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Vilsack, Napolitano Find Ways to Trim the Fat

By Ed O'Keefe



Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announce budget savings at their respective departments on Wednesday at the White House. (Photo by Post)

On the same day President Obama announced an overhaul of government procurement practices, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced millions of dollars in savings at both departments.

These are relatively small sums compared to the overall size of the federal budget, but a signal that the Obama administration intends to trim some fat.

Among other things, USDA cancelled a $400,000 consulting contract with Stan Johnson, "who had a close connection with the previous administration," Vilsack said. Johnson is currently an assistant to the dean at the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"It was a consulting contract for half a million dollars; a substantial amount of money was spent for foreign travel," Vilsack said. "To be honest with you, we saw very little, if any, value to the USDA. And a number of career folks were very concerned about how the process unfolded. And had their input been valued, the contract would not have been entered into."

Johnson did not reply to email or phone messages left for him by the Federal Eye.

The department has also trimmed travel expenses for employees asked instead to use teleconferencing software to attend meetings. A White House news release sent out after the cabinet secretaries' appearance listed other cost savings totaling approximately $20 million.

At DHS, Napolitano said the department is reviewing "things like fleet management, use of contract employees, employee travel and cross-training." The secretary has also ordered a review of the department's contracting and acquisition workforce and said the department began independent cost estimations for its major acquisitions.

Again, today's announcements amount to small sums of money when compared to Obama's $3.6 trillion budget for the coming fiscal year, but it seems clear the cabinet secretaries and other administration officials are looking for big and small ways to cut costs.

Where else or how else could the federal government save money? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below or e-mail them to federaleye@washingtonpost.com.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 4, 2009; 5:20 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Agencies and Departments  
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Comments

The USDA Forest Service could save 30 million dollars simply by stopping another (3 in 3 years) reorganization of its Information Technology organization. This is another classic case of a single bureaucrat, the CIO who is actually an engineer, making a foolish decision and then those closest too him try to make it look like something good. Hundreds of employees forced to sell their homes and move if they want to compete for jobs. Appalling in today's economy. Everyone internal knows it's the wrong thing to do but the wheels were already in motion before the analysis was complete. Sad really. These employees competed for their job with the private sector in an A-76 study and won. Then for 4 years exceed performance measures and were found by Gartner to beat industry in the cost effective delivery of IT services. The reorganization kills their employment opportunities but their jobs just get moved to other cities. Makes no sense in today's work world where location can be ubiquitous. Hundreds of comments from employees, customers, and data showing the cost exceed 30 million. It's crazy I tell you and the only reason it proceeds is because of the culture that was created at the highest levels of government where once a decision is made the facts and support are manipulated to provide just enough justification to make it happen. The decision was made prior to the analysis and when the analysis falls short it doesn't seem to matter because you can eliminate some data, state an anecdotal theory as if it were fact. In reality it may be nothing more than a management myth. The Forest Service should be held accountable to the public for the mass movement of jobs out of rural America where the impact of the loss will be the hardest to take. It's a shame and a sham.

Posted by: justb_001 | March 12, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

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