Campaign to Cut Waste Uses Recovery Tools to Improve Performance, but Challenges Remain

On June 13, President Obama signed an executive order (E.O.) initiating the "Campaign to Cut Waste." The E.O., titled "Delivering an Efficient, Effective, and Accountable Government," builds on many of the administration’s previous reforms while borrowing some of the better tools developed to execute and oversee the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act). However, its impact may be reduced due to recent budget cuts to a key government transparency fund.

Over the course of the last two and a half years, the Obama administration has presided over a series of good government and anti-fraud, -waste, and -abuse measures. These measures include the Open Government Initiative, which Obama began in 2009, as well as the Improper Payments Act and the Government Performance and Results (GPRA) Modernization Act, both of which passed Congress in 2010.

The president’s latest initiative, which is another broad effort to cut waste and streamline the government, builds on previous successful reforms – including the Accountable Government Initiative, which imposes cost-cutting goals on federal agencies – while making use of some of the Recovery Act’s more effective oversight tools. The administration tasked Vice President Joe Biden with overseeing the new program.

The most notable aspect of the initiative is the creation of a Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GAT Board). Similar to the Recovery Act’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (Recovery Board), the GAT Board will provide "strategic direction" to enhance spending transparency and "advance efforts to detect and remediate fraud, waste, and abuse in Federal programs" throughout the government. Drawing from "agency Inspectors General, agency Chief Financial Officers or Deputy Secretaries, a senior official of OMB" and others, the president will appoint all 11 members of the new board and designate one as chair.

Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney has been a vocal advocate for the technologies he put in place during implementation of the Recovery Act to target potential fraud that enjoyed high success rates, and it’s likely that the GAT Board will begin applying the lessons from the Recovery Act to the rest of the government. The aspiration is that the Board will apply the Recovery Act’s more detailed reporting and disclosure requirements to all of federal spending.

Some observers believe it would be easier to mandate the reforms through legislation and are championing Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). The DATA Act would create a powerful independent board to oversee all federal spending transparency and mandate important reforms, such as instituting ultimate recipient reporting and setting data standards government-wide. However, the DATA Act suffers from some important shortcomings, which include a sunset provision that could eliminate progress on federal spending transparency and would disband the independent board if Congress fails to reauthorize the legislation after seven years.

Under the E.O., although the vice president is tasked with convening periodic meetings with agency heads to review progress toward improving performance and cutting costs, the real work will occur below the cabinet level. The federal government’s chief performance officer (CPO) will work with the president’s management council (PMC), a reform group made up of high-ranking administrative officials, to act as a clearinghouse for agency best practices to increase efficiencies and reduce costs.

Chief financial officers (CFO) will also work with the PMC to identify savings, such as the elimination of "the programs and subprograms that have the lowest impact on [each] agency’s mission," in line with the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget.

Each agency will designate a senior official as the individual responsible for implementing performance reform efforts. The government will post this information on However, the Obama administration has yet to make the site publicly available, and congressionally driven cuts to the Electronic Government (E-Gov) Fund threaten to derail the president’s effort. In fall 2010, the administration planned to release to the public, rightly championing it as a simple way for people to access basic data on the federal government’s performance. The site is up and running and accessible to government employees, but OMB is having problems making the site public.

A tug of war between OMB and federal agencies over the proper amount of disclosure has ensued over the last several months with no solution in sight, but OMB is still promising that it is just a "few weeks" away from the launch of a publicly available performance website. Proposed cuts to the E-Gov Fund could push that release back indefinitely.

Cuts to the E-Gov Fund for FY 2011 have already forced the federal government to temporarily shut down several websites.

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