Obama’s New Vow to Cut Wasteful Spending
Policy + Politics

Obama’s New Vow to Cut Wasteful Spending

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

President Obama on Monday stepped up his administration’s efforts to reduce wasteful government spending by creating a new oversight and accountability board and designating Vice President Biden as overseer of cabinet members’ initiatives to spend federal dollars more efficiently. The new campaign will build on the Accountable Government Initiative headed by the Office of Management and Budget, which has already streamlined the bureaucracy and cut contract spending for the first time in 13 years.

Obama signed an executive order establishing the oversight board to work with federal departments and agencies in an effort to cut waste and improve government performance. The president said in a statement that he’s focused on government efficiency and savings from the start of his administration, but that “as we work to tackle the budget deficit, we need to step up our game.”

Biden acknowledged at a White House event Monday morning that the new campaign “is not the answer to our long term economic problems” and will not put a huge dent in the $14.3 trillion national debt, but that it is essential to reassuring Americans that their tax dollars are being wisely and effectively spent. “For too long the federal government has allowed billions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted on inefficiencies,” the vice president said. “Over the last two years, we have been slashing waste across government, and today we are putting Washington on notice … We are stepping up the hunt for misplaced dollars.”

By choosing Biden to ride herd over cabinet members to get results, Obama has signaled the importance of the effort. The president has repeatedly turned to his vice president for important missions, including presiding over a bipartisan group of six House and Senate members seeking a compromise on a plan for sharply reducing spending while raising the debt ceiling. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., voiced doubt that the Biden group that he serves on would make any headway, but today he praised Biden for keeping the talks on track.“I think the success thus far of these talks is due to the vice president and the way he has conducted the meetings,” Cantor told reporters. “I’ve been very impressed with the way he conducts these meetings. He does like to talk. I do really think that he has conducted these meetings in a way that has kept the ball rolling.”

A Longtime Vow of Presidents
For decades dating back to the Reagan administration, presidents have vowed to cut government “waste, fraud and abuse,” to save taxpayers money and to bring down the deficit, but with very mixed results. And as the size of government and annual spending has steadily mounted, the magnitude of wasteful or fraudulent spending has increased.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office regularly identifies billions of dollars’ worth of what it describes as “high risk” government programs that may be rife with waste and abuse. The GAO most recently flagged as examples billions of dollars of improper Medicare and Medicaid payments; the expenditure of $1.6 billion annually to operate excess or underutilized buildings; and hundreds of billions in wasteful Department of Defense contracts. For fiscal year 2010, federal agencies reported an estimated $125.4 billion in improper or dubious payments under the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002, an increase of about $16 billion over the fiscal year 2009 estimate of $109.2 billion, according to the GAO.

As examples of "pointless waste" and "stupid spending," Obama cited daily publication of the Federal Register, despite the fact that it's available on the Internet and has been for years; duplication and overlap of federal websites; and the maintenance of thousands of surplus federal buildings he hopes to begin selling off. There are almost 2,000 separate websites across the federal government. The administration will immediately impose a moratorium on new sites, and will shut down or consolidate 25 percent of the sites over the next few months.

The new oversight and accountability board will consist of 11 members, including agency inspectors general, agency chief financial officers or deputy secretaries, an official from OMB, and other such members the president may designate. The new board will work closely with  Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability  Board.

“Any waste of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable whether we are in surplus or deficit, but it is particularly offensive at a time of such fiscal challenges,” said OMB Director Jacob (Jack) Lew. “At the same time, as we work to tackle our deficits, it is critical that we continue to root out waste, identify ways to do more with less, and ensure the tax dollars of America’s families are put to good use. We will continue to update the public on these efforts, building on the unprecedented transparency of the Recovery Act.”

Related Links:
Homeland Security Spent $700,000 on Useless Software (The Fiscal Times)
Spending Bill: Details of $38 Billion in Cuts (The Fiscal Times)
Coburn Takes Aim at Wasteful Government Spending (The Fiscal Times)