Obama moves to curb wasteful spending

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, “didn’t 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.”

Tags: Barack Obama, budget, Defense Contractors, Department of Defense, DOD, No-Bid Contracts, pentagon, Sensible Priorities, Spending (all tags)

Comments

13 Comments

Re: Obama moves to curb wasteful spending

Folks on the progressive side who genuinely care about good government need to stop spending all their time obsessing over the 1% of funding that is earmarked by Congress and think about the 99% that gets spent by the Executive Branch.

This memo from Obama is a great, great development whose fiscal impact should dwarf whatever tattoo removal program the John McCains of the world are fretting about today.

And when the media runs through its usual script about how a bill is "stuffed with pet projects" because a mere 1% of it consists of earmarks, we need to stop enabling them and start pushing them to focus on measures that have a REAL impact on the bottom line - such as the topic of this diary.

by Steve M 2009-03-06 05:57AM | 0 recs
The problem is our lap-dog media

Steve, your point is uber-rational, and I agree with it.

The problem is, virtually no one is expressing that point of view.

For example, just this morning I heard ANOTHER story about this, and, as you know, the bill is now frozen, we don't have 60 votes.

The story was the route "Oh My God, we are spending on Swine Odor"...it listed the TOTAL number of pork items without mentioning the dollar total.

The media has BOUGHT hook,line and sinker the McCain rant, which, is really a slight of hand because the fact the Republicans have to hide from is they took the brakes off the car, they drove it into a telephone poll, and now they have to scream about the busted mirror to try to distract the fact THEY DID THIS...

It will be scant MONTHS before the population is so misled they will start blaming Obama for the economic meltdown INSTEAD of Criminals like Phil Gramm...

Who, as we know, was best buds with none other then Saint John....

And, I know the Left Blogosphere bows down to Russ Feingold, but at times, he seems to do a lot of self-promoting.

He knows this is a legacy bill, he knows it is only 1%, but why miss a chance to get in front of the cameras...

by WashStateBlue 2009-03-06 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The problem is our lap-dog media

All I'm saying is that we should focus on the right thing ourselves and not enable the McCain agenda.

Obviously the media is not always going to talk about what we want them to talk about, but we can at least try.  When I see people on this site upset about earmarks, it's not just the political embarrassment (which is a fair point), it's that they're legitimately upset about this waste of the taxpayers' money, blah blah blah.  I don't want us to be a bunch of little McCains.

by Steve M 2009-03-06 07:33AM | 0 recs
I used to work for an organization

that helped autistic children that got a good portion of it's funding from state and federal earmarks. That changed my view on the subject.

It was with these earmarks that we were able to build a state of the art facility that allowed treatment, day care, afterschool activities, a playground and a soccer field. This was one of our Congressman's "pet projects"

I'd like to see John McCain argue that taxpayer money should not have been spent on autistic children in New York (and maybe he would be willing to make that argument, I'd be willing to hear it).

It's important to realize that "pork" isn't always bridges to nowhere. I don't mind earmarks as long as I can see them and judge them and the person asking for them. If a Senator from Utah wants an earmark to build a senior citizen's center, I'd be willing to forgive it, but if someone wants to build a bridge to an island no one lives on, then I'd be mad...maybe someone thinks the other way.

by DTOzone 2009-03-06 06:19AM | 0 recs
You're absolutely right

The problem is, our media is basically News-fo-tainment, they want the HEADLINE that will get people to watch the outrage.

That is why is is so easily manipulated, as it is being in this case.

McCain is trying to rebuild his legacy, but in this case, he is trying to swat at imaginary flies while the bubonic plague is going on all around us....

by WashStateBlue 2009-03-06 06:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama moves to curb wasteful spending

Remember, America still spends less than any other advanced industrialized country in the world, and also that earmarks ( according to many reputable economists) do not cause as much waste as is commonly supposed-in fact, they make up about 1-2% of all government spending.  Do not go overboard on this.

That said, cut military spending in half.  The amount of spending vis-a-vis the actual size of the military is out of all proportion.  We cut military spending after World War I, after World War II, and after the Korean War.  We can do it again.    

by demjim 2009-03-06 06:25AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama moves to curb wasteful spending

Fine, but if the President is serious about changing business as usual, he will tell congress to tear up the $410 billion dollar budget bill they passed. Thsi thing is so loaded with waste, it couldnt find its way out of a garbage dump. Anyone who supported it ought to be removed from office.

by adb67 2009-03-06 08:44AM | 0 recs
Let me ask a different question...

If you had a glass and you put in 1% sugar by volume, would that water be LOADED with Sugar?

Would you think the entire glass of water should be thrown out, for 1% sugar?

by WashStateBlue 2009-03-06 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Let me ask a different question...

Good point, but the problem is "earmarks" are a boogie man so a better analogy might be "1% High Fructose Corn Syrup".

There are folks out there that don't realize its essentially the same as Sugar or that Earmarks consist of things like Highway Funding.

by midwestdem1 2009-03-06 09:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Let me ask a different question...

Yes, a Archer Daniels Midland product!

Good Catch!

by WashStateBlue 2009-03-06 11:02AM | 0 recs
Do you even know what's in it?

by DTOzone 2009-03-06 09:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama moves to curb wasteful spending

What part of it has you worked up?

by midwestdem1 2009-03-06 10:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama moves to curb wasteful spending

Given that you're a republican, and supported Bush's agenda, and the fiscal disasters that were reagan and Bush 1, you'll forgive me if I take your opinion on fiscal responsibility for what it's worth...nothing.

by lojasmo 2009-03-06 11:35AM | 0 recs

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