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Eye Opener: Stuffing Obama's Suggestion Box

By Ed O'Keefe



President Obama enjoyed a round of golf Sunday at a golf course near Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He played with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Eye Opener

Happy Monday! Recovery.gov today starts a seven-day "high tech roundtable" to solicit ideas on how to build up the government-run Web site dedicated to tracking economic stimulus dollars. The Eye will track the roundtable all week and post regular updates.

Remember those memos you gave your the boss about how to save the agency millions of dollars? Remember how you followed up a few days later, knowing he never read them? Well, dust them off! President Obama wants to hear them, issuing a call for suggestions from federal workers during his Saturday radio/internet address.

"We'll put the suggestions that work into practice," Obama said on Saturday. "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."

This likely means another TV-friendly event complete with beaming federal workers invited to share their ideas with Obama (and get that awesome picture with the boss to hang over their desk). Of course it's currently unclear what might be proposed and if any of the ideas will produce meaningful savings for taxpayers.

Still, the fact that Obama simply took the time to ask for suggestions earned him quick praise.

"I am confident that federal employees have better ideas than anyone else out there on how to make government more efficient and effective," Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, said in an e-mail Saturday afternoon. "Asking this kind of question can yield powerful results."

Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop.com, a social networking site for public sector employees, called Obama's move "Brilliant."

"There is no better way to cut government expenses than asking the front-line workers who deal with it every day from the TSA screener to DOD contracting officer. This will go a long way in both improving government efficiency and also improving employee morale," he said.

Ressler noted that while his site -- likely to cross the 10,000 member mark this week -- already has government employees sharing their ideas and best practices, a more formal way of doing collecting the ideas is also welcomed.

"I'm ready to submit my idea and meet Bo," he said.

Federal employee unions are also thrilled by the President's request, following eight years of frosty relations with the Bush administration.

"Federal employees have a lot of good ideas about how to do the work better and are eager to work with the administration to improve their agencies’ service to the American people," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. She also cheered the president's proposal to allow agencies to keep some of the money saved from cost-cutting measures, a move designed to protect agencies that might try to safeguard big budgets to ensure that the following year's budget isn't smaller.

Despite the initial good cheer, Stier cautions that Obama will really have to listen and adopt some of the suggested ideas, otherwise he runs the risk of the rank and file turning on him, convinced he's just another president paying lip service to federal workers. Stay tuned.

How could YOU help save the federal government some money? Leave your cost-savings tips in the Comments section below.

In other news...

Local Tech-Savvy Duo Steps Onto Federal Stage: "Aneesh Chopra and Vivek Kundra met nearly a decade ago as entrepreneurs in Northern Virginia's Indian American business community," reports The Post's Kim Hart. "Now the two longtime friends will work in tandem to help meet Obama's ambitious goals of using technology to improve public access to government data, create new jobs, expand broadband services, reform the way health records are stored and build a modern electric grid. ... The chief technology officer will focus on overall technology policy and innovation strategies across departments while the chief information officer will oversee day-to-day information technology spending and operations within agencies."

Connolly Continues Push For CTO Bill: "A lawmaker who backed the recent selection of Aneesh Chopra for White House chief technology officer continues to push his bill to make the position permanent, more powerful and more expansive, because the job's responsibilities are not what President Obama had first described," writes Aliya Sternstein of NextGov. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) continues to back the bill "because the job the president granted Chopra -- coordinating national strategies to spur innovation throughout the economy -- is not the role outlined during the transition."

Holbrooke's Growing Orbit: Al Kamen writes today that "Lest anyone think all those new 'special envoys' at the State Department come free, the department has submitted a supplemental budget request to the Hill for an extra $8.5 million to help pay for the 50 or so new staffers -- including about 20 aides, nearly a personal bureau all by itself -- needed to help Pakistan-Afghanistan uberenvoy Richard C. Holbrooke.

Budget Amendment Directs Agencies to Trim Wasteful Spending: An amendment in the Senate's fiscal 2010 budget resolution that passed earlier this month requires every federal agency to report wasteful government programs to Congress," report Robert Brodsky and Elizabeth Newell of Government Executive. "As the House and Senate begin conference negotiations over their versions of the budget resolution, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Thursday urged his colleagues to support the provision, which would require agency leaders to report to Congress within 90 days of the resolution's passage on programs that are 'duplicative, inefficient, or failing, with recommendations for eliminating and consolidating these programs.'"

Drunk Drivers Find Pentagon's Maze of Roads Leads to Court: Awesome story: The Post's Allison Klein writes that "About every other night, someone who shouldn't be behind the wheel inevitably ends up lost among the bewildering streets and parking lots surrounding the country's military headquarters. Many drive from the District to Virginia, get off the highway too soon and find themselves in territory that's unfamiliar and heavily guarded. They're easy to spot, police say."

U.S. Slow to Learn of Mexico Flu: The Post's medical reporter David Brown reports/analyzes that "U.S. public health officials did not know about a growing outbreak of swine flu in Mexico until nearly a week after that country started invoking protective measures, and didn't learn that the deaths were caused by a rare strain of the influenza until after Canadian officials did. ... In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks...national and local health authorities have done extensive planning for disease outbreaks that could lead to global epidemics, or pandemics. ... However, it seems that U.S. public health officials are still largely in the dark about what's happening in Mexico two weeks after the outbreak was recognized."

Amid Outcry on Memo, Signer's Private Regret: Friends of Judge Jay S. Bybee, a former Justice Department lawyer who signed the legal justifications for harsh interrogations, tell The Post that he wishes he never did it.

Arrests of Border Agents On The Rise: " A rising number of border enforcement officers are being arrested on corruption charges as Mexican drug cartels look to bribes as a way to get around tougher enforcement," reports Rick Jervis. "Investigators arrested 21 Customs and Border Protection officers on corruption charges in the fiscal year that ended last September, up from eight in the previous 12 months, according to CBP. This year, 14 have been arrested."

Defense Investigators Raid Health Imaging Contractor's Offices: "The raid of Siemens Medical Solutions USA could be related to a federal suit filed in January that alleges the company 'habitually lied' about discounts it offered federal customers," reports Bob Brewin of Next Gov.

Senate Confirms Defense Acquisition Chief: Ashton Carter will serve as DOD's top weapons buyer after confirmation by voice vote on Thursday night. His nomination "had been stalled by Alabama's two Republican senators over concerns about the competition for aerial refueling tankers," reports CongressDaily.

GAO: Pentagon Lags in Developing Nonlethal Weapons: "After spending at least $386 million over the past dozen years on these and other experiments, the Pentagon has little to show for its efforts," reports The Post's Steve Vogel. "The Pentagon's nonlethal weapons program has carried out more than 50 research and development projects over that time but has developed no new weapons, according to the report, and the efforts have resulted in just four items being fielded that only partially fill capability gaps identified in 1998."

Parks Eye Federal Funds for Wider Pastures: "Conservationists who for years have struggled to win federal funding for new or expanded parks suddenly are seeing green, even in these lean budgetary times," reports Richard Simon of the LA Times.

Before Census, a Debate Over Prisoners: The Post's New York bureau chief Keith B. Richburg reports on the controversial policy of counting large populations of inmates at state and federal prisons located in sparsely populated rural areas.

Caribbean Census Bill introduced in US Congress: "An historic bill that calls for Caribbean nationals to have their own origins category on the US Census form has been introduced by Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke of New York's 11th congressional district in the US House of Representatives," reports Caribbean Net News (h/t MyTwoCensus).

NTIA Launches Web Address Inquiry as Hill Interest Rises: "The government's formal relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is set to expire in September, and the agency wants public advice on whether sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure accountability for the global membership organization and the continued security and stability of the global communications platform," reports Andrew Noyes of CongressDaily.

IT Maintenance Saps SSA Budget: "The Social Security Administration spent more than 70 percent of its fiscal 2008 information technology budget — $482 million — just to keep current computer systems operating," reports Rebecca Neal of Federal Times.

Today's Big Event: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, back from a weekend trip to Iraq and Lebanon, speaks at the “Operation Step-It-Up” event at 12:30 p.m., in the George C. Marshall Conference Center at the State Department. “Operation Step-It-Up” is a one-day suit drive organized by a team of federal employees participating in the Executive Leadership Program, working in partnership with “Career Gear – DC at NAFFCCA” (National Association of Former Foster Care Children of America, Inc.). More events here.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 27, 2009; 5:52 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Comments

The USA is the most "fund giving" country on the planet which helps with many disasters.
Surely it comes as no surprise that "skimming" of those funds given, (particularly through A.I.D.), begins at the top echelons of the receiving governments enriching the "rulers" of these foreign countries.
I suggest all aid (funds) of any kind be "tied" - that is to say: Money will come to your country, not in the form of 'grants' but it will be 'tied'. Meaning, all dollars donated to the country in need must be spent for goods and services from the U.S.A. This will phase out a certain amount of corruption and help immeasureably unemployment in the U.S.A. Betty Sher

Posted by: rbsher | April 27, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

A very large improvement can be made by eliminating the contractors and giving the work back to the regular employees.Contracts do not work and waste too much money and effort.
Another huge improvement can be made by eliminating the Bush pay banding system and returning to the fairer and more trusted General Schedule salary system.
With these changes the government would get the best moral and production from the employees thus saving lots of money.

Posted by: carldsutton | April 27, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse


let's see...
feds....
can start by initiating TQM,
can start by actually putting something called "intellectual capital" on their financial sheets as an ASSET...
and my favorit campaign promise from President Obama is..
to bring human dignity back into the american workforce.
perhaps that dignity and respect can begin with the federal government.
trickle down to the states..
yes, called human dignity.
come to the right to work state of arizona and see how we DO NOT have human dignity in the american workforce.
arizona can be the benchmark control experiment for the entire behavioral shift.

or just continue to treat us like dogs at the desk.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 27, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

In the past the US Government has turned to the private sector for best practices and innovation. During economic tough times, the private sector has showed some true ingenuity in cutting costs that can be mimicked by the government.

There are a lot of resources out there with tips and stories about what companies big and small are doing to cut the fat. www.openroadtosavings.com offers new tips on a bi-weekly basis to businesses. Check it out to see how government leaders to adopt private sector tactics to lower operating costs and eliminate wasteful spending.

Posted by: sseawright | April 27, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

"The USA is the most "fund giving" country on the planet which helps with many disasters. "

Betty, I have no doubt that many individual Americans are generous - but your government stands in 202nd place, in the list of aid-givers, as a proportion of GDP. (First is Norway.)

And USAID already 'ties' its aid - something which is much criticised in the international aid community, not least because it leads to corruption in the corporations in the USA, skimming money intended for poorer nations.

Posted by: strum | April 27, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Systematically, methodically cut every department of the Federal Government by 5%. This must be done while protecting the professionalism,dignity, and effectiveness of each department.
New and better systems of management require fewer hands.
TB

Posted by: terrencebrennan | April 27, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

what about letting Federal employees retire before age 62 without penalty?

Posted by: rufkd | April 27, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

President Obama if he uses force where necessary and diplomacy where it works. Using diplomacy with born trouble makers will always fail. In my language they say donkeys used to sticks don't obey verbal orders.

Posted by: shahjahanbhatti1 | April 27, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

carlsutton: oh yeah.....down here in bum frick egypt arizona, 2007 legislation passed what is called the Fair and Legal Workers Act....that stated all "contractors" had to use E-VERIFY. Ya know, to make sure that they did NOT hire undocumenteds.
Well, this is arizona. after 2007 session ended, all the independent contractors in the state starting whining like babies.
Those"independent contractors" --oh say--in landscaping, air conditioning, roofing.......
So they had do to E-Verify. Wowzers, really hard.
Well, the cry baby contractors cried enough for the next legislation session in 2008....that Fair and Legal Workers Act, Part Deux...was signed off on.
And guess what..
Part Deux--eliminated "independent contractors" FROM the law.
Now tell me, what is wrong with that picture.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 27, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

quote:
"Keith B. Richburg reports on the controversial policy of counting large populations of inmates at state and federal prisons located in sparsely populated rural areas"
---
okay, this is a big issue for me and my next "whistleblower case" against the state of arizona.
It involves Sheriff Joe Arapio and his tents. Pink underwear and all that. I am sure you have all heard about HIM in this state.
Well, the TENTS in Arizona have a rat population that is unbelievable. Inmates have rats nibbling their feet and hands while they sleep AT SHERIFF ARAPIO'S TENTS.
Rat droppings are in drawers when prisoner have to put clean clothes in the drawers.
They are bitten regularly while incarcerated BY RATS.
And then get out of the TENTS and come back to public life.
without vaccinations.

Hello President. Arizona has a problem.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 27, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

In response to Strum's comment, I quote Colin Powell:

Colin Powell's words, ABC's Nightline, 12/30/04):

"We are the most generous nation on the face of the Earth. Now, if you measure it as a percentage of GDP, you can make the case that we're not as high as others. But if you measure it as actual money going out the door to help people, we are the most generous nation on the face of the Earth."

Also, re-check your comment that all A.I.D aid is "tied." Betty Sher

Posted by: rbsher | April 27, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

suggestion:

keep the regulations frozen

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 27, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I am a retired federal contracting officer. One of the most wasteful procedural is failure of Congress to allocate/appropriate multiple year funding for major acquisitions. A program is awarded for X number of years. However, funding is only available yearly from Congress. Each year funding is requested in the budget and Congress often reduces the required amount to continue the acquisition at the price agreed. This causes the production time to expand from, say five years to 10, 15, etc. Thereby, increasing the total price for the acquisition (i.e B-2, F-22). This action also resulted in buying old technology in new systems. Requiring early updates to the new system. Billions have been wasted with this process.

I hope this is one of the suggestion submitted by current federal employees. J.Johnson

Posted by: njaypj | April 29, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

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