“What should be easy is getting rid of the pointless waste and stupid spending that doesn’t benefit anybody,” President Obama said in a video released June 13 announcing a “Campaign to Cut Government Waste.”

Since his administration began in 2009, President Obama ordered each department and agency to eliminate waste and unused or useless programs. Executive branch-wide reviews found hundreds of millions, even billions in wasteful spending that have already been eliminated.

Reviews of regulations and rules have also unearthed hundreds of federal rules that do nothing to protect the health and safety of the American people but still cost hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars each year.

In this new initiative, the Campaign to Cut Waste, the result of an Executive Order signed on June 13, the President has ordered each department and agency to report regularly to Vice President Biden who will head a new task force on government accountability.

According to White House officials, that new task force will be centered in the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) and will be composed of department heads and inspectors general who have developed programs in different federal agencies that have caught fraud and waste. The new task force will work with successful existing resources rather than add new costs to taxpayers as well.

OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Jeffrey Zients, speaking to reporters on a conference call June 13, said, “We’ve made substantial headway in changing the way Washington does business by attacking waste and saving money.”

He cited several examples of how the administration has already targeted wasteful spending. The Department of Energy, prior to the Obama administration, used a single, no-bid contract for its information technology support. By adding competitive bidding and multiple contractors, the DOE has been able to save more than $22 million annually just on information technology support and to spread those contracts around to dozens of small employers.

“We’re now getting the same service for less,” Zients said.

In a similar vein, federal government contracts for cell phones for federal employees will be consolidated to save some $200 million each year. Prior to the Obama administration agencies paid for cell phone usage on individual contracts.

Zients also pointed out that federal government runs 2,000 websites currently, many of which go unused or are simply unnecessary. The new task force will seek to eliminate more than 1,000 by the end of the year through consolidation or elimination.

The administration in 2010 cut federal contract spending for the first time in 13 years, and reduced the cost of no-bid contracts by $5 billion, he said.

Methods of transparency adopted through the recovery act and used successfully in the Medicare program helped to catch billions in improper or fraudulent payments, Zients explained.

Simple things like a government-wide “do not pay” list will help agencies and departments avoid paying contractors redundantly, unfortunately an all-too-frequent and expensive occurrence. Such new practices have allowed the administration to capture almost $1 billion in improper payments in the past two years.

The task force will also focus on selling unused federal buildings worth billions that cost hundreds of millions to maintain each year. The administration wants to fast-track the sale of many of these buildings that have been held up by Congress due to red-tape or local back-room deals.

Other targeted spending includes an end to printing the federal register each day, which is sent to thousands of libraries and government offices each day. Apparently, because the register is online, the printed edition sees little use except as an expensive doorstop, the President said in the video.

Americans will be able to use the Recovery.gov website to blow the whistle on fraudulent spending and bad actors, Zients added.

White House advisor Stephanie Cutter noted, “This isn’t stuff that’s going to close the deficit or fix our fiscal situation, but this is about making sure the American people can trust the government to treat every dollar with the same care and attention they do.”

So far, Republicans in Congress have blocked or stalled White House efforts to control waste on matter that require Congressional approval. The most notorious example of this was a Republican filibuster in the Senate that protected billions in annual government subsidies to already profitable oil companies.



Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.