Observers of the federal government cautiously welcomed a Friday speech by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., in which she said if elected president, she would cut contractors and seek to boost the adoption of technology.
In what Clinton's campaign staff described as "a major policy address" at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., she promised that if elected, she would cut 500,000 federal contractors for savings of up to $18 billion annually, and ensure that government contracts would be awarded using a competitive bidding process when possible.
"'It's not exactly the subject matter that gets people marching in the street, but if we don't restore the confidence and the competence of our government, we will see the steady erosion of our government's capacity," Clinton said, according to an Associated Press report on the speech.
Jonathan Breul, a senior fellow with the IBM Center for the Business of Government, welcomed Clinton's early attention to federal management. "It's terrific to have a candidate, and a strong candidate, out there" paying attention, he said. "You don't usually see discussion like this until the summer before the fall election. Attention to competence of government, the management of government, is to be applauded."
Breul noted similarities between Clinton's promises to reduce the number of contractors and the reinventing government platform under which her husband's administration cut "well over 300,000" federal jobs.
He said under President Bill Clinton's plan, which Vice President Al Gore oversaw, job cuts were targeted at unnecessary or outdated functions, many of which were made redundant by new technologies. "There was logic to Gore's effort, not just streamlining but modernizing, and relying on technology where possible," Breul said, noting that he had not seen a discussion of similar targeting behind Clinton's proposal. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee John Kerry pledged to cut 100,000 contractor jobs.
Allan Burman, who served as procurement policy chief at the Office of Management and Budget in the first Bush administration and under Bill Clinton, also stressed the importance of considering what workers do, and not just their total numbers.
"So much of the work of federal agencies today is done through contracted support. When you're talking about cutting large numbers of contractors, you're talking about cutting agency missions," Burman said. He said he could not tell, from media reports, whether Clinton had provided details on what functions would be eliminated.
As for the government's adoption of new technologies, Burman said he had tried to lure private industry into implementing innovative solutions by encouraging performance-based contracts that spell out what the government wants to achieve, and let industry come up with a strategy to get there. "You have to find ways to make firms want to work with the government, and to want to bring their technologies into the government," he said.
Eliminating red tape and ensuring that companies' technical data would be protected were two strategies that proved helpful in encouraging industry to use new tools, Burman added.
According to reports on the speech, Clinton sharply criticized the Bush administration for mismanaging the government's response to Hurricane Katrina and Iraq reconstruction, and the misuse of science in developing federal policies on issues like global warming.
"Because this administration doesn't respect our government, they run it poorly and it fails our people," her remarks read. "Then they point to government's failures to prove it's not worthy of respect."