Obama moves to curb wasteful spending
by desmoinesdem, Fri Mar 06, 2009 at 04:30:00 AM EST
Ever notice how Republicans love to complain about "wasteful government spending" but never do anything about it when they're in power?
In contrast, on Wednesday President Barack Obama issued a memo
to the heads of all the executive departments agencies directing them to restrict no-bid contracts; to rein in outsourcing of "inherently governmental activities"; and to, if necessary, cancel wasteful contracts outright. The crucial paragraph, even if it's written in bureaucratese, particularly calls out the Defense Department [...]
Clearly, this has applications far beyond the Pentagon. But the list of big-ticket defense items that have experienced huge cost overruns is a long one. Future Combat Systems in the Army; the Littoral Combat Ship in the Navy; the Joint Strike Fighter in the Air Force -- all of these programs, near and dear to the services, have run massively over budget. If I was a lobbyist for Lockheed or Boeing, I'd be dialing my contacts in the Pentagon and the Hill to figure out what the prospective damage to my company was. And then I'd come up with a strategy to fight this forthcoming Office of Management and Budget review.
Obama went further in remarks at the White House, calling it a "false choice" to say that protecting the country requires acquiescence to Pentagon waste. "In this time of great challenges," he said, "I recognize the real choice between investments that are designed to keep the American people safe and those that are designed to make a defense contractor rich." He also lent support to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and former presidential rival John McCain's (R-Ariz.) legislation to create new procurement oversight positions at the Pentagon. "The days of giving defense contractors a blank check are over," Obama said.
Music to my ears: no more blank checks for crooked defense contractors.
The White House estimates that changing the way the government does business will save about $40 billion a year.
By way of comparison, the total cost of approximately 11,610 earmarks in fiscal year 2008 was $17.2 billion according to Citizens Against Government Waste. In fiscal year 2007, earmarks cost American taxpayers an estimated $13.2 billion. Republicans howl about earmarks (when they're not busy getting them for their own constituents), but will they get behind Obama's new effort to reduce huge cost overruns and no-bid contracts?
Daily Kos user Pluto gave many examples of the mind-boggling amount of taxpayer money we spend on defense, but neither the problem nor Obama's response is limited to the Pentagon. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has already axed a $500,000 consulting contract:
"The career folks who watched this process unfold in the last waning days of the last administration were very concerned about the process--the connections and relationships between people receiving this half a million dollar contract and what they intended to do with the resource which the career folks felt was unnecessary and inappropriate," Vilsack said during a guest appearance at the daily White House press briefing. "They made a very strong and powerful case to me that the process was not followed as it should have been."
Vilsack did not explain precisely what consulting the contract was to involve, but he said it seemed unnecessary.
"I didn't see any value to USDA from it. I will tell you it was rather startling to see that a substantial amount of money had already been spent on foreign travel under circumstances we did not think was appropriate," the secretary said.
I'd like to see us reduce wasteful spending even more by cutting obsolete Cold War-era weapons systems. I don't expect Obama to take on that battle anytime soon, but I welcome the big step in the right direction he took this week.UPDATE: Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, under fire for the infamous pig odor study earmark, had this to say yesterday:
What needs more attention, according to Harkin, are no-bid contracts done by federal agencies. I had a hearing a year ago on the Department of Labor and there were - I forget the exact figure but several hundred million dollars that had gone out under Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on no-bid contracts, he said. When Harkin directed a federal oversight agency to look into the contracts, it was discovered that the contractors had not done what they were hired to do and, according to Harkin, didnt really do anything. At least we are transparent, he said. You can see where it is going. But on a lot of these non-bid contracts that go through the executive branch, no one knows what they are doing. We have no transparency there.