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Eliminating Federal Government Waste: Phase 1

Monday June 19th, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:10am PDT   •  

59667727 - female office worker or business woman cuts a piece of paper with the word waste on it as a waste reduction business concept. What a difference a small change in personnel at the White House makes!

Nearly two and a half years after becoming President, Barack Obama finally got around to signing an executive order to establish the “Campaign to Cut Government Waste“, which promised to impose new oversight and accountability aimed at reducing waste, fraud and abuse throughout the executive branch of the U.S. government, with a specific goal of reducing the number of web sites operated by U.S. government agencies in half.

If you’re familiar with any of the horror stories of waste, fraud and abuse that came to characterize entire government departments like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), then you appreciate how little reduction was actually achieved.

That lack of success was really a problem of misplaced priorities, which becomes clear when you compare what the Obama administration achieved with what the Trump administration is taking on less than six months into the new president’s term in office. Niv Elis of The Hill reports:

The White House budget office on Thursday kicked off the administration’s “war on waste,” eliminating reports and requirements in an effort to set an example for other government agencies.

“Government may do a decent job of looking forward, but we do a lousy job of cleaning out the closet,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said.

Over time, Mulvaney said, government agencies build up an unruly list of reporting requirements and regulations that are seldom addressed.

His office went through 253 guidance and policy documents and decided to pull 59 of them, including an ongoing reporting requirement on the Y2K bug and a report on a completed Bush-era e-government program.

“Some are duplicative, some or obsolete, some are just finding a different methodology,” said Linda Springer, a senior adviser to Mulvaney. The housecleaning exercise, which the administration is asking every office and agency to carry out, is “phase 1” of a plan to increase government efficiency.

The OMB’s ongoing reporting requirements for the Y2K bug problem, which hasn’t existed as a meaningful concern in the real world since the early years of the preceding presidential administration of George W. Bush, is emblematic of the lack of serious focus on eliminating wasteful bookkeeping requirements within the federal government’s bureaucracy. NextGov‘s Mohana Ravindranath indicates how such outdated requirements contribute to bureaucratic regulatory clutter for years after they’ve ceased to be relevant.

The repealed IT guidance doesn’t seem all that impactful, Robert Shea, former associate director for administration and government performance at OMB and now a public sector principal at Grant Thornton, told Nextgov.

Because agencies likely weren’t actually paying attention to—and therefore weren’t burdened by—compliance requirements of decades-old policy, the rescinded IT memos appeared to be the result of “bookkeeping,” he said.

Perhaps the Y2K reporting requirement wouldn’t have persisted for quite so long if the bureaucrats responsible for both paying attention to and complying with such policy requirements were more diligent about their responsibilities. Either way, it doesn’t speak well of either the federal government’s bureaucratic culture or the oversight established by the Obama administration’s campaign to cut government waste that the task of eliminating this particular example of waste was left to the next White House admininstration.

Phase 1 of the OMB’s new initiative to reorganize the federal government to minimize waste will end on June 30, 2017, when all federal agencies will report back to the OMB on what bureaucratic requirements they’ve determined do not make for the efficient or effective use of taxpayer resources within their organizations. The completion of Phase 2 will follow three months later, when they submit their proposed agency budgets to the OMB and have to commit to following through on the waste reduction they identified in Phase 1.

It’s a very different way of doing business in Washington D.C.

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June 2017