public-policy press-release

Administration’s Proposal to Reorganize Federal Agencies Will Undermine Well-Being

June 25, 2018


WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 25, 2018 – On Thursday, June 21, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a proposal, Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century, to reorganize the executive branch of the federal government. As the leading voice for the human service sector, the National Human Services Assembly (National Assembly) is concerned that these changes ultimately will impede the ability for human service agencies to build well-being, thereby weakening public support for the vital work of the sector.

“The organizations that comprise the human service sector share a common mission: to help realize the full potential of everyone, so that all can contribute to our communities in meaningful ways. Because no one can build well-being alone, the sector helps people access and arrange the elements and materials essential for social, emotional, physical, and financial well-being,” said Lee Sherman, President and CEO of the National Assembly. “The Administration’s proposal to change the name of federal departments and consolidate agencies, among other problematic recommendations, would undermine the sector’s shared goals.”

Language Matters

Language has the power to change minds, encourage either support or opposition, and bring people together under a common agenda. The National Assembly opposes changing the name of the Department of Health and Human Services to the “Department of Health and Public Welfare.” Replacing human services with welfare terminology reduces human services to its most narrow stereotype – that of emergency-only food or monetary donations that result in dependency – rather than show the rich and vast scope of human services available to all Americans across the lifespan. The Administration’s plan singles out these particular benefits and diminishes the larger set of human services that support the well-being of communities and help everyone reach their full potential regardless of race, class, gender, and national origin. Using “welfare” and its cousin the “safety net” is a return to outdated language that drives the perceived divide between “givers” and “takers” and creates an atmosphere of “othering” that can erode support for essential human services and increase the likelihood of harmful policies and budget cuts.

Consolidation Leads to Fewer Services

The National Assembly also opposes merging the Department of Education with the Department of Labor and moving non-commodity nutrition assistance programs into the proposed “Department of Health and Public Welfare.” Consolidating these programs under one umbrella, and using language that evokes an intensely negative and partisan reaction from the public, facilitates the scaling back of these programs. While increasing coordination, collaboration, and data sharing across federal agencies may lead to more efficient programs and services, collapsing multiple programs into a single agency or funding stream sets up an opportunity for spending reductions during the congressional appropriations process.

“Some federal programs for workforce development, job training, or education do, in fact, share similar goals, but they often support very different segments of the population or work in unique ways. Further, creating a permanent Council on Public Assistance to develop uniform work requirements to be implemented across all welfare programs will not increase the financial stability of low-income families and reinforces the false stereotype of lazy recipients who abuse the system,” Sherman remarked. Research shows that work requirements are not an effective way to move people out of poverty and often do more harm than good.

The plan also proposes integrating the three largest federal statistical agencies, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the Census Bureau into the Department of Commerce. Officials acknowledge that this creates risks for the “accuracy, objectivity, reliability, and integrity” of the data collected (OMB, p. 61), a concern shared by the National Assembly. Fair and accurate data collection, particularly within the Census, affects availability of services and funding for federal, state, and local programs, and is integral to the well-being of our communities.

What Happens Next?

According to the Administration’s proposal, the Office of Management and Budget and related agencies are expected to “begin a dialogue” (OMB, p. 6) with Congress this summer to develop a consensus about which aspects of the proposal are likely to earn Congressional approval. The National Assembly asks Congress to reject the Administration’s proposed plan to reorganize the federal executive branch and instead consult with human service experts about how to best deliver federal services in our communities. Human service nonprofits collaborate with federal agencies to help people access and arrange the elements and materials essential for social, emotional, physical, and financial well-being. The Administration’s plan to reorganize the government would undermine this work and further collective misunderstandings about the human service sector.