White House offers waste panel to voters

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Many swing-voters are increasingly concerned about the nation’s fast-growing debt, so President Barack Obama has launched a new bureaucratic project to identify wasteful spending and to redirect spending towards other government spending programs.

The plan identifies few actual cuts, but did promise to sell surplus federal buildings and also consolidate almost 2,000 federal websites into 1,000 federal websites, and bar the creation of new federal websites.

In a measure of the project’s importance to the administration, the project is to be supervised by Vice President Joe Biden, who took leadership of the “Campaign to Cut Waste” in a White House event on Monday.

The project has won tepid applause from GOP leaders, who are pushing legislation that would require increased transparency of government spending programs. With more transparency, there’s more chance that wasteful spending will be highlighted and cut, say GOP officials. “The American people have a right to know how their money is being spent,” said a statement from Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of House’s oversight and government reform committee. “There is common ground and bi-partisan support for legislation to increase transparency … [but] we need to enact legislation and establish a permanent and independent board to create transparency in federal spending.”

The White House’s project was announced Monday in a video released by President Obama. “Just as families are living within their means, government should too, so we can invest in the things that we know will create good jobs and grow the economy, things like education and technology,” he said. “All of these efforts, to target waste and make government more efficient, have been a priority for my administration since day one… [so] I’ve asked the VIce President to lead a campaign to to hunt down misspent tax dollars,” he said. “Joe is the right man to lead it, because nobody messes with Joe,” he said.

(What should we cut from government?)

To launch the project, Obama signed a new executive order which establishes an 11-person Accountability and Transparency Board, headed by an official at the Office of Management and Budget. The board is to submit a report to the administration within six months on possible bureaucratic measures to improve management and to increase transparency of federal spending.

However, Issa is pushing for a legislative fix, not temporary bureaucratic changes. In a Tuesday hearing to promote his legislation, dubbed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, he won indirect support from Earl Devaney, chairman of the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. “Nothing works better than legislation,” Devaney told the hearing in a video posted by Issa’s staff. “That’s an observation not just from my time at the Recovery Board, but throughout my federal career.”

The transparency rules implemented by Devaney’s board were cited by White House officials as a model for the transparency portion of the new anti-waste initiative.

(Republicans unveil YouCut II, now with real legislative power)

The president’s executive order also directs the Vice President to hold meetings for agency officials to report their waste-reduction progress.

The agencies’ chief financial officers were also given responsibility for enforcing savings cuts. “This will include each agency’s share of the $2.1 billion in administrative cost savings identified in my Fiscal Year 2012 Budget, and for achieving those savings as quickly as possible,” said the executive order. In February, President Obama sent a $3,600 billion budget request to Congress, up 20 percent from the 2008 budget of $3,000 billion.

The White House’s announcement of the anti-waste plan included few details of potential spending cuts, but did promise to reduce the number of federal websites.

“As one of the campaign’s first steps, the Administration will be targeting duplication and waste among federal websites …The Administration will also shutdown or consolidate 25% of the 2000 sites over the next few months and set a goal of cutting the number of separate, stand alone sites in half over the next year,” according to the statement.

The White House’s announcement also included a report from the White House’s Accountable Government Initiative. The effort, led by top officials at the Office of Management and Budget, recently claimed $3 billion in information technology savings.

But annual federal spending on information-technology will grow from $85.8 billion in 2010 to $111.6 billion by 2015, according to a June 2010 report by Input, a market-research firm based in Reston, Va.