White House announces plan to cut government waste

The President signed an executive order Monday creating an oversight board to identify areas where agencies can eliminate or streamline.

By Jason Miller and
Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Sheriff Joe is back in the saddle, hunting down waste, fraud and abuse.

President Barack Obama yesterday expanded Vice President Joe Biden’s role in overseeing how agencies reduce improper payments and overspending.

Biden, who calls himself “Sheriff Joe”, is leading the Campaign to Cut Waste where he plans to expand the lessons learned from the Recovery Act across all federal spending.

“Since we started this thing two years ago, we have more than 75,000 projects, more than 260,000 awards and that’s a lot of transactions,” Biden said during a press briefing at the White House Monday. “So we asked the Recovery Board to tell us how many dollars are involved in cases where there have been convictions…It was less than $3 million, not billion, $3 million out of $480 billion in contracts grants, loans and entitlements that were obligated. No matter which way you cut it, the fraud so far has been remarkably low, less than a fraction of a percent.”

The President signed an executive order Monday creating a Government Accountability and Transparency Board modeled after the Recovery Board, that will identify ways agencies can eliminate waste and boost performance.

The board will comprise 11 members who are inspectors general, chief financial officers or deputy secretaries and a senior official of the Office of Management and Budget. The members will be designated by the President.

“The oversight board will be looking at all government spending, every dollar,” Biden said. “Once again, we are asking the man who put the Recovery Board together to help us again. We are asking Earl Devaney. He will be working with Jack Lew, the budget director, and his team to set up this board.”

Biden said the administration also is working with congressional committees, including the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to make the idea of a governmentwide board work.

In fact, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced legislation yesterday to create a similar oversight board.

“There is common ground and bipartisan support for legislation to increase transparency and openness in all federal spending because the problem we face is not a partisan one, it is a bureaucratic one,” Issa said in a statement. “The bureaucracy is resistant to change. That’s why we need to enact legislation and establish a permanent and independent board to create transparency in federal spending. When I met with Vice President Biden in November, we both shared a vision of increased transparency in all federal spending. We are on the same page on the goals we want to achieve.”

Ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) also praised the new board, saying it will no doubt increase transparency and accountability in government.

Biden said the new board will use many of the same tools the Recovery Board uses.

“The kind of online tracking of dollars you can now see at Recovery.gov and cutting edge technology used to prevent fraud by the Recovery Board can and should be applied governmentwide,” Biden said.

Within six months, the board will submit a report to the President on guidelines for implementing the waste-cutting. The board will incorporate lessons learned from government’s tracking of stimulus funding with Recovery.gov.

Jeff Zients, OMB’s deputy director for management, said in a separate conference call with reporters Monday that CFOs will send reports to Biden monthly and cabinet secretaries will provide quarterly updates on their progress in meeting the goals to cut wasteful spending.

Zients said eventually all this data would be fed into a governmentwide website. He didn’t say if it would replace USAspending.gov, or how that site would be a part of this effort.

In his video message (watch below), President Obama said of Biden, “I know Joe’s the right man to lead it because nobody messes with Joe.”

Obama said the administration has identified $33 billion in savings for this year alone, “and we’re not finished.” In his fiscal year 2012 budget, the President called on agencies across government to find $2.1 billion in administrative savings and “achieving these savings as quickly as possible,” according to the order.

The President pointed to several examples of wasteful spending. The government currently has a website dedicated to a Forest Service folk band and another to desert tortoises.

Obama said these savings are not huge cuts, but added, “No amount of waste is acceptable.”

“As we work to tackle the budget deficit, we need to step up our game,” the President said. “We need to go after every dime. We need to make government work for you.”

Biden said the goal of the campaign is to change the culture of the government. He said the administration started to do that with the way the Recovery Act expanded transparency and oversight and it’s now ready to apply those practices across all of government.

“It is really really important,” Biden said. “It’s about changing the attitude about how we do business. We are absolutely convinced there are billions and billions of dollars out there that we can save just by focusing harder on this stuff, just by doing our job. We need to look harder for savings.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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