Obama asks rank and file feds for cost-cutting tips

Capping off a week that began with discussions of fiscal responsibility, President Obama on Saturday devoted his weekly radio address to government reform, calling for an "all-hands-on-deck approach" to making federal operations more efficient.

The administration would like to hear from employees at all levels, Obama said. "We'll look for ideas from the bottom up," he said. "After all, Americans across the country know that the best ideas often come from workers -- not just management."

The president pledged to meet with employees who come up with the best suggestions later this year.

In addition, Obama said he will provide incentives for agencies to eliminate wasteful spending by allowing them to reinvest a portion of the savings in programs that work.

The president also called on Congress to pass legislation introduced by Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., that would enforce the principle of "pay go," in which any new entitlement program or tax cut must be offset by other spending cuts or revenue increases.

"We cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking," Obama said. "So much of our government was built to deal with different challenges from a different era. Too often, the result is wasteful spending, bloated programs, and inefficient results."

The measures announced on Saturday would supplement efforts already under way to comb through the budget line-by-line in search of programs that don't work or are duplicative. During an April 20 Cabinet meeting, Obama told agency chiefs they must identify a combined $100 million they could eliminate from their administrative budgets during the next three months.

Critics have noted $100 million is trivial compared to the deficit, which by some projections will reach $1.8 trillion for fiscal 2009. But in his address on Saturday, Obama signaled that those cost cuts are just the beginning, noting the line-by-line review is ongoing and that the administration will identify more than 100 programs to cut or eliminate in the coming days and weeks.

Lawmakers might hold Obama to his promises with language in the fiscal 2010 budget blueprint. The Senate version of that legislation, which is in conference negotiations, contains an amendment that would require agencies to report wasteful or outdated programs to Congress and would compel every Senate committee to hold at least one hearing to identify such programs annually. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Thursday secured passage of a motion to instruct negotiators to include that language in the final bill.

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