In his weekly address today, President Obama calls for fiscal discipline and says his administration will eliminate waste and increase efficiency.
"We cannot settle for a future of rising deficits and debts that our children cannot pay," the president says, adding that we must "recognize that we cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking. So much of our government was built to deal with different challenges from a different era. Too often, the result is wasteful spending, bloated programs, and inefficient results. It’s time to fundamentally change the way that we do business in Washington."
President Obama alludes to the $100 million he this week asked his Cabinet to locate in savings (amidst his $3.55 trillion budget proposal) and calls on Congress to pass "pay-as-you-go" legislation. He says his administration will create incentives for agencies to cut costs and identify savings, and pledges to establish a process for government employees to submit their ideas on how their agency can save money and perform better.
In addition, the president says, "we will reach beyond the halls of government. Many businesses have innovative ways of using technology to save money, and many experts have new ideas to make government work more efficiently. Government can –- and must –- learn from them. So later this year, we will host a forum on reforming government for the 21st century, so that we’re also guided by voices that come from outside of Washington."
The president’s talk about protecting taxpayer dollars comes at the end of a week where two independent government watchdogs expressed concerns that the Obama administration is not ensuring sufficient oversight over the trillions in new government spending.
The Office of Special Inspector General for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program Neil Barofsky called on the Treasury Department to require all institutions that receive TARP funds to report how they use the money.
“With the exception of Citigroup and Bank of America, Treasury has refused to seek further details on TARP recipients’ use of funds," he writes. “Simply put, the American people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used.” He also expressed grave concerns over the lack of oversight of the public-private partnership to purchase up to $1 trillion in toxic assets.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report on the $787 billion stimulus bill reporting that officials from most of the states surveyed "expressed concerns regarding the lack of Recovery Act funding provided for accountability and oversight. Due to fiscal constraints, many states reported significant declines in the number of oversight staff — limiting their ability to ensure proper implementation and management of Recovery Act funds."
When asked about these two reports, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he’d get back to us.
Later, one of his press aides referred us to a letter Vice President Biden sent to Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, chair and ranking member respectively of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, outlining Recovery Act oversight efforts to date and in the future.
The vice president said he met with GAO’s acting comptroller general, Gene Dadaro, to discuss the reports that GAO was preparing.
"We welcome this dialogue with GAO and look forward to building on these observations from their field work, as well as their overall insights," Biden said.
He wrote that beginning April 27, there will be a week-long online forum at Recovery.gov where the public, government officials, and stimulus fund recipients can submit suggestions on "more effective tools for public monitoring of Recovery Act funds."
President Obama said in his weekly address that "all across America, families are tightening their belts and making hard choices. Now, Washington must show that same sense of responsibility. That is why we have identified two trillion dollars in deficit-reductions over the next decade, while taking on the special interest spending that doesn’t advance the peoples’ interests."
Critics say the president’s claim to have found "two trillion dollars in deficit reductions" is a bit misleading.
Despite the president’s proclamation that his budget avoids the gimmickry his predecessor embraced by, say, not fully budgeting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq within his budget proposals, some say the president is embracing some gimmickry of his own.
The way President Obama’s numbers-crunchers find 3/4ths of this $2 trillion savings is by creating a "baseline" wherein the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fully budgeted for 10 years. They then claim that since they’re not going to spend that much over the next ten years, they’re saving $1.5 trillion.
Or, as Slate’s John Dickerson puts it, "Here’s an analogy that may help you understand this trick. Let’s say that your daughter is about to finish her last year of college, after which she plans to enter a monastery, where she will take a vow of poverty and refuse future parental help. But as you plan your budget for the next decade, you use current-year expenses as your ‘baseline’ and assume that, for the next 10 years, she’ll still be in college and you’ll still be paying her annual tuition. When she graduates and enters the monastery as planned, you get to pretend that you ‘saved’ the money for the nine years of college tuition you knew she was never going to need."