A few billion bucks might not be big money in Uncle Sam’s piggy bank, but when you run the kind of deficits he does every billion counts.
So it is with some pride that the Obama administration plans to announce Tuesday it has saved $2 billion through increased government efficiencies for the second quarter of 2012, on top of the same amount for the first quarter when compared with the same period two years ago.
The $4 billion in savings places the administration “well on track to meet and exceed our goal of $8 billion by the end of FY 2013,” Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), said in a blog scheduled to be posted Tuesday.
The savings were achieved in routine areas such as travel, printing and vehicle management.
Vice President Biden said the savings “in just six months demonstrates the progress we’re continuing to make in our Campaign to Cut Waste. By laying down strict rules and holding Cabinet members accountable, the President and I have made it clear that lavish conferences and wasteful contracts are unacceptable.”
As part of the campaign, President Obama issued an executive order in November in which he directed agency heads “to take even more aggressive steps to ensure the Government is a good steward of taxpayer money.”
Yet, even as the administration trumpets the savings, the office of the inspector general of Veteran Affairs said last month it is investigating “questionable activities” related to two employee training conferences for which a total of $9 million was authorized and $5 million was spent.
Government conferences have come under greater scrutiny since April, in the wake of a report about a 2010 General Services Administration conference outside Las Vegas that cost $832,000. An inspector general’s report on that event resulted in the resignation or firing of top agency officials.
The Campaign to Cut Waste, which was launched in June 2011, includes a September 2011 directive from OMB requiring the deputy secretaries of agencies to approve conference-related activities and spending.
Zients said the savings reported in his Tuesday blog post are the result of “innovative management practices” in federal agencies. As examples, he cited the Agriculture Department, which is saving money by encouraging employees to use their own electronic devices for work and consolidating cell phone contracts.
The Air Force Department is saving $80 million over five years through such actions as cutting back on printing and moving to electronic document sharing, according to Zients.
The Social Security Administration, he added, is reducing the number of vehicles in its fleet and moving to vehicles using “green” alternative fuel.
“We are spending less money,” Zients said, “and we’re spending it smarter in order to get the most bang for our buck.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.