One of the little-noticed efforts of the past 16 months has been what President Obama and his team have done to change how Washington does business – bringing a new sense of responsibility for taxpayer dollars by eliminating what doesn’t work, cracking down on waste, and making government more transparent and responsive to the American people.
Since before he came to the Senate, the President believed that for too long the government has allowed ineffective programs to accumulate, duplicate, and ultimately undermine the purposes for which they were created in the first place. Indeed, driving this initiative is not the dollars it may produce to reduce the deficit, but a deeply-held belief that it is the obligation of government not to waste taxpayer money regardless of whether the budget is in surplus or deficit.
With this in mind, the Administration has been developing a wide array of efforts over the past year to cut waste, streamline how government works, and make the federal government more responsive to the American people. And this week, we rolled out a group of them.
On Monday, we announced our intention to create a new incentive for agencies to save on administrative expenses by allowing them to keep half of any savings they identify with the other half going to deficit reduction. The Pentagon already has a similar authority which is assisting Secretary Gates in his efforts to cut waste in the Defense Department, and this would add to that and apply to all agencies.
On Tuesday, we put out budget guidance for the 2012 fiscal year which reasserted the President’s commitment to the non-security discretionary budget freeze. In addition, Budget Director Peter Orszag and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sent a memo to all agencies asking them to identify their bottom-performing 5 percent of programs.
Also, that day, Director Orszag laid out how the Administration plans to use information technology to save money and make government services as convenient and cost-effective as all the online and mobile services we use in our daily lives. And the President directed the Department of Health and Human Services to cut the Medicare payment error rate in half over the next three years.
And just today, the President issued a memo to all agency heads directing them to take steps to better use and get rid of excess real estate holdings – from warehouses to office buildings and shacks on the Appalachian trail. And the US Department of Agriculture announced a reform of the crop insurance program which, over the next decade, will produce $4 billion for deficit reduction and $2 billion for high-priority farm programs.
All these moves build on efforts we have already taken including: identifying approximately $20 billion in terminations, reductions, and savings in each budget we have proposed; asking Congress for a new expedited rescissions authority to give us a new tool to stop wasteful and unnecessary spending; signing into law statutory pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) legislation; charging federal departments and agencies with saving $40 billion annually in contracting by Fiscal Year 2011 (a goal we are well on the way to meeting); and going after $100 billion in improper payments that go out from the federal government each year.
In the weeks to come, look for more efforts to save money and modernize government that we’ll be announcing because creating a government that is effective and efficient, open and responsive is a continuing commitment of this Administration.
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director