OMBlog

  • Time to Do the Business of the American People

    It is approaching a year since I returned to OMB, and much has happened in the past 12 months on the economic and fiscal fronts -- from the agreement to cut the payroll tax and extend Unemployment Insurance and other key tax credits in December to the agreement to avert a default on the nation’s debt in August. What’s hard to remember amidst the rancorous debate is that despite our differences, at each step, we have found a path to work together to do the people’s business.

    For instance, last spring, we narrowly avoided a government shutdown over annual appropriations bills when Congress was able to set aside extreme ideological positions so we could reach a reasonable compromise to cut spending and preserve key investments that will help the country compete and win in the world economy.

    Now, as we enter the second month of a new fiscal year, we face a similar challenge. The House has passed several key appropriations bills, and the Senate is moving as well.  Passing these bills is important not only to avoid a government shutdown, but also to effectively run the federal government. As I mentioned above, negotiated agreements in April on funding bills and in August on the Budget Control Act show the way for Congress to pass bipartisan bills that the President can sign.

  • Driving Reforms and Results in Federal Grants

    Since the outset of this Administration, OMB has been aggressively pursuing any and all avenues to streamline government management and improve the way that we do business.  From cutting contracting costs, to re-evaluating IT investments, to reducing the Federal Government’s real estate footprint, we have made tremendous strides to-date.

    Today, I’m excited to announce another important step in this effort, as we look to reassess and reform the way that the Federal Government approaches grant making.  As our budgets tighten, it is essential for the Government and its grant recipient partners to do more with less and to target waste, fraud, and abuseof taxpayer dollars.  To do this, we must harness the energy of the Federal grants community to ensure that every dollar spent benefits Americans in a meaningful way.  That is why OMB Director Jack Lew is establishing a new Council on Financial Assistance Reform, to ensure that we are delivering, overseeing and reporting on grants in the most effective way possible.  More than 25 Federal agencies award grants that range from supporting lifesaving research and improving access to health care to fighting corruption and combating terrorism. These grants go to States, local and tribal governments, non-profits, universities, hospitals and others -- improving the lives of millions of Americans every year.  Under the leadership of the new Council, these agencies will make more effective use of taxpayer dollars to improve Americans’ lives.

  • Are You Being Served?

    Everyone has a bad customer service story. You know what it’s like – cumbersome paper applications, long wait times, and endless loops on an automated phone system. With advances in technology and service delivery systems, these are becoming rarer. With that, the public's expectations continue to rise, and the Federal Government must keep pace with those expectations.

    The Federal Government has taken several steps in the past few years to improve service. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services increased transparency in the previously opaque visa application process, creating an online tracking number to follow one’s application in the Visa process. The Department of Health and Human Services launched the first ever website to collect both public and private health insurance options across the nation in a single place, allowing individuals to sort through the catalog of options to identify the ones that may be right for them. The Social Security Administration redesigned its website to make it easier for people to apply for benefits online. The Consumer Product Safety Commission made publically available a consumer product safety database where consumers can both search for, and report on, consumer product safety incidents.

    But we need to do more. At the President’s direction, agencies have developed plans that lay out the steps they’re going to take to improve customer service, including collecting more information from the public, setting clear customer service targets for them to strive to, and identifying ways to use technology to improve the customer experience.

  • In the Valley with Steven VanRoekel

    Tonight, I’ll be making my first public appearance as Federal CIO at an event at the Churchill Club in Palo Alto, CA – a fitting venue to talk about my priorities and vision for the Federal IT landscape. In my remarks, I’ll focus on my plan for doing more with less and devising solutions with a “shared first” and a “future first” perspective to yield a higher return on our IT investments, increase productivity, and improve the way the government interacts with the American people. 

    I’m looking forward to sharing these ideas tonight in California, and I’m also excited to hear from you. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to share your thoughts about my plan by sending an email to futurefirst@cio.gov or DM me via Twitter at @stevenvDC.

    For those of you who can’t make it out to California, my remarks will be live-streamed here at 7PM PT, 10PM ET – so please tune in!

    Steven VanRoekel is the Federal Chief Information Officer

  • Setting the Record Straight on Opportunities for Small Disadvantaged Businesses

    Last month, the council that establishes regulations on federal acquisitions published a proposed rule to catch up its regulations on small disadvantaged businesses with changes in law. Some have asked whether this rule signals a pullback in our commitment to these businesses. Let’s be clear:  this “housekeeping” effort will have no impact on the government’s ability or commitment to drive contracting opportunities for small disadvantaged businesses – opportunities this Administration has pursued aggressively since day one.

    Here are the facts. The proposed rule would eliminate the rule that permitted agencies to pay a price premium in contract awards made to SDBs. The logic here is pretty straightforward:  in 2008, a court ruled that this statutory authority was unconstitutional; the statute subsequently expired in 2009.   

    The affected agencies – the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Coast Guard – have not used price premiums to facilitate awards to SDBs for years. Even more importantly, the proposed rule in no way changes the fundamental policies, practices, or programs that agencies have been using in recent years to achieve strong SDB participation in the federal marketplace, including the goal of awarding 5 percent of federal procurement dollars to SDBs. The Administration remains committed to the 8(a) business development program and other federal programs that seek to level the playing field for SDBs.  

  • For Sale: Cutting Waste By Getting Rid of Excess Real Estate

    Excess Properties Map

    Over the years the federal government accumulated tens of thousands of properties that are no longer needed, wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars annually on upkeep. Last June, President Obama directed Federal agencies to end this waste and improve the management of the government’s real estate by getting unneeded properties off our books – setting an initial goal of netting $3 billion in savings by the end of 2012. Since then, agencies across the government have been hard at work scrutinizing their real estate holdings and identifying properties that have outlived their utility.

    Today, I’m pleased to report that these efforts are paying off. Agencies have already identified real estate savings opportunities that exceed the President’s goal, and that put the federal government on pace to shed $3.5 billion in real estate costs by the end of 2012. To help track the Administration’s progress with these efforts – and to give the American people an unprecedented window into the government’s management of federal real estate – today we’re launching two new online tools.

    The first is an updated White House Excess Property map that uses new data to pinpoint the location and status of federal properties that agencies have targeted for closure or consolidation. Ranging from small sheds in rural locations to sprawling warehouses and office complexes in urban and suburban areas, the map shows some 12,000 properties scattered all across the country. We’re also rolling out a new dashboard on Performance.gov that allows the American people to track the Administration’s progress in meeting the President’s $3 billion goal. The dashboard now shows that agencies plan to surpass the President’s goal by the end of 2012 and have already achieved $1.5 billion in savings through a combination of sales, consolidations, canceled projects, and reduced maintenance and utility costs. And in the coming years, we’ll continue to target more and more unneeded properties that squander billions of dollars and make the government less efficient. 

    One such property is the U.S. General Service Administration’s (GSA) West Heating Plant, a two-acre property in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. It’s been 10 years since this facility last played a role in the boiler and pipe network that heats many of the capital’s government buildings. In the decade since it was last in use it has racked up $3.5 million in maintenance costs. The plant was retained as a back-up for emergencies, but GSA has determined the facility is no longer needed and ready for closure so we are labeling it “excess” today. Getting this property off the books is a win-win for the American people. It will eliminate maintenance costs, ensure that this property will be put to a more productive use, and could earn the government tens of millions in revenue from potential sales proceeds. This is exactly the type of waste and inefficiency the President and Vice President pledged to root out when they launched the Campaign to Cut Waste.

    Closing these types of facilities represents important progress, but more work needs to be done in the long-term to get excess properties off our books. For too long, the sale of excess federal real estate has been slowed by a process fraught with delays and hurdles. 

    That’s why in his budget last year, the President put forward a proposal called the Civilian Property Realignment Act – legislation that would cut through red tape and politics to accelerate the disposal of unnecessary government properties well beyond 2012. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure passage of this legislation to end wasteful Federal spending on properties that we simply do not need and return billions of dollars to American taxpayers. 

    Stopping the waste of taxpayer dollars is a priority for this Administration. Particularly in these tough budgetary times, we have a responsibility to deliver the American people an efficient, effective government that makes smart use of its resources. By aggressively targeting unneeded federal real estate, that’s exactly what we are doing. 

  • Reducing Regulatory Burdens in Health Care, Saving More than $1 Billion

    On January 18, President Obama called for an unprecedented and ambitious government-wide “lookback” at federal regulations. The lookback requires all agencies to reexamine their significant rules and to streamline, reduce, improve, or eliminate them.  

    A few months ago, and after consulting with the public, over two dozen departments and agencies released plans to remove what the President has called “absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money.” And we’re continuing our work to identify and eliminate regulations that don’t make sense.

    Just a small fraction of our burden-reducing reforms promise billions of dollars in savings over the next five years. And many of these changes overlap with the recent recommendations of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

  • Doing More with Less By Consolidating Nearly 1,000 Data Centers

    Stopping the waste of taxpayer dollars and optimizing government operations is at the heart of the Campaign to Cut Waste. That’s why during these tough budgetary times, the President has made clear that he expects agencies to do more with less.

    One way we are delivering on the President and Vice President’s commitment is through the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative - an initiative to shutdown data centers we don’t need and consolidate and optimize those that we do. Data centers store data for agencies across the government, requiring significant energy to run and cool equipment, and they can be as small as server closets or as large as a football field. This past summer, we announced that agencies had identified 373 data centers to be closed by the end of calendar year 2012, with 81 closed already.  

    Today, agencies released updated data center consolidation plans that are projected to save upwards of $5 billion. These plans reflect the Administration’s commitment to stretching taxpayer dollars even further – slashing waste and inefficiencies and focusing on improving services for the American people.  After more than a year of consolidation work, agencies now plan to close 962 data centers through 2015, with 472 to be closed by the end of the next calendar year. 

  • Winning the Future with Innovators in Delaware

    Earlier this month, President Obama presented his American Jobs Act. He made clear that “we have to be able to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth.” This week I traveled to Delaware and visited with several representatives of American companies and toured facilities which embody the President’s vision. These companies are helping our country win the future through their advancements in innovation.

    I started my day with a visit to DuPont’s experimental station and met with their CEO Ellen Kullman. DuPont’s Experimental Station was one of the first industrial research laboratories in the United States and is the birthplace of many inventions. DuPont invests approximately 2 billion dollars a year in research and development of its cutting edge science and technology innovations. I was very glad to be accompanied by Delaware Senator Chris Coons who, as a former General Counsel at a technology company, has a strong background in protecting and fostering American creativity.  

    I also met with local members of the National Association of Manufacturers whose membership represents some of our country’s leaders in creative and innovative technologies. These manufacturers operate and innovate in sectors like pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, telecommunications, food production and bio-tech medical companies. We shared and exchanged ideas for economic growth and ways industry and government can partner to protect our investments in American innovation. 

    I wrapped up my day with a tour of W.L. Gore’s exhibit hall. Founded by Bill and Vieve Gore in their basement,  W.L. Gore is best known for Gore-Tex fabrics. But through their creativity and innovative ideas, Gore has found multiple uses for the molecule. Today Gore technology is widely used in products varying from clothing used by campers in the great outdoors to clothing used by astronauts in outer space. Even more amazing are Gore’s achievements with medical devices which have led to the application of their fabric in cardiovascular surgery. This innovative idea has allowed doctors to plug holes in human hearts and has been directly responsible for saving lives worldwide. This all started with a husband and wife and the spirit of innovation in their basement.

    I was truly inspired by the creativity of the innovators I met in Delaware. We must continue to protect their creative and innovative ideas and safeguard them against theft and unfair competition. This is essential because as President Obama said in his State of the Union Address earlier this year, “the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”

    Victoria Espinel is the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator

  • Tackling Waste in Contracting

    As part of the Administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste, OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) released guidance today to reduce wasteful duplication in federal contracting.  Too often in the past, agency spending for many commonly-used items was fragmented across multiple departments, programs, and components, which means that agencies often spent time writing hundreds of separate contracts, with pricing that varies widely.  The result is a waste of limited staff time and energy, and prices that are not as good as they should be. At a Cabinet meeting earlier this month, Vice President Biden pointed out that by leveraging their purchasing power agencies can save taxpayer dollars. He directed each agency leader to conduct a waste and efficiency review, targeting unnecessary or inefficient spending in areas like contracting. 

    OFPP’s new guidance will aid agencies in eliminating waste and carrying out the reviews ordered by the Vice President by addressing concerns, raised by GAO and others, that agencies may be unnecessarily duplicating each other’s contracting efforts. This guidance requires agencies to prepare ”business cases” - analyses to ensure they aren’t duplicating an existing contract and that they are getting the best value  for taxpayers- before they establish or renew certain interagency and agency-specific contracts for commonly-used goods and services, such as office supplies and wireless services. Doing this kind of due diligence and comparison-shopping is something that many families across the country do, and it is especially important that the Federal government weigh all the options before entering into large contracts and agreements whose scope would overlap contracts that already exist.  In the business case, agencies are required to balance the value of creating a new contract against the benefit of using an existing one, and whether the expected return from investment in the proposed contract is worth the taxpayer resources. Insisting on that cost/benefit analysis in the business cases should go a long way to avoiding duplicative contracts.

  • Saving Taxpayer Dollars With Moneyball

    More for less. The movie Moneyball opened last weekend, telling the story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane.  Beane knew he could never match the payroll of the Yankees, so he turned to analytics to win more games and do more - much more - with less.

    There may never be a movie about the management of the federal government, but the Administration has been taking its own Moneyball approach to management, driving performance and, ultimately, saving money.

    Like Beane, who understood that his goal was to win games – not hit the most home runs, government agencies must learn to be clear about what they want to accomplish and not get stuck in the rut of doing what they have always done. That means setting real, achievable goals that align with agency mission, and sticking to them. For some agencies or programs, that means staying focused on preventing bad things, like accidents and pollution, from happening and reducing their costs when they do – rather than focusing on process goals like completing plan reviews. Processes can be important in achieving the goal, but we should never confuse them with the ultimate goal. To achieve more, government agencies need a clear understanding of the goals each wants to accomplish, focusing on the ultimate goals rather than intermediate process steps. That’s why the Administration has set high priority performance goals to focus our efforts in the near and medium term – and right now we are working on setting agency and cross-agency goals for 2012 and 2013, which will be incorporated in the President’s next budget proposal. This is why the Administration expects agency leaders to be clear about their priorities.

  • Investing in What Works: Voluntary Home Visiting Programs

    On Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $224 million in grants to states to provide evidence-based, voluntary home visiting programs for some of our most vulnerable children and families.  For those who haven’t followed this important new initiative, which President Obama first proposed on the campaign trail, here’s a quick recap.

    Rigorous research has shown that high-quality home visiting programs – through which at-risk families can choose to receive home visits from trained professionals like nurses and social workers – can make a positive difference for children and families on a range of outcomes, including child health and development, school readiness, and parent employment, as well as helping to prevent child abuse and neglect.  In addition, independent non-partisan organizations estimate that every dollar spent on evidence-based home visitation yields significant savings to federal, state, and local governments.

    President Obama first promised a large-scale investment in home visiting during his 2008 presidential campaign.  In his first Budget in the spring of 2009, he proposed directing significant new resources to states to support evidence-based home visiting.  The Administration then collaborated with Congress on legislation creating the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.  The new program will provide a total of $1.5 billion over five years for evidence-based home visiting.  It relies on a tiered evidence structure that focuses investments in programs that have been rigorously evaluated and shown to have positive impacts on children and families, while also supporting the development and evaluation of other promising approaches.

  • Moving Aggressively on Improper Payments

    Today, the Washington Post ran a story about an Inspector General report that showed that from 2006 to 2010, the Office of Personnel Management paid $601 million to retirees who are dead.

    Unfortunately, paying people the wrong amount or paying the wrong people – what we call “improper payments” – has been happening in the Federal government for far too long, and it is just plain wrong. It’s why, as faithful readers of OMBlog know, the Obama Administration has moved aggressively against improper payments and wasteful government spending since day one.

    President Obama set a goal of preventing $50 billion in improper payments and recapturing $2 billion in erroneous payments. The Administration has taken important steps towards achieving the President’s goals, which have yielded early results. 

  • The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction

    The health of our economy depends on what we do right now to create the conditions where businesses can hire and middle-class families can feel a basic measure of economic security. In the long run, our prosperity also depends on our ability to pay down the massive debt the federal government has accumulated over the past decade. Today, the President sent to the Joint Committee his plan to jumpstart economic growth and job creation now – and to lay the foundation for it to continue for years to come.

    The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction lives up to a simple idea: as a Nation, we can live within our means while still making the investments we need to prosper – from a jobs bill that is needed right now to long-term investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure. It follows a balanced approach: asking everyone to do their part, so no one has to bear all the burden.  And it says that everyone – including millionaires and billionaires – has to pay their fair share.

    Overall, it pays for the American Jobs Act and produces net savings of more than $3 trillion over the next decade, on top of the roughly $1 trillion in spending cuts that the President already signed into law in the Budget Control Act – for a total savings of more than $4 trillion over the next decade. This would bring the country to a place, by 2017, where current spending is no longer adding to our debt, debt is falling as a share of the economy, and deficits are at a sustainable level.

  • 20 Years of the CFO Act

    Continuously making strides and improvements in financial management, accountability, and transparency is key to the effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars ─ a charge this Administration is committed to carry out.  Last year marked a major milestone in this effort, with the 20th anniversary of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act). The occasion of this anniversary is an opportune time to take a look back at what we have achieved and a look forward at how we can continue to make improvements in financial management.

    With this in mind, Congress directed the Chief Financial Officers Council (CFOC) and the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to evaluate the lessons learned over the last 20 years since the CFO Act went into effect. Drawing upon input and expertise from across the CFO and CIGIE communities, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), academia as well as private sector auditing and accounting groups, the Councils recently provided a report to Congress outlining the results of their review and recommendations for improvements in financial management.

    The report highlights several benefits of the CFO Act, including the increased transparency, greater accountability and significant improvements in financial management and internal controls achieved in recent years.  Last year, these strides contributed to 21 out of the 24 CFO Act agencies obtaining unqualified “Clean” opinions on their financial statement audits – only the second time in the last decade that the government reached that milestone.

  • Getting Money to Small Businesses Faster

    Today, the President announced a new policy that will accelerate payments to small business contractors so they can reinvest that money in the economy and drive job growth. 

    Small businesses are the primary engine of job creation and job growth across the country. However, in today’s economic climate many face tight budgets and limited resources. With these challenges in mind, last week in his address to Congress the President emphasized the need to take common sense steps to give small businesses the flexibility they need to invest and hire. And that is what we are doing today.

    The Federal Government pays small businesses nearly $100 billion each year for goods and services. By taking actions that will enable these payments to be made as promptly as possible, we will improve cash flow for small businesses and provide them with a more predictable stream of resources. 

  • Cabinet Accountability for Cutting Waste

    When he launched the Campaign to Cut Waste in June, President Obama asked the Vice President to take on a new role holding the Cabinet accountable for cutting waste in their agencies to help make government more efficient and responsive to the American people. As a part of that effort, the Vice President today convened the first Cabinet waste reduction meeting and announced over $2 billion in anti-waste measures.

    In these challenging budgetary times, ensuring that every agency is rooting out waste and saving taxpayer dollars is more important than ever. We have made great strides in the last two years – shrinking contract spending for the first time in 13 years, identifying $3 billion in cost reductions from IT projects across government, and getting rid of property we no longer need and working aggressively to realize the President’s goal of saving $3 billion in real estate costs by the year 2012 – but we must continue to be vigilant and innovative about driving efficiency. That’s why the President and Vice President have made the Campaign to Cut Waste an Administration-wide priority.

  • Reimagining IT Talent in the Federal Government

    I am pleased to announce that the Chief Information Officers Council has officially launched the Technology Fellows Program. This initiative follows through with another essential reform item from the 25 Point Plan to Reform Federal IT Management.

    IT has transformed how the private sector operates and has revolutionized the way in which it serves its customers.  But the Federal Government largely missed out on these transformations in the last decade, due in part to its poor management of large technology investments. Challenges with IT program management have long been pervasive across the Federal Government due to a general shortage of qualified personnel. The result was not only slower progress than the private sector but in some cases millions in taxpayer dollars wasted due to personnel lacking the expertise to manage and oversee such large projects.

    Through the Technology Fellows Program, we are building a more sustainable talent pool that will ensure effectively managed IT programs from beginning to end. Highly qualified IT professionals are of great demand in any sector of the economy but the extent to which the private sector is able to hire top performers affords private companies an advantage in attracting the best and brightest in IT.

  • Disaster Request Sent

    Today, the President transmitted an official budget request to cover disaster needs in FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund through FY 2012.

    This follows up on a letter Jack Lew sent Tuesday to the leadership of the Appropriations and Budget Committees outlining our expected needs.

    Specifically, today we sent a budget amendment requesting an additional $4.6 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund for FY 2012. This amount would cover the cost of responding to Hurricane Irene as well as outstanding costs of previous disasters. We also sent a supplemental appropriations request for $500 million to cover anticipated needs for the remaining few weeks of FY 2011. As Jack wrote earlier this week, the Administration is committed to making funds available in the amount and time they are needed. We have worked closely with FEMA and DHS this week to monitor these needs, and have determined that the Disaster Relief Fund requires these supplemental funds to prudently get us through this period. We are also reviewing potential disaster needs in other agencies, and will submit an additional amendment if funding is warranted. 

    All of us are dedicated to taking care of our fellow Americans whose lives have been turned upside down by disasters. We look forward to working with Congress to help them recover and rebuild.

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

  • Disaster Relief Update

    Yesterday, the President joined with local leaders in New Jersey to tour the devastation that Hurricane Irene visited on communities in that state. He delivered a message to those suffering in the Garden State, and those in cities and towns up and down the East Coast hurt by the storm: “The entire country is behind you, and we are going to make sure that we provide all the resources that are necessary in order to help these communities rebuild.”

    This commitment to our neighbors in a time of need is one that crosses all boundaries of geography and political persuasion. As I wrote about on Thursday, it’s precisely this bipartisan commitment to help our fellow Americans that has guided funding for disaster relief for decades. And it’s what guided the Congress who included a provision in the Budget Control Act signed into law four weeks ago that allowed for the discretionary spending cap to be adjusted to fund disaster relief without an offset.

    Last week, we told Congress that under this mechanism and as identified under existing law, there are approximately $5.2 billion in known disaster relief needs for fiscal year 2012 (covering enduring costs from previous disasters such as the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri earlier this year), and that paying for Hurricane Irene will come on top of that. When I wrote that, we were still assessing what we would need for Irene.