Tuesday, March 1, 2011
President Obama signed a memo to all agency heads yesterday with an unwieldy title: “Administrative Flexibility, Lower Costs, and Better Results for State, Local, and Tribal Governments." But it contains the seeds of a potential shift in how the federal g

Over the years, presidents have directed agencies to streamline their administrative requirements and work together on behalf of citizens.  The last major effort was in the Clinton Administration, which met with mixed success.  President Obama has declared he will try again:  “I believe that working together, State, local, and tribal governments and Federal agencies can distinguish between rules and requirements that support important goals . . . .from rules and requirements that are excessively burdensome or may not serve their intended purpose.”

President Obama signed an executive order in January calling for “careful analysis of regulations” and “analysis of existing significant rules. . . .”  That executive order was touted as streamlining regulations affecting the private sector, but this new memo to agency heads notes that that executive order also applies to rules “involving and affecting State, local, and tribal governments.”

President Obama loftily declares:

 “. . . through smarter government we can do even more to improve outcomes and lower costs for the American taxpayer,” and notes “the array of rules and requirements imposed by various Federal programs and agencies may at times undermine their efforts to modernize and integrate program delivery. . . ”

. . . especially when they are not aligned and not synchronized across programs and across agencies.

What OMB Will Do

  • Provide written guidance to agencies on implementing this memo in 60 days (April 29).
  • Review and revise existing OMB guidance on cost principles, burden minimization, and audits for states, localities, and tribes that impose “unnecessary, unduly burdensome, duplicative, or low-priority recordkeeping requirements.”
  • With agencies administering overlapping programs, develop “efficient, low-cost mechanisms for collecting and reporting data that can support multiple programs and agencies.”
  • “Facilitate cost-efficient modernization of State, local, and tribal information systems . . .”

What Agency Heads Will Do

  • Take actions within 180 days (August 26) to “identify regulatory and administrative requirements that can be streamlined, reduced, or eliminated. . . “
  • Work with states, localities, and tribes “to identify the best opportunities to realize efficiency, promote program integrity, and improve program outcomes . . .”
  • Establish plans to “consolidate or streamline processes . . . to promote the same or better outcomes at lower cost. . . “
  • “Identify areas where cross-agency collaboration would further reduce administrative and regulatory barriers and improve outcomes.”

Will This Work?

This may be more difficult to do than reorganizing the government, which President Obama committed to doing in his State of the Union address! 

Similar efforts were attempted by Vice President Al Gore’s Reinventing Government initiative, and the Community Empowerment Board.  Few agencies came forth on their own with streamlining proposals and most proposals for “barrier busting” that were highlighted by states and localities were rejected by the agencies as infeasible or unnecessary.

The value of doing this, though, is that oftentimes there are myths about what is or is not required, and where barriers are more perceived than real.  There are cases where there are disconnects but resolving them will likely require a senior-level cross-agency “barrier busting” board that can moderate resolution of the identified problems, possibly by giving it authority to waive agency rules and propose statutory revisions to be fast-tracked in Congress.


Graphic credit:  Cartoon Photo Collection