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Making Government Work in the Global Economy

Jeffrey Zients discusses OMB's progress in reforming our government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive and innovative America.

The last time the Federal government was significantly reorganized was in the age of black and white TV – a time when the global economy looked quite different from today. As many of you know, the President announced in his State of the Union Address in January that in order to win the future, we must reform our government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive and innovative America.  He tasked me with starting this effort with a focus on trade and exports, noting that a dozen different agencies deal in these areas. 

Today the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency released a new report that underscores the need for this review of the federal government’s structure and how it can be updated to eliminate duplication and fragmentation and better support the nation’s competitiveness a 21st Century global economy.

Over the last few months, Lisa Brown, the Executive Director of this effort, and I, and our team at OMB, have been hard at work gathering ideas, input, and advice from as many stakeholders as possible, hearing what works and what doesn’t, and where duplication and fragmentation exist, in order to develop informed recommendations for the President. 

At the heart of this initiative is ensuring that the structure of the federal government is best serving our nation’s entrepreneurs who are looking to expand their businesses and create jobs here at home by selling their goods and services overseas. 

So we’ve been talking to business owners – large, small, and everywhere in between to get their feedback. Earlier this week, I met with several business owners in Fredericksburg, VA who shared with me their challenges as they look to grow their companies. With a dozen different agencies to choose from, it’s not surprising to learn that many businesses, particularly those trying to break into the export market for the first time, are confused about where to go for assistance.  So we’ve been asking them, how can we do it better? 

We’ve also been reaching out to Federal employees, because we know that those on the frontlines often know best what’s really working and what’s not – and where overlap exists. In March, we launched a website to gather feedback from federal workers. We got a terrific response. Nearly 6,700 federal workers participated, submitting more than 5,000 ideas and casting 90,000 votes for others’ ideas. Submissions ranged from innovative ways to inform small businesses of export promoting services to large-scale reforms that would change the mission of some government agencies.

We also received ideas about how to cut waste and change the way Washington does business in other terrains  - and we’ll be looking at those as part of our broader efforts to make the government work better for America’s families. We could not be more grateful for this input.

We have no illusions about how difficult any reorganization will be, but we also know that we are at a critical moment and failing to act simply isn’t an option.

At any time, it’s imperative that the government be efficient and effective, but particularly in these tough fiscal times, we cannot allow taxpayer dollars to be wasted on overlap or systems that are not as effective as they could be.

Input and advice from stakeholders like federal workers, businesses of all sizes, current and former Cabinet Secretaries and agency heads, union leaders, good government experts and members of Congress and their staffs is critical to building a government that allows us to create jobs, strengthen our economy and compete in the 21st Century. 

We know we can do better, and this input has helped us stay on track for getting recommendations ready for the President in the next few weeks.

Thank you.