OMBlog

  • 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.

  • The SAVE Final Four and A New EO to Cut Waste

    20111109 POTUS Signing

    President Barack Obama talks with the media before signing an Executive Order as part of the “We Can’t Wait” campaign, to cut waste and promote efficient spending across the federal government, in the Oval Office, Nov. 9, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

     

    Since day one, this Administration has been committed to rooting out waste and misspent tax dollars in every agency across the Federal government. From getting unneeded federal properties off our books, to cracking down on improper payments, to reducing the number of federal data centers, we have made great strides in delivering a government that is more efficient and effective for the American people. In addition, this past June, the President and Vice President launched the Campaign to Cut Waste, a redoubling of our efforts to end what doesn’t work and do more for less.

    Today, the Administration announced additional steps we’re taking to build on these efforts. This morning, President Obama signed an Executive Order that will cut waste and promote more efficient spending across the federal government. The Order sets bold goals for agencies to reduce spending on travel; limit the number of information technology devices (e.g. cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops) that can be issued to individual employees; stop unnecessarily printing documents that can be posted online; shrink the executive fleet of the federal government; and stop using taxpayer dollars to buy swag -- the unnecessary plaques, clothing, and other promotional items that agencies purchase. Overall spending in the areas covered by the Executive Order will be reduced by 20 percent, saving billions.

  • News from OFPP

    Today, Dan Gordon, the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, announced that later this year he will be leaving the post to serve as Associate Dean for Government Contracts Law at the George Washington University Law School.

    President Obama appointed Dan Gordon as the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy in 2009 in order to turn around the explosive contracting growth of the last decade and re-instill accountability, drive fiscal responsibility, strengthen the acquisition workforce, cut out waste and rebalance the relationship between the federal government and the contractors that support our agencies.  In Dan, he selected someone with decades of experience working with the federal procurement system, in private practice and at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  When Dan began at the White House, he brought with him a commitment to openness and integrity, combined with a strong sense of what we needed to do to improve the federal acquisition system, after too many years of neglect. 

  • 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.