White House launches new campaign to cut waste

The White House and congressional Republicans announced proposals Monday to combat government waste, fraud and abuse — and at least some of the plans mean fewer “.gov” Web sites.

The administration said it will shutter or consolidate about a quarter of its 2,000 sites and is scrapping plans for new ones.

In a White House-produced video, President Obama noted that the federal Web portfolio includes sites devoted to desert tortoises, polar animals and a quintet of U.S. Forest Service rangers who tour the country playing the fiddle.

“I’ll put their music on my iPod, but I’m not paying for their Web site, and there are hundreds of similar sites that we should consolidate or just get rid of,” he said.

By Monday afternoon, officials confirmed that the “Fiddlin’ Foresters” site, which hadn’t been updated in months, had been closed down. (The fiddle-touting rangers didn’t return requests for comment.)

Responsibility for the White House “Campaign to Cut Waste” will fall to Vice President Biden, Cabinet secretaries and agency watchdogs, who plan to meet regularly to track progress and review quarterly spending reports.

Biden said Monday that the effort will be modeled after oversight of the economic stimulus plan, a project lauded by lawmakers and outside observers for its rigorous accounting of virtually every dollar spent through the use of online mapping tools and quarterly spending reports.

“No matter which way you cut it, the fraud so far has been remarkably low,” Biden said of the stimulus program during a White House announcement.

The new anti-waste campaign comes months after a widely read government watchdog report found that the government spends billions annually on overlapping offices and agencies, including more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues and 15 agencies or offices overseeing food safety.

Monday’s announcement also comes as Biden is preparing to hold talks this week with congressional negotiators about raising the federal debt ceiling. But he cautioned the new campaign will not solve the national debt.

“This is not some great story about how we’re going to balance the budget,” he said. “It’s about a simple proposition: The American people have lost confidence over the years in the ability of government to deliver what they promise.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced legislation Monday that would establish an independent oversight body to track federal spending. His office said the panel would use a single electronic database and reporting system for the job.

Issa said the current system, with its “incompatible technologies, inaccurate data and a lack of common standards” impedes transparency on spending.

Biden and Issa met last fall to discuss cooperating on ways to track spending, and Issa said in a statement, “We are on the same page on the goals we want to achieve.”

Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch , a nonpartisan group that tracks government operations, said there appears to be enough political will among Democrats and Republicans to enact meaningful reforms.

“If they keep talking about it and there’s no resources to get anything done, then we’ll be spinning wheels,” Bass said. “But I’m just more optimistic this time that it’s going to be approached in a bipartisan way.”

The proposals come as GOP presidential contenders are proposing dramatic tactics to curtail spending. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty last week announced an economic plan that would make major cuts in the corporate and individual income tax rates. His plan also would “sunset” some federal regulations and privatize some federal functions, including the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak.

Although the administration doesn’t support privatization, it has worked to end no-bid contracts, recoup improper payments made to fraudulent federal beneficiaries, divest excess federal properties, and consolidate thousands of computer data centers owned or leased by federal agencies.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.
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