onto e-platforms could be accomplished through budgetary priorities as part of the fiscal year 2019 budget.  For now, the Administration plans to use the next few months to work with Congress to develop a path forward to implement the plan’s objectives.

Among the plan’s highlights:

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Responding to years of stakeholders questioning the housing of the Civil Works Program in U.S. Department of Defense that manages flood, navigation, and ecosystem restoration needs, the plan would transfer these responsibilities to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Department of the Interior (USDOI).  Navigation programs would reside at USDOT where other transportation programs are managed.  Natural resources programs such as ecosystem restoration, water management and Endangered Species Act (ESA)-related responsibilities would reside at USDOI, including the tortuous dredge and fill 404 permitting process.
  • National Marine Fisheries Service: Rejecting past efforts to reassign all natural resources management programs within the U.S. Department of Commerce, the plan seeks to remove only the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and place it at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  This action would, in theory, expedite ESA consultations as NMFS and USFWS would be under one agency roof.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would remain within the U.S. Department of Commerce, although if the plan does move forward, Congress could expand the realignment and move NOAA into the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Environmental Cleanups: In response to the growing demand to address contaminated waste sites, like abandoned mines, responsibilities would be consolidated within U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.
  • International Finance Programs: Programs that support development and environmental protection throughout Africa, Caribbean and other lesser developed nations would be consolidated under a Development Finance Institution. Agencies, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would fall under the new Institution.  The focus would be to leverage increased private sector commitments, while limiting the role of federal agencies that might displace private sector involvement.  USAID programs would also undergo a restructuring.  A new management focus on humanitarian assistance and food security is directed.  Additionally, other USAID program functions would be consolidated into new bureaus of operations to eliminate duplication and deliver efficiencies in program delivery.  Finally, the plan recognizes the growing role of Asia and seeks to create a separate management structure to target Asia and its needs.
  • Department of Energy: S. Department of Energy’s (USDOE) current energy innovation program structure would be revamped with a new Office of Energy Innovation. It would manage the multitude of research and development (R&D) programs that USDOE currently conducts and subject all R&D needs, ranging from grid to renewables to cybersecurity, to a competitive process to secure budgetary resources.  The plan notes that the existing silos approach fails to deliver efficiencies.
  • Department of Commerce: A new Bureau of Economic Growth would be established placing all economic development assistance programs under this new Bureau.  This uber-Bureau would hold sway over U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and U.S. Department of Agriculture economic assistance programs.  It would also provide technical assistance that currently is offered at these and other agencies.
  • GEAR Center: To address innovation and deliver results, the plan would create a public private partnership drawing on experts from across the government and industry who are involved in behavioral economics, computer sciences, and design to develop new ways for how the public interacts with the federal government.  A focus on “prize competitions” to spur innovation in a number of disciplines would be an element of the Center.
  • Federal Program Evaluation: What could be the sleeper issue of the proposed plan is a priority to step-up evaluation of benefits derived from federal programs that could be used to determine appropriate federal funding into future years.  To this end, agencies would appoint a senior official to carry-out reviews and evaluations that would be used to develop funding priorities by the Office of Management and Budget in a process to develop budgets and approve or disapprove of policies.

White House CEQ Seeks Comments on National Environmental Policy Act

On June 19, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on potential revisions to update and clarify National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations.  Comments are due by July 20, 2018.

This rulemaking is part of an effort by the Administration to reform the federal environmental permitting system.  On August 15, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13807 (E.O 13807).  E.O. 13807 directed CEQ to develop a list of actions to enhance and modernize the federal environmental review and authorization process, this notice starts this review. CEQ requests comments regarding the NEPA Process, the scope of NEPA review and general ways the NEPA process can be improved.

Examples of some of the questions within the notice that CEQ poses are:

  • Should definitions of any key NEPA terms in CEQ’s NEPA regulations (major federal action, effects, cumulative impacts, significantly, scope) be revised, and if so, how?
  • Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to make the NEPA process more efficient by better facilitating agency use of environmental studies, analysis, and decisions conducted in earlier Federal, State, tribal or local environmental reviews or authorization decisions, and if so, how?

House Republican Budget Seeks Sharp Deficit Reduction

This week, House Committee on the Budget Chairman Steve Womack (R-AR) released a concurrent budget resolution for fiscal year 2019, titled “A Brighter American Future.” On June 21, the Committee approved the resolution by a party-line vote of 21-13.

The budget resolution is a blueprint that governs overall spending decisions. House fiscal conservatives consider it as an important tool to direct funding reductions, over 10 years, to address budget deficits and to reduce the national debt. This budget resolution proposes to balance the federal budget in nine years and contains instructions for authorizing committees to identify $302 billion in deficit reduction.

Two important factors probably make this budget resolution moot but for the out years’ reduction mandate.  First, Congress agreed to a bipartisan budget deal that established annual spending caps for FY 2019 defense and non-defense spending.  Second, the House has already approved its first batch of FY 2019 appropriations bills.  Prospects for passage of the budget resolution in the House are unclear given the uncertainty of the legislative calendar.  Even if the House passed the resolution, it is highly unlikely that the Senate would consider sharp reductions in entitlement programs.

House Narrowly Passes Farm Bill

On June 21, the House approved H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, on a party-line vote of 213-211.  In May, H.R. 2 failed to pass the House after 30 Republicans joined Democrats in opposition to the bill.  House Freedom Caucus members withheld support as leverage to force a vote on a White House-supported immigration measure.  With a vote on the immigration measure guaranteed, Freedom Caucus members provided the votes needed for H.R. 2 to pass by the slimmest of margins.

Democratic opposition to H.R. 2 was due to several controversial provisions, including revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program requiring strict work requirements and elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program.

What is Next: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that the Senate will consider the farm bill next week.  Should the Senate bill pass, as expected, the House and Senate will enter into a difficult conference process to iron out the differences between their respective bills.  The current farm bill, the Agriculture Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79), expires on September 30, 2018.

Senate Committee Considers USEPA Nominations

On June 20, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on the nominations of William McIntosh to be Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs and Peter Wright to be assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  A committee vote on the nominations has yet to be scheduled.

Legislative Activity This Week

H.R. 5515, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.  Passed Senate 85-10.

Reports and Regulation

USEPA CWA Hazardous Substances Spill Prevention – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed action to establish no new requirements under the Clean Water Act Sec. 311.  Sec. 311 “directs the President to issue regulations to prevent discharges of oil and hazardous substances from onshore and offshore facilities, and to contain such discharges.”

PFAS Report – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services draft report on the health effects and risks of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS).

Ocean Policy to Advance the Economic, Security, and Environmental Interests of the United States.  White House Executive Order that formally revokes the 2010 oceans policy issued by then President Barack Obama.

Congress Next Week

June 26, 2018

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform – Hearing on the Access to Public Lands: The Effects of Forest Service Road Closures