Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Advice for Obama’s Executive Reorganization Initiative—Six Lessons from the 1970s
Press Release

RELEASE: Advice for Obama’s Executive Reorganization Initiative—Six Lessons from the 1970s

Washington, D.C. — White House officials are scheduled this week to present the president with recommendations for reorganizing and restructuring executive branch programs focused on competitiveness and trade, according to a memo from the president to his chief performance officer. The Center for American Progress today released a memo, co-authored with President Jimmy Carter’s reorganization chief, offering six lessons from the 1970s—the last time a restructuring initiative of this type was enacted.

“Reorganization does to the president’s official family—the Cabinet—what an estate settlement sometimes does to a private family,” write Harrison Wellford, Jitinder Kohli, and James Hairston in the memo. “It turns them into a pack of grasping, snarling canines. They will do anything they can to defend their interests.” Wellford, now chief executive officer of Wellford Energy, was executive associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under Carter and led the “President’s Reorganization Project” that saw the creation of the Departments of Energy and Education. Kohli, a CAP Senior Fellow, co-authored a major report in December with John Podesta and Sarah Wartell that urged the president to restructure his government for a more effective focus on competitiveness that was referenced in the reorganization announcement included in this year’s State of the Union address.

Six lessons from the Carter era identified in the anecdote-rich memo released today are:

  • Be crystal clear about reorganization’s goals. The more concrete and policy related, the better.
  • Don’t underestimate the political capital required of the president. He must also be prepared to invest his personal time to achieve a successful reorganization.
  • Be ready for the war within. The president must spend as much time selling his plan internally as he does to outside groups. Cabinet members and agency heads care deeply about turf and will fight hard to defend it.
  • Be ready for the war on the Hill. Reorganizations can only be enacted by Congress. Resistance is vehement especially among lawmakers whose power base is threatened as committee boundaries change.
  • Enlist external allies and understand foes. Key trade organizations, interest groups, governors, and mayors with a stake must be identified and brought on board, to preempt opposition to the president’s plan.
  • Reorganization requires organization. There is more to reorganization than the politics. They are major organizational change projects and require a skilled team to lead them.

Click here to read the memo released today by Wellford, Kohli, and Hairston entitled “Executive Reorganization: Six Lessons from the 1970s.”

Click here to read the December report by Podesta, Wartell, and Kohli entitled “A Focus on Competitiveness.”