Barack Obama, President Obama — November 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm

More “We Can’t Wait” goodness from President Obama – cutting waste in government


President Obama is on a tear lately. Under the banner “We Can’t Wait”, he is using Executive Orders to accomplish things that Congress is unable or unwilling to do themselves. The latest salvo is cutting government waste.

WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, President Obama will sign an Executive Order that will cut waste and promote more efficient spending across the federal government. With this Order, the President is directing agencies to reduce spending on travel; limit the number of information technology devices (e.g. cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops) that can be issued to individual employees; stop unnecessarily printing documents that can be posted online; shrink the executive fleet of the federal government; and stop using taxpayer dollars to buy swag — the plaques, clothing, and other unnecessary promotional items that agencies purchase. Overall spending in the areas covered by the Executive Order will be reduced by 20 percent, saving billions.

This Executive Order builds on the progress that has already been made through the Campaign to Cut Waste. At President Obama’s direction this Administration has taken up an unprecedented effort to downsize the Federal real estate footprint, and is on track to save $3.5 billion in Federal real estate costs by the end of Fiscal Year 2012. The Administration has cracked down on waste in contracting, cutting contracting spending for the first time in more than a dozen years and slashing spending on “no bid contracts” by $5 billion.

The rest of the administration’s press release on this bold new initiative and President Obama’s remarks before signing it after the jump.

The Executive Order will set bold but achievable goals that are informed by the results of the work of the Campaign to Cut Waste, launched by President Obama and Vice President Biden earlier this year. In September, the Vice President convened the first Cabinet Campaign to Cut Waste meeting and asked the Cabinet to identify wasteful and inefficient spending on travel, executive fleet, publications, office equipment, and other areas. Several of the spending reductions identified by agencies in response to the Vice President’s request are highlighted below. The President’s directive today builds on that work.

In addition to today’s Executive Order signing, the White House will announce this year’s SAVE (Securing Americans Value and Efficiency) Award finalists. The SAVE Award was launched in 2009 to seek ideas from frontline federal employees to make government more effective and efficient and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. This year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) received nearly 20,000 ideas from across the country. To honor these finalists, OMB Director Jack Lew, OMB Deputy Director of Heather Higginbottom, and Federal Chief Performance Officer and OMB’s Deputy Director for Management Jeff Zients will host a video teleconference with the SAVE Award finalists which will be live-streamed at at 11 AM. With the announcement of the four finalists, voting will now begin to select the SAVE Award winner. Anyone can vote for his or her favorite idea on The winner of this year’s SAVE Award will come to the White House to present their idea to the President.

The four finalists are: Matthew Ritsko, a NASA employee from Maryland, who suggested the creation of a tool “lending library” to avoid duplicative purchases of expensive tools; Eileen Hearty, a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) employee from Colorado, who suggested that it’s unnecessary to travel to inspect superior-rated properties each and every year; Kevin Korzenieski, a Treasury employee in D.C. who suggested that we stop purchasing U.S. Code books for all new attorneys given the availability of the information online; and Faith Stanfield, a Social Security Administration (SSA) employee from Ohio, who suggested SSA stop printing and mailing OASIS magazine – which currently is distributed to nearly 90,000 SSA employees — and simply make it available online.

“From the day I took office, I’ve said we’re going to comb the federal budget, line by line, to eliminate as much wasteful spending as possible. That’s what the Campaign to Cut Waste is all about. We can’t wait for Congress to act – we can’t wait for them to get our fiscal house in order and make the investments necessary to keep America great. That’s why today, I’m signing an Executive Order that will build on our efforts to cut waste and promote more efficient spending across the government – we’re cutting what we don’t need so that we can invest in what we do need,” said President Obama.

“In September, I asked all Cabinet secretaries to report on wasteful and inefficient spending at their agencies. Certain spending – like purchasing promotional water bottles, paying for unused cell phones, and booking unnecessary travel – is unacceptable. Today’s executive order will stop wasteful spending and make sure we use taxpayer dollars efficiently and responsibly,” said Vice President Biden.

Within 45 days, agencies will develop plans to reduce combined costs in the following areas to 20 percent below Fiscal Year 2010 levels by Fiscal Year 2013.

  1. Reduce Spending on Travel and Conferences: The Executive Order directs agencies to decrease travel and conference-related spending. Increasingly, travel will be limited to circumstances where the activity can only be performed away from the employee’s primary office (e.g., a diplomatic mission or enforcement inspection). Employees will continue attending local meetings and conferences in person but expand their use of teleconferencing or videoconferencing technology to participate in meetings or conferences that would normally require travel. If agencies are hosting or sponsoring conferences, they will use conference space controlled by the federal government wherever possible. Each agency will designate a senior-level official to be responsible for reducing travel costs. Examples of steps currently being taken are:
    • The IRS plans to utilize teleconferencing and webinars when possible, as an alternative to travelling to conferences and training sessions. This and other efforts will result in 27% less spending on travel in Fiscal Year 2012.
    • The Department of Energy is reducing travel costs by reducing the number of conferences, utilizing video teleconferencing, and issuing non-refundable airline tickets when travel does not require changes. This initiative will save $15.7 million in Fiscal Year 2012.
    • NASA is reducing travel costs by approximately $17 million in Fiscal Year 2012 by reducing the number of attendees at meetings and conferences, encouraging rental car sharing, and reducing foreign travel.
  2. Cut Duplicative and Unnecessary Employee Information Technology Devices: Some federal employees are issued more devices (e.g. cell phones, smartphones, laptops, tablet personal computers) than they need to fulfill their duties. In other cases, IT devices are purchased but go unused. The Executive Order directs each agency to limit the number of devices issued to employees and establish new policies to ensure they are not paying for IT equipment that isn’t being used. Examples of steps currently being taken are:
    • The Department of Homeland Security previously spent millions of dollars each year by paying for unused cell phones and air cards. The agency now conducts annual audits of use and has saved $10.5 million to date.
    • The Department of Commerce saved $1.8 million to date and will save a total of $3 million this year by disconnecting 2,648 wireless lines showing no usage for the past three months – including those assigned to retirees and former staff — as well as by optimizing rate plans.
  3. End Unnecessary Printing and Put It Online: In the digital age, it is frequently unnecessary to spend money on printed documents in addition to making information available online for the public. The Executive Order directs agencies to provide written information electronically and limit the production of hard copy documents. Examples of steps currently being taken are:
    • The Department of the Treasury plans to reduce spending on printing by increasing the number of paperless transactions it conducts with the public. In total, Treasury expects this initiative will reduce printing costs by up to 24 percent in Fiscal Year 2012. Treasury’s initiative to increase the number of paperless transactions it conducts with the public is expected to save more than $500 million and 12 million pounds of paper over its first five years alone.
    • Last year, Trudy Givens won the President’s SAVE Award for her suggestion that we stop printing and shipping excess Federal Registers to Federal Government Offices, which costs millions of dollars per year, when the content is available online. As a result, the Obama Administration cut the number of copies that Federal agencies receive by 85 percent within the past year, and continues to cut back even more.
  4. Limit Motor Vehicles: The Federal Government spends $9 million per year on vehicles just to shepherd itself around Washington DC. The Executive Order limits executive transportation across the federal government and directs agencies to improve the performance of the Federal fleet. Examples of steps currently being taken are:
    • The Department of Commerce is reducing the number of fleet drivers to one for all senior departmental officials, including the Secretary. Reductions in drivers and vehicles are expected to generate $100,000 in annual savings.
  5. Stop Swag – or Government Promotional Handouts: The Executive Order directs agencies to stop wasting taxpayer money on non-essential items used for promotional purposes, such as clothing, mugs, and non-work related gadgets.
    • For instance, several months ago the Department of the Treasury issued a directive to all of its bureaus to avoid purchasing any goods that could be considered frivolous or unnecessary, and to ensure that all purchases have a clear nexus with the Department’s mission and operations.

President Obama’s comments before signing the Executive Order:


Well, from the day I took office, one of the commitments that I made to the American people was that we would do a better job here in Washington in rooting out wasteful spending. At a time when families have had to cut back, have had to make some tough decisions about getting rid of things that they don’t need in order to make the investments that they do, we thought that it was entirely appropriate for our governments and our agencies to try to root out waste, large and small, in a systematic way.

Obviously, this is even more important given the deficits that we’ve inherited and that have grown as a consequence of this recession. This makes these efforts even more imperative.

Now, this does mean making some tough choices. It means cutting some programs that I think are worthy but we may not be able to afford right now. A lot of the action is in Congress and legislative and budget. I know the joint committee on trying to reduce our deficits are engaged in a very difficult conversation right now, and we want to encourage them to complete their work. But in the meantime, we don’t need to wait for Congress in order to do something about wasteful spending that’s out there.

Cutting waste, making government more efficient, is something that leaders in both parties have worked on, from Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican, to Democrat Claire McCaskill. We haven’t seen as much action out of Congress as we’d like, and that’s why we launched on our own initiative the campaign to cut waste. Not just to cut spending but to make government work better for the American people.

For example, we’ve identified thousands of government buildings that we don’t need. Some have sat empty for years. So we’re getting rid of those properties, and that’s going to save the American people billions of dollars.

As part of this campaign, I’ve also asked federal employees to do their part and share their ideas on making government more efficient and more effective. And two of them are here today, so I want to introduce them.

Roger Rhoads works at the Department of Commerce. Raise your hand, Roger. There’s Roger. He found a way to save the Department almost $2 million a year on its cellphone bills. And I’m sure that there probably are some consumers out there that would like to talk to him and find out what they can save on their cellphone bills.

Celeste Steele is here. Celeste, raise your hand. Celeste works at the Department of Homeland Security, and she’s helping save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by changing the way the Department buys goods and services.

So we’ve received nearly 20,000 suggestions from federal employees. I just completed a videoconference with the four finalists of our annual SAVE award — 20,000 submissions of ideas from federal employees about how we can reduce waste, eliminate duplication, redundancy, paperwork. And these four finalists have some terrific ideas: putting books that have been ordered every year online instead of continuing to incur the shipping costs, to having a tool library over at NASA so that instead of buying very specialized tools over and over again for different projects, we actually keep an inventory of those tools.

In addition to soliciting ideas from federal employees, I’ve also tasked Vice President Biden to work with the Secretaries of all our agencies to identify some systemic areas of potential improvement — travel, transportation, IT services — all of which we know can save us potentially billions of dollars. And in September Joe convened the Cabinet and has really pushed them hard in finding savings across all our agencies.

So today I’m signing an executive order that builds on their good work. It directs agencies to slash spending in each of these areas — travel, printing, IT — because we believe that we can get better results for less using technology. And overall, spending in the areas covered by this executive order will shrink by 20 percent. And members of my Cabinet will keep reporting on their progress to Joe Biden, and ultimately to me. And we’re going to hold them accountable for meeting this 20 percent reduction goal.

These are important steps that can save taxpayers billions of dollars over the next several years. It doesn’t replace the importance of the work that Congress needs to do in coming up with a balanced, bold plan to reduce our deficit, but it indicates once again that there are things that we can do right now that will actually deliver better government more efficiently, more consumer-friendly for less money. And we’re going to keep on finding every possible way that we can do that even if Congress is not acting.

So with that, I’m going to sign the bill, but I want to thank all the officials who are behind me here today for taking this project so seriously.

(The executive order is signed.)

There you go. Thank you very much