Obama's 4 Steps to a Leaner Government
By Michael D. Shear
President Obama was widely mocked earlier this week for earnestly announcing $100 million worth of cost-saving measures -- an amount that, given the sea of red ink that makes up the federal budget, would be barely noticed.
So without admitting any failure, the president is at it again.
In his weekly radio and Internet address this morning, Obama is unveiling a series of actions that he says will contribute to the fiscal discipline necessary even during the current economic crisis.
In the address, he proposes four things:
1) He will call on Congress to pass pay-as-you-go legislation that would require legislators to identify budget reductions if they intend elsewhere to increase spending on entitlements or to lower taxes.
"This principle - known as PAYGO - helped transform large deficits into surpluses in the 1990s. Now we must restore that sense of fiscal discipline," he said.
Of course, PAYGO legislation is hated among many in Congress because it ties their hands, making an already tough balancing act even harder. As a result, Congress has proven quite resourceful in finding ways to get around PAYGO-type rules.
2) Obama will tell agencies that they will be able to keep some of the money saved from cost-cutting measures. The idea: protect against an agency mentality that tries to safeguard a bloated budget to ensure that the following year's budget isn't smaller.
This principle has been tried in many local and state governments, with some effectiveness.
3) Remember that suggestion box at your office? The wooden one by the elevator, that nobody ever stuffs anything in (except for the really annoying suck-up)? Well, President Obama is creating a national suggestion box.
A virtual one, to be sure, but one that lets any government worker make suggestions about how to save.
"We'll put the suggestions that work into practice," he said. "And later this year, I will meet with those who come up with the best ideas to hear firsthand about how they would make your government more efficient and effective."
The result? A made-for-TV political event for Obama. But will the suggestion box produce millions -- or even billions -- of savings for the taxpayer as government workers root out waste, fraud and abuse?
4) Finally, Obama says in the address that -- shocker! -- government can learn from business ways to improve efficiency and save money, in part by investing in technology.
So the president will host a "forum on reforming government for the 21st century" to make sure that "we're also guided by voices that come from outside of Washington."
Perhaps learning from his earlier mistake, the president did not offer a number for how much money the government can save from the various proposals he outlined.
But he remained ever earnest, describing his suggestions as part of a broad effort to remake government into a smaller, leaner entity.
"We cannot sustain deficits that mortgage our children's future, nor tolerate wasteful inefficiency," he says. "Government has a responsibility to spend the peoples' money wisely, and to serve the people effectively. I will work every single day that I am president to live up to that responsibility, and to transform our government so that is held to a higher standard of performance on behalf of the American people."
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