Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and one of the Trump administration’s most visible point persons promoting its plan to reorganize numerous aspects of Federal civilian agencies, said on Wednesday that the first fruits of that plan may be efforts to standardize aspects of the Federal cybersecurity workforce, ease the backlog of Federal background checks, and make improvements in the provision of government digital services generally.

During a sometimes-contentious hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Weichert in her written testimony delivered the broad pitch for the plan announced last month, but in her give and take with senators ticked off those three areas as ones that that may be tackled first because they have already received sufficient attention from OMB and because moving on them would not require action by Congress.

She told senators that of the reorg plan’s 32 proposals, between 10 and 12 of those are ones she expects the Trump administration to “move forward with” on its own in the near term. “We are prioritizing them this summer,” Weichert said of the subset of proposals.

Details on any steps OMB or other agencies might take to pursue changes on those issues remained somewhat scant today following Weichert’s identification of them as early movers in the process.

The reorg plan issued last month said it seeks to “solve” the Federal cybersecurity workforce shortage “by establishing a unified cyber workforce capability across the civilian enterprise, working through DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] in coordination with all Federal departments and agencies.” It continued, “The Administration will work towards a standardized approach to Federal cybersecurity personnel, ensuring government-wide visibility into talent gaps, as well as unified solutions to fill those gaps in a timely and prioritized manner.”

Weichert said Wednesday that the cyber workforce effort was likely to include work on skills-gap assessments, but otherwise did not add much detail about the process.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said she was interested in trying to solve the Federal cybersecurity workforce shortage, but has been unable to get from OMB a figure for the number of those workers that the government now employs. “As far as I can tell, the information doesn’t yet exist,” she said, adding “this speaks volumes to the magnitude of the problem.”

Weichert responded that OMB has started the process of conducting a cybersecurity skills gap assessment, but said, “we don’t have the results back in.”

“There are a number of interesting proposals that I have seen both here and in the House that are looking at things we might do,” Weichert said, adding, “But this is the initial start.”

Asked by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., whether Weichert supported the theme of a bill–the Federal Cyber Joint Duty Program Act–he introduced in May that would establish a civilian personnel rotation program for Federal cybersecurity professionals at non-military and non-intelligence agencies, Weichert responded that the bill “is well aligned” with the administration’s thinking on cybersecurity workforce improvements.

Likewise, she said the reorg plan’s “customer experience proposal” was likely an early mover, but provided little else in the way of planning details.

The June reorg plan says it aims to “transform the way Americans interact with the Federal government by establishing a government-wide customer experience improvement capability to partner with Federal agencies to help them provide a modern, streamlined, and customer-centric experience for citizens, businesses, and other customers, comparable to leading private sector organizations.”

Weichert provided some new detail Wednesday on plans to reduce the backlog for government background checks, which she said stood at about 700,000. The June proposal called for transfer of responsibility to conduct national background investigations from OPM to the Defense Department (DoD), which it said will provide “the opportunity to achieve an efficient, effective, fiscally viable, and secure operation that meets all agencies’ needs.”

She said today that agencies and groups involved in solving the background checks backlog include DoD, Director of National Intelligence, OPM, and the National Security Council. “We are working through those issues as we speak,” she said.

For the 10-12 issues on tap for quicker action, she said that generally “what we are doing now is working with the affected agencies and working to determine … what the operating mode would be to move that forward.”

As for others among the 10-12 items, “we will have more information about that at end of the summer,” Weichert said. “We are spending the summer doing that final analysis,” she said, adding that the 10-12 item estimate on early-moving proposals may be winnowed down to as few as eight.

Key Democrats on the committee, including ranking member Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., blasted Weichert for not providing much data to senators about OMB’s various proposals under the reorg plan, and even some committee Republicans including Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., urged Weichert to provide extensive data to Congress if it hoped to generate any cooperation among legislators for the reorg plan.

Sen. McCaskill said the cyber workforce and citizen services proposals “are things we can work on together,” but derided other administration proposals as just “notional ideas” that are not backed up with enough data to explain their impact. Others, she said, like an idea to privatize the Postal Service, she pronounced “untenable.”

Her overriding complaint was a lack of data on proposals in the OMB plan, and a complaint that senators seeking more information were being “stonewalled.”

“If we are not getting the information you’ve got, then this is not serious,” she said of the reorg proposals. “You’ve got to provide the detail, the data, the analysis, the agency plans behind these proposals … This is where we will stalemate, if we can’t openly share information behind these proposals,” she said.

“I am willing to begin anew,” McCaskill said, but reiterated that “we have to share information … not just notional ideas that are thrown out with no meat on the bone.”

McCaskill complained that thus far OMB had not been able to tell senators the number of its proposals that might need congressional approval, and said, “that’s not a high bar.” She continued, “if you will begin to share and not stonewall I think you may be pleasantly surprised at the level of cooperation” in the Senate. “You may not get 85 votes, but you damn well might get to 60,” she said.

“This process, we are just at the start of it,” said Johnson, who was assured by Weichert that members of Congress would receive more information about the reorg proposals as time went on. “When you are really ready to make a proposal … then give us something,” he said.

Questioned by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., about workforce implications of the OMB proposals, Weichert said the initial plan contemplated a reduction in the workforce, but said that currently, “generally the goal is not reduction in force.”

Rather, she said, “there may be some change based on mismatch” of job skills to job opportunities. “We have the challenge of having the right number of Federal employees on the right task,” she said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.