The Office of Management and Budget's efforts to get agencies to curb their spending on such things as travel, consultants and publications this year have so far fallen mostly on deaf ears.
A draft report on the cuts, prepared early this month, found that agencies had agreed to only 8.2 percent of the $3 billion in cuts that Congress had requested and OMB had sought. An updated report to be released with President Reagan's fiscal 1986 budget next week is expected to show that only 14.7 percent of the cuts have been accepted, according to an OMB official working on the project.
As part of last year's Deficit Reduction Act, agencies were asked to shave one-fourth of their costs for public affairs, advertising, audio-visual products and publications, travel, consultants and motor vehicle purchases. The $440 million that the agencies have now agreed to cut amounts to 3.3 percent of the $13.444 billion that had been budgeted in these areas this year.
"It may be easier to cut back one B1 bomber than to make the government stop wasting money on travel and consulting and in other frivolous ways," said Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who sponsored the provision. "Instead of having cooperation, we're confronted with a public outrage from the managers of these agencies."
From the point of view of many agency managers, however, the recommended cuts would have made too deep a dent in budgets that had been trimmed and put in place. Some argued that the reductions would have a severe impact on critical government programs.
As of mid-January, the 22 largest agencies had accepted only $240 million of OMB's $2.938 billion in proposed cuts. The remaining smaller agencies were asked to cut $56 million, but had agreed to trim only $6 million. After additional cajoling by OMB budget examiners, however, the total has increased from $246 million to $440 million.
Joseph R. Wright Jr., deputy director of OMB, would not release a final copy of the report, but he said earlier this month that OMB's "reputation as a cost-conscious arm of the government was on the line with this effort."
Only a few agencies, Wright said, "got into the spirit of the effort. I think just about anyone looking at the numbers would find them unacceptable. I'm deeply disappointed."
According to the mid-January draft, five agencies that were supposed to absorb $2.2 billion in cuts -- the Defense, State and Justice departments, the U.S. Information Agency and the Small Business Administration -- all refused to make any further cut. After OMB pressure, Justice agreed to cut 26 percent of what OMB had sought, State accepted 12 percent and the USIA 3 percent.
Among those concerned about the initiative is the National Association of Government Communicators, which includes many agency public affairs people.
"During this time of increasing constraints on federal spending," the association said in a statement, "a strong program of government communications is needed more than ever to explain how agencies will operate under the new constraints and how the cutbacks will affect the public."
Some agency budget officials were more specific. "When you take into account the cuts we've already been ordered to take by Congress over the past two years, we've achieved substantial reductions," said a senior official monitoring the program in the Defense Department (DOD) comptroller's office. "Further reductions can't be made across the board. We would argue that we're not taking a zero cut, but we're taking a zero new cut."
The official, who said it was agency policy not to allow his name to be used, said it would be hard for DOD to cut more from these areas because it had trimmed $2.1 billion from the same areas in fiscal 1984 and 1985.
One stumbling block, he said, is that DOD and OMB define consultants differently. DOD says it plans to spend only $9 million on consultants this year, while OMB says it will spend $1.3 billion. The DOD official said the Pentagon does not count persons who provide professional management, engineering or technical services under contract as consultants, while OMB does.
At the State Department, Comptroller Roger B. Feldman said, "It's particularly painful for us to take these cuts because we're having to hire so many more people -- who generally have to travel -- to help protect our embassies abroad."
"We're going to take a $3.35 million cut," added Tom McQuillan, a Feldman aide. "The biggest difference between what they wanted and we agreed to do was in travel." OMB had sought $15 million worth of cuts in travel costs; through mid-January, State had agreed to $500,000.
"We negotiated with them and they were reasonable," McQuillan said. "If they wanted, they could just take it all."
L. Paul Hill, USIA's director of the planning and presentations systems division, said that the bulk of the audio-visual funds that OMB wanted to cut from his agency's budget were "critical."
"Our position is that this is a basic program that we operate to accomplish our mission overseas," Hill said. "This is not a frill. We said our effectiveness would be reduced if this cut were made."
But, from DeConcini's perspective, "the USIA is the fattest of the fat agencies. They may say that they need the money, but what they have to do is manage their agency better."
Only the Labor and Agriculture departments have agreed to as much as 60 percent of the cuts. Labor agreed to cut $24 million of the $34 million sought and Agriculture agreed to cut $43 million of $70 million suggested.
Thomas C. Komarek, assistant secretary of labor for administration and management, said, "We regarded this as a logical and proper initiative; and we knew there was some fat there."
But at the General Services Administration, where $41 million in cuts were sought, agency managers had argued that only $4.3 million were possible. The most difficult cut, GSA officials had argued, was the $30.6 million OMB sought to trim from motor pool purchases.
OMB was not swayed, however, and GSA has been told to trim a total of $37.2 million.
DeConcini, ranking minority member of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees GSA, acknowledged that in some instances the cuts could have a bad effect. "But," he said, "what I think should happen is the agency should take the cut from another, less critical area -- and still show the savings.