Senate Democrats accused an Office of Management and Budget official of withholding data from Congress that justifies a sweeping Trump administration proposal to overhaul the federal government, including merging some departments and shifting some programs for different agencies.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that is first considering the proposals, said Wednesday at a hearing that lawmakers were getting “stonewalled” and that the Office of Management and Budget had repeatedly declined to provide the underlying data that justified the government reorganization proposal.
“If we are emulating business, there is no way this document would be brought into a boardroom of any private company for (a mergers and acquisitions) determination,” McCaskill told Margaret Weichert, the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management. “It is woefully short on details.”
“First impressions are everything,” North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp told Weichert. “When you released that document I think it’s fair for us to assume that there was data behind that document, that there was analysis behind that document and that we should have access to that analysis as you work through these things. You can’t just plop these in the budget process and expect us all to say, ‘Brilliant, great idea.’”
Weichert told lawmakers that the proposal was meant to “showcase the art of the possible” and that the proposals included were at “various degrees of specificity.” She repeatedly described the proposal as a “framing document” and said that more data and information would be provided as the proposals get closer to implementation.
“As the proposals get traction in this type of dialogue about substance as opposed to process, we will follow the process that you always have in considering legislative proposals,” Weichert said. “We’re not there yet. So, I understand the frustration that we’re not there yet, but the task that we had was to be big enough. So that was the expanding part of the task.”
Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Democrats were putting the administration in a “lose-lose” situation and that this was the start of the process.
“They’re coming before us with a proposal that hasn’t all been fleshed out,” he said. “If they weren’t doing this, if they got the proposals fleshed out, had all the data and it was going to take more months, there’d be the complaints, ‘How come you weren’t consulting with us?’”
The proposal, the latest attempt by an administration to rein in the size of the federal government, would reorganize a number of federal agencies and merge the Education and Labor Departments. The government overhaul is rooted in an executive order that President Donald Trump signed in March 2017 calling for a review of the federal government, with the goal of identifying redundancies and streamlining agencies.
Weichert said Wednesday that among the proposals that were most “prepared for near-term implementation” were transferring background investigations from the Office of Personnel Management to the Defense Department, and to address the federal cybersecurity workforce.
While many of the administration’s proposals would require congressional approval, Weichert indicated that between 10-12 proposals could be done without legislative authority, though she did not specify which proposals. Asked by McCaskill to clarify, Weichert said that the administration is “prioritizing and determining” which will move forward by the end of this summer.