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White House proposes merging education, labor (UPDATE)

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) —  The Trump administration proposed a major reorganization of the federal government on Thursday, calling for a merger of the education and labor departments and for the federal food-stamp program to be moved to the Department of Health and Human Services and for that agency to be renamed.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told The Associated Press in an interview that the changes are part of the president’s “drain the swamp’ agenda” and are aimed at eliminating overlaps in regulations and department functions.

The sweeping reorganization proposal is the result of a presidential order signed by Trump in March 2017 calling for a review of the federal government.

Mulvaney noted that the federal government now has more than 40 job training programs spread across 16 different cabinet agencies. He said things can be regulated in mind-bogglingly complex ways.

“If it’s cheese pizza, it’s FDA, but you put pepperoni on it and it becomes a USDA product. I mean, come on.” he said. “An open-faced roast-beef sandwich is USDA, a closed-faced roast-beef sandwich is FDA. Not making this up. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. This would only happen in the government.”

Among the specific proposals is one calling for the departments of education and labor to be merged into a single Department of Education and the Workforce. The combined agency would oversee programs for students and workers, including programs dealing with training.

The plan would also set up a single food-safety agency under the Department of Agriculture and move the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, from the USDA to Health and Human Services, which would be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare and be devoted more generally to public-assistance programs.

Housing programs run by the USDA would move to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and certain Army Corps of Engineers functions would be moved to the departments of transportation and interior.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s policy function would be moved to the Executive Office of the President, and background checks would move over to the Department of Defense.

Mulvaney said the plan was “not designed as a cost-saving” or as “a way to reduce the size of government” but said: “If efficiency drives you there, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Soon after he took office, Trump charged the Office of Management and Budget with coming up with a plan to reorganize the government and eliminate unnecessary agencies, saying there was redundancy and that billions of dollars were being wasted

“We will develop a detailed plan to make the federal government work better, reorganizing, consolidating and eliminating where necessary,” Trump said last year after signing an executive order on the reorganization. “In other words, making the federal government more efficient and very, very cost productive.”

But whether the proposal will prove effective is unclear.

Many of the changes would require approval from Congress and congressional leaders have been hesitant to adopt a plan that would eliminate federal agencies they are charged with overseeing.

Even before the plan was announced, it was met with skepticism from lawmakers and labor unions. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said members of both parties in Congress had pushed back against Trump’s proposals “to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves.”

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union representing 1.7 million teachers and education professionals, said that, under normal circumstances, combining the education and labor departments might be a good way to bring together school and workforce-development programs.

“But there is nothing normal about this administration, so we’re extremely skeptical of the motivations here given how hostile (Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos and President Trump have been to public education, workers and unions,” Weingarten said.

Eliminating the Education Department has long been a goal of Republicans. President Ronald Reagan, for example, sought to eliminate the department during the 1980s but backed down amid a lack of support in Congress.

And former Vice President Al Gore famously appeared on David Letterman’s late-night show and held up an ash tray as an example of how government functions can overlap.

“People are used to thinking nothing can change but the American people are really upset with the way it operates now, it doesn’t work, it’s extremely wasteful,” Gore said then. “There’s bipartisan support for getting rid of all these wasteful procedures, cutting the wasteful spending and putting in a new approach that will make it work better and cost less.”

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