Obama to Order Cabinet to Quickly Cut $100 Million From Department Budgets

President Barack Obama has ordered his Cabinet to come up with $100 million in savings, but he acknowledges that's just a drop in the bucket of federal spending. Video by AP
By Michael A. Fletcher and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 20, 2009; 2:23 PM

President Obama convened his Cabinet for the first time today and instructed department heads to trim their budgets by a combined $100 million over the next 90 days, cuts he said would help overcome a "confidence gap" among the American people about the use of their tax dollars.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Obama said the budget cuts would be separate from "programmatic cuts" that his economic team is making by going through the federal budget line by line.

"In the next few weeks, we expect to cut at least 100 current programs in the federal budget so that we can free up those dollars in order to put them to use for critical areas like health care, education, energy, our foreign policy apparatus," he said.

"I'm very pleased about the work that we've done, but we've got more to do," Obama said. "And one of the things that everybody here is mindful of is that as we move forward, dealing with this extraordinary economic crisis, we also have a deficit, a confidence gap, when it comes to the American people. And we've got to earn their trust. They've got to feel confident that their dollars are being spent wisely."

Although the cuts would account to a minuscule portion of the federal budget, they are intended to signal the president's determination to trim spending and reform government, a senior administration official said before the Cabinet meeting.

"We have an obligation . . . to make sure that this government is as efficient as possible," Obama said, citing steps that some government agencies are taking to consolidate, streamline and improve their practices.

"There are a host of efficiencies that can be gained without increasing our personnel or our budget but rather decreasing the amount of money that's spent on unnecessary things in order to fund some of the critical initiatives," Obama said.

"None of these savings by themselves are going to solve our long-term fiscal problem, but taken together they can make a difference, and they send a signal that we are serious about changing how government operates," he said. He added that, cumulatively, the cuts "start setting a tone" and that by making trims "line by line, page by page, a hundred million dollars there, a hundred million dollars here, pretty soon, even in Washington, it adds up to real money."

In a statement issued before the Cabinet meeting, the White House identified a variety of cost-cutting measures it said agencies have already begun to implement, ranging from a crackdown on improper farm subsidy payments by the Agriculture Department to bulk purchases of office supplies by the Homeland Security Department and the use of energy-efficient vehicles.

Obama's order comes as he is under increasing pressure to show momentum toward his goal of eventually reducing the federal deficit, even as he goes about increasing spending in the short run to prop up the economy and support his priorities.

Earlier this month, both chambers of Congress passed Obama's $3.5 trillion budget outline for 2010, which includes unprecedented new investments in health care, education and energy. But the huge budget, which contemplates a $1.2 trillion deficit, has drawn the ire of small-government conservatives who say that the deficits jeopardize the nation's economic future.

Still, Obama said he is serious about reining in deficits over the long term, and some agencies are already moving in that direction, the administration said.

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