OMBlog

  • OMB Transitions

    Today, President Obama announced that following my departure from OMB next month to become his Chief of Staff, Jeff Zients will serve as Acting Director. With Jeff serving as Acting Director and Heather Higginbottom continuing her excellent work as Deputy Director, OMB will have strong continuity of leadership.

    Jeff returns to the role of Acting Director after serving ably in that role from July to November in 2010. In his nearly three years at OMB, Jeff has worked closely with agencies to cut waste and make government more efficient and effective for the American people, developing deep knowledge of the federal government, and applying lessons learned from his private sector experience to save taxpayer dollars.

    Having worked at the highest levels of policymaking in the legislative and executive branches for over a decade, Heather has been an invaluable addition to the team, working closely with me and the OMB staff on the budget these past months.

    With Jeff and Heather at the helm, I am confident OMB will continue to serve the President and the American taxpayers well. Departing OMB next month will be bittersweet. It has been a privilege to return to such a vital institution and serve beside such talented and dedicated public servants at a time when their expertise was called upon again and again. I am honored for the opportunity to continue to serve this President as his Chief of Staff, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with my colleagues at OMB in that role as we continue to move forward the President’s agenda.

    Jack Lew is Director of the Office of Management and Budget 

  • The Mobile Opportunity

    The mobile revolution is upon us. Not only do the American people go online to pay bills, buy tickets and stay connected to their friends, but they are also adopting smart mobile technology at an incredible rate. This is changing the way we interact, the way we consume and the way we work.

    To fundamentally change the way we do things in government, we need to seize on this mobile opportunity both in how we serve the public and in how government employees work.

    Many government services have gone mobile already. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a mobile application (My TSA) which provides passengers with 24/7 access to the most commonly requested TSA information on their mobile device. This includes functions such as Airport Status, ‘What Can I Bring?’ information, a guide on travel tips, and an ability to share information with other passengers on security wait times. Many government websites, such as USA.gov and WhiteHouse.gov, have mobile-optimized versions. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has a mobile website that allows Veterans to access key links quickly, such as facility locations. We need more agencies to make their services available to an increasingly mobile nation.

  • Super Duper Space Toolbox

    President Barack Obama and 2011 SAVE Award Winner Matthew Ritsko

    President Barack Obama talks with Matthew Ritsko, the winner of the 2011 Presidential Securing Americans' Value and Efficiency (SAVE) award, in the Oval Office, Jan. 9, 2012. Ritsko, a financial manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, proposed the space agency create a "lending library" where specialized space tools and hardware purchased by one NASA organization will be made available to other NASA programs and projects. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    From the start of the Administration, President Obama has been committed to delivering the American people an efficient, effective government that cuts waste and uses taxpayer dollars wisely. Recognizing that frontline federal workers know best where the waste is, he has made federal employees an essential partner in that effort. 

    In 2009, the President launched the SAVE Award – an annual contest to enlist frontline Federal workers in the effort to cut waste and make government work better for the American people. This year, we received nearly 20,000 entries, and 48,000 votes were cast rating the ideas. Last November, the American people then voted on a final four of the best ideas, and the winner was Matthew Ritsko of Crofton, Maryland. Today, Matthew came to the Oval Office to discuss his idea with the President.

  • To the Point

    A longstanding complaint about Federal regulation, one that we encountered when President Obama first took office, is that many rules are just too complicated and hard to understand. The concern is bipartisan. It comes from small and large businesses, public interest groups, state and local governments, and countless individual citizens. So we set out to change that.

    Early last year, the President issued an Executive Order on regulation requiring rules to be “accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand.” He also said that regulations “shall be adopted through a process that involves public participation,” including an “open exchange of information and perspectives.” That open exchange cannot occur if proposed rules, presented for public comment, are complex and obscure. And if people are being asked to comply with rules, they are entitled to have a clear sense of what they are being asked to do.

    This week the Administration took a major step in the direction of greater clarity and simplicity. Building on the President’s Executive Order, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has directed agencies to provide the public with brief, straightforward executive summaries of all complex and lengthy rules. These summaries will include separate descriptions of all key provisions and policy choices.  They will explain the need for the rule and offer a succinct statement of its legal basis. The summaries will also include a table describing the costs and benefits of the rule.

  • Expanding our Efforts on Data Centers

    The President has been clear that every Federal dollar spent must generate a positive return for the American people and that as we tackle our long term fiscal challenges, we must root out waste in government. One area that we know we can do better in is with the thousands of duplicative data centers that sprung up across the last decade. These data centers – some as big as a football field, others as small as a closet –  represent billions in wasted capital that could be better used to improve upon critical services for American taxpayers.By closing data centers, agencies are on track to save taxpayers billions of dollars by cutting spending on wasteful, underutilized hardware, software and operations as well as enhance our cybersecurity; shrink our energy and real estate footprints; and take advantage of transformational technologies like cloud computing to make government work better for our nation’s families. 

     
     

    Last year, we set an ambitious target of closing 800 data centers by the end of 2015. After a year of agencies working hard to develop plans and targets, we are not only on track – but exceeding that goal: 

    • Agencies plan to close 215 data centers in 2011;
    • Agencies plan to close 525 data centers by the end of 2012;
    • Agencies plan to close 1,080 data centers by the end of 2015.

  • Wastebook 2011

    Today, Senator Tom Coburn released a new report on government waste called Wastebook 2011. Senator Coburn has been a leader in looking for ways to cut unnecessary government spending – including collaborating with then-Senator Obama on the Coburn–Obama Transparency Act.

    We just started reviewing his latest report – but it looks like it includes many proposals the Administration has proposed before. And it is clear that we share the Senator’s commitment to cut waste and have been working on it since the start of the Administration.

    Upon taking office, the President asked his Administration to go line-by-line through the Budget to identify programs that are outdated, ineffective, or duplicative. In his first two budgets, the President identified more than 120 terminations, reductions, and savings, totaling approximately $20 billion in each year; in this year’s budget, he proposed 211 terminations, reductions, and savings measures that will save more than $33 billion in 2012 alone.

  • More Sunshine, Less Fraud

    From his first day in office, President Obama has been committed to making the federal government more transparent and accountable to the American people than ever before.  As dedicated stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, we have a responsibility to provide information to the public on how Federal funds are being spent and do everything possible to root out and prevent waste, fraud, or abuse in Federal programs.  The American people expect nothing less from our government than rigorous accountability for every taxpayer dollar.

    Over the past three years, we have made tremendous strides towards the President’s goal of full transparency and accountability in Federal spending.  We have made progress on many fronts  including stepped up efforts to crack down on fraud that led to the recovery of billions of dollars last year alone; publicly posting budgets and status reports for Federal IT projects for the very first time; reductions in payment errors known as improper payments in programs like Medicare and Medicaid and making detailed information about spending available to citizens on-line  through USAspending.gov.  But there is more that we can, and must, do.

    That’s why the President created the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, comprised of senior leaders with proven records as fraud and waste watchdogs, back in June of this year as part of his commitment to cutting waste and making government more accountable to the American people.  The GATB was charged with recommending ways to improve the tracking and display of Federal spending data and broaden the use of cutting-edge forensic fraud detection technologies.  And the President directed the GATB to work in close concert with the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which established a new benchmark for how we should collect, display and oversee Federal spending data under the Recovery Act through Recovery.gov and its innovative Recovery Operations Center.

  • The Buck Stops Here

    Cabinet meeting on the Campaign to Cut Waste

    Vice President Joe Biden holds a cabinet meeting on the campaign to cut waste, in room 430 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, December 13, 2011. Pictured are (from left) Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, and OMB Director Jack Lew. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    When is the last time you used a dollar coin? If you’re like most Americans, it’s been a while.

    Back in 2005, Congress enacted the Presidential $1 Coin Act, which mandated that the US Mint issue new Presidential $1 Coins with the likeness of every deceased President. The only problem: nobody wants to use them. As a result, more than 40 percent (or 1.3 billion) of the Presidential coins that the US Mint has issued are sitting in storage at the Federal Reserve – enough to meet demand for more than a decade. And until today, the Mint was set to produce another 1.6 billion coins through 2016. That’s why Vice President Biden and Secretary Geithner announced at today’s Cabinet meeting that the Administration will stop the wasteful production of excess $1 coins for circulation, and will produce only a small number to be sold to collectors as required by law – but at no cost to taxpayers. Overall, this change will save at least $50 million annually over the next several years.

  • A Year of Change in Federal IT

    As technologists in the private sector know, when money is tight, it’s often technology that enables us to do more with less. In a lean fiscal environment, organizations look for ways to take existing resources and use the latest advances and tools to do the seemingly impossible: improve and expand services while cutting costs. It is no different with the Federal Government. To deliver on the President’s commitment to an effective and efficient government, we are leveraging the latest advances in technology to save taxpayer dollars and cut waste. We are working aggressively to meet the challenge of doing more with less, and we are seeing real results.

    By holding underperforming IT projects accountable, we are identifying efficiencies and eliminating waste to deliver better technology solutions sooner, and at a lower cost. This year we took our rigorous Techstat accountability sessions and open sourced the model, giving agencies the tools to turnaround or terminate failing projects at the agency-level. As a result agencies identified nearly $1 billion in efficiencies, bringing the grand total of Techstat efficiencies to $4 billion in less than two years. You can read more about that in the TechStat Report published today.

    Having the right people matters too. In order to ensure we have the experienced and talented managers we need to oversee these large, complex IT investments and maximize the return on taxpayer dollars at every step in the process, we created a new role for IT program managers with more rigorous requirements.  We also launched the Presidential Technology Fellows Program this fall to attract new talent to the federal IT workforce by reducing barriers to entry for talented young IT professionals.

  • Data.gov Goes Global

    Last week, President Obama’s unprecedented efforts to advance open and transparent Government reached an important milestone. As part of a joint effort by the United States and India to build an open government platform, the U.S. team has deposited open source code– an important benchmark in developing the Open Government Platform that will enable governments around the world to stand up their own open government data sites.

    Last week’s announcement is part of a broader effort to make government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. In September, the United States was one of eight founding governments of the Open Government Partnership,a new multilateral initiative that secures concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.The President also  unveiled the U.S. National Action Plan on Open Government, which detailed steps the United States will take to help meet the initiative’s goals.

    The plan specifically called for an effort under the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue to produce “Data.gov-in-a-Box” -- an open source version of the United States’ Data.gov data portal and India’s India.gov.in document portal.  The U.S. and India are working together to produce an open source version available for implementation by countries globally, encouraging governments around the word to stand up open data sites that promote transparency, improve citizen engagement, and engage application developers in continuously improving these efforts.  Technical teams from the U.S. and Indian governments have been working together since August of this year, with a planned launch of the open source product (which is now called the Open Government Platform (OGPL) to reflect its broad scope) in early 2012.

    The module -- paired with the software for the Open Government Platform website being developed by India -- will enable governments around the world to launch their own open government sites and increase transparency and accountability.  In the meantime, the U.S.-India team will continue to improve and integrate the modules of the Open Government Platform for the planned launch early next year.

    Steven VanRoekel is the Federal Chief Information Officer

    Aneesh Chopra is the Federal Chief Technology Officer 

  • The Power of Goal Setting and Data-Driven Reviews: Cutting Crime in Indian Country

    Today, President Obama and OMB Deputy Director Heather Higginbottom joined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at the 2011 White House Tribal Nations Conference.  The President celebrated change in several areas, including making Indian Country a safer place to live.  Deputy Director Higginbottom commended Interior for its tremendous work to reduce crime on targeted Indian reservations. That change is thanks to the success of the Safe Indian Communities initiative, led by Secretary Salazar.  This initiative reduced violent crime a remarkable 35 percent across four Indian reservations with high crime rates.

    Almost two years ago, in the FY2011 budget, Secretary Salazar set an agency high priority performance goal to reduce crime at least 5 percent on four reservations: Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana, home to the Chippewa-Cree Tribe; the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in North and South Dakota; the Mescalero Apache Tribe’s reservation in New Mexico; and the Shoshone and Arapahoe Tribes’ Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  When the goal was set, most considered it to be very ambitious; Interior had never before adopted a crime reduction goal and does not control most of the factors affecting the crime rate.

  • Tracking High Priority Infrastructure Projects

    Today we are launching the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard, a new web page where you can track the federal permitting and environmental review process for expedited high priority infrastructure projects. These projects were identified pursuant to a Presidential Memorandum, in which the President directed agencies to expedite environmental reviews and permit decisions for a selection of high priority infrastructure projects that will create a significant number of jobs, have already identified necessary funding, and where the significant steps remaining before construction are within the control and jurisdiction of the federal government and can be completed within 18 months. 

    This Dashboard is the latest result of a series of executive actions President Obama has taken to create jobs because he is adamant that we can’t wait for Congress to act to boost job growth and strengthen our economy. That is why he directed Federal agencies to fast-track review of high priority infrastructure projects that together have the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs.

    As the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness has highlighted, it is critical for the Federal government to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal permitting and environmental reviews to ensure that smart infrastructure projects move as quickly as possible from the drawing board to completion.  At the direction of President Obama, agencies are taking steps to expedite the permitting and review process for infrastructure projects that will create jobs, spur economic growth in adjacent communities, and improve the safety and quality of life of Americans.

  • Bargain Hunters Be Wary

    As Americans kick off the holiday shopping season, it's a good time to remember the importance of making responsible purchases and rejecting counterfeits that pose a threat to American jobs, safety and health. Today I joined Attorney General Eric Holder and other Administration officials at the White House to announce progress we’ve made cracking down on intellectual property theft crimes, and to launch a public awareness campaign to combat the purchase and sale of counterfeit and pirated products.

    As President Obama has said, in order to win the future in the global economy America must out innovate our competitors. Intellectual property theft undermines our nation's innovators and entrepreneurs. The new campaign will educate the public about the full range of intellectual property crimes we confront, from counterfeit consumer goods and fake pharmaceuticals laced with potentially dangerous substances to illegal downloads, while highlighting the potential threat these crimes pose to economic prosperity and public safety. The campaign will include a television PSA, materials delivered through social media, and radio, web, and print ads. 

    The Administration has been proactive on multiple fronts in order to increase intellectual property enforcement. We have increased law enforcement efficiency, advocated for legislative reform, informed the public about the negative impacts of intellectual property theft, and engaged the private sector to foster cooperation and create voluntary solutions through productive conversations. Today’s announcement marks an important milestone in the Administration’s ongoing efforts to curb intellectual property theft that harms the economy, undermines job creation, undermines innovation, and jeopardizes the health and safety of American consumers.  

    At the event, Attorney General Holder and I were joined by Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, who discussed the ways in which counterfeit goods impact the everyday lives of American families. Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton was also in attendance to discuss ongoing Administration law enforcement efforts concerning counterfeit goods and intellectual property crimes. And Ann Harkins, National Crime Prevention Council President and CEO, was on hand to unveil the products of the campaign that will help build awareness about the harm caused by counterfeit goods and engage the public in stopping intellectual property theft. 

    For more information about the campaign, visit: http://www.ncpc.org/getreal.

  • We Can't Wait: Bringing Records Management into the Twenty-First Century

    Federal records are crucial to documenting the history of our national experience –the problems, the triumphs, and the challenges. They provide a prism through which future generations will view, understand, and learn from the actions of the current generation. A sensible system of records management is the backbone of open government.

    For many decades, the framework for records management has been based on an approach developed in the middle of the twentieth century, involving paper and filing cabinets. Things are of course very different today. In the digital age, when many records are made and maintained in electronic form, we have extraordinary opportunities to improve records management. New steps can save money, improve efficiency, promote openness, and increase both accuracy and transparency. They can provide great benefits to posterity.

    Today President Obama is taking a historic step -- and the most important step in many decades -- to improve the management of federal records. Delivering on a commitment in the recent Open Government Partnership: National Action Plan for the United States, he is calling for a large-scale transformation in how agencies maintain their records. In the process, he is inaugurating a government-wide effort to reform records management policies and practices. 

  • Audits In; Records Broken

    As careful stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, the Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure that it is spending money responsibly and keeping its books in order for all to see.  Just like companies in the private sector, our Federal agencies must undergo thorough audits each year to ensure that we are practicing sound financial management.  And today, I am pleased to announce that - for the first time since the passage of the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act over twenty years ago - twenty-three of the twenty-four applicable agencies obtained an opinion from the independent auditors on their financial statements. 

    These results are not just about numbers on a ledger.  They are about this Administration’s commitment to watching every dollar that goes out the door and making sure that we have the proper controls, practices, and safeguards in place on those dollars.  And although this effort is an ongoing challenge, we are excited that we continue to make progress on improving financial reporting and internal controls.  This year’s audit results are evidence of this progress, showing twenty-one “clean” opinions, two qualified opinions, and only one remaining disclaimer. 

  • And the SAVE Award Goes to…

    More than 48,000 of you have cast your votes, and the results are now in. The winner of the 2011 SAVE Award is Matthew Ritsko of Crofton, Maryland

    Matthew is a Financial Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He noticed that when NASA employees purchase specialized tools and equipment for developing and building flight projects, many of these tools are not tracked once projects are complete – an oversight that results in the same tools being unnecessarily bought by other employees. To cut down on these wasteful repeat purchases, Matthew suggested creating a centralized tool repository – or “lending library” – where these tools can be stored, catalogued, and checked in and out by NASA employees.

    Matthew’s idea garnered just over 19,000 votes – an impressive number that not only wins him this year’s SAVE Award, but also the chance to present his idea directly to President Obama in person at the White House.

    For those of you who voted for one of the other three finalists, don’t worry. As in past years, each of the finalists’ ideas will be incorporated in the FY 2013 Budget, and all other SAVE Award submissions will be reviewed for potential inclusion.

    Our sincere thanks to all those who took the time to submit ideas for this year’s SAVE Award. It shows that Federal employees are committed to improving the way the government does business, which is even more important during these tough budgetary times. So as we congratulate Matthew and this year’s SAVE Award finalists, we also recommit ourselves to following their example and working to deliver the American people the efficient, effective government they deserve.

    Jeff Zients is the Deputy Director for Management and Chief Performance Officer.

  • Every Vote Counts

    Public voting for the 2011 SAVE Award opened last Wednesday, and nearly 44,000 people from all across the country have made their voices heard. Are you one of them? If not, there’s still time to cast your vote. Just go to www.SAVEAward.gov, check out this year’s finalists, and vote for the best waste-cutting idea.

    As you all know, President Obama launched the SAVE Award contest back in 2009 to enlist frontline Federal employees in the effort to make government more efficient and effective for the American people. In just a few short weeks, we received nearly 20,000 cost-cutting ideas from Federal workers representing agencies all across the government – and now we’re down to four.

    So take a minute to weigh in by going to www.SAVEAward.gov. Voting is open until 12:00 PM ET on Thursday, November 17, and every vote counts. Remember – this year’s winner will get to present his or her idea directly to the President and have it included in the FY 2013 Budget.

    Cast your vote now – and help us spread the word!

    Kenneth Baer is Senior Advisor and the Associate Director for Communications and Strategic Planning.

  • Holding Contractors Accountable

    As guardians of the taxpayers’ dollars, we have an ongoing responsibility to do business with contractors who place a premium on integrity, performance, and quality--and not do business with firms who are proven bad actors and put Americans’ hard earned dollars at risk for waste, fraud, and abuse. Having an effective suspension and debarment program to exclude bad actors is an important part of making sure we live up to our responsibility to maximize the return on every dollar spent and deliver a higher quality of service to the American people. 

    From the start of this Administration, President Obama has been committed to making sure agencies cut contracting costs and better protect taxpayers from cost overruns and poor performance. Today, we are taking our commitment to protecting taxpayer resources to the next level by directing agencies to ensure they are fully equipped to suspend or debar contractors and other recipients whenever necessary to protect the government’s interest. For far too long, Americans’ tax dollars have been put at risk in the hands of bad actors and as part of the Campaign to Cut Waste we are stepping up accountability. For years, agencies have had the discretion to suspend or debar contractors and other recipients from doing business with the Federal government for a specified period of time in order to protect the government from future harm from bad actors who put tax dollars at risk – such as by knowingly selling counterfeit parts, billing for work not performed, destroying records, or committing other offenses that demonstrate a lack of business integrity or business honesty. Despite the important protection that suspension and debarment provide, too many Federal agencies have, for too long, failed to adequately use these tools.  

  • Cutting $20 Billion in Improper Payments in Two Years

    As many of you know, each year the federal government wastes billions of American taxpayers’ dollars in improper payments to individuals, organizations, and contractors.  These are payments made by the government to the wrong person, in the wrong amount, or for the wrong reason. Unfortunately, these “improper payments” have been happening in the Federal government for far too long, and it is just plain wrong. At a time when our most critical social and economic assistance programs face increasingly tight budgets, we cannot afford, nor will we tolerate, such errors. Sending payments to convicted felons or dead people can’t be tolerated as business as usual.

    As part of the Administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste, we’ve worked hard to bring down the rate of improper payments, recapture misallocated funds, and meet the President’s goal of reducing improper payments by $50 billion by the end of 2012. Today, federal agencies are completing their year-end financial statements, and I’m pleased to report that we have made significant progress on these fronts.

    Today, we can announce that the Administration is on track to meet or exceed these goals. In FY 2011, Federal agencies cut wasteful improper payments by nearly $18 billion dollars and recaptured $1.2 billion in erroneous payments. When combined with results from last year, we have prevented over $20 billion in error and recaptured over $1.9 billion, putting us on pace to meet the President’s goal.

  • A Salute to the VA For Its Excellence In Serving Those Who Served Our Nation

    Veterans Day is almost here so, even as we celebrate our Veterans, it is timely to showcase the great work of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in meeting the President’s challenge to make government work better -- delivering more mission for the money.  It is especially timely because, on Wednesday, November 9, VA received the prestigious Palladium Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame Award for Executing Strategy, putting it in the select company of the world’s best-managed public and private enterprises .

    VA’s mission begins when a servicemember’s ends.  As Abraham Lincoln so memorably said in his second inaugural address, VA’s job is “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”  In practice, this broad mandate translates to providing veterans with medical care, a variety of benefits, and a final resting place of dignity that does justice to their service.

    To deliver more mission for the money, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould are tapping into the power of well-framed goals to galvanize action across a large and complex organization.  They are using the Balanced Scorecard to communicate and cascade their organization’s top priority goals into clear expectations across the organization, and reinforcing the importance of these goals with frequent measurement of a suite of measures and challenging reviews of progress to find and fix delivery problems.