House and Senate bills target agency spending

President Obama's recent focus on saving money by making federal programs and operations more efficient seems to be rubbing off on Congress. Bills have emerged in the House and Senate that are designed to curb expenses governmentwide.

The Government Efficiency, Effectiveness and Performance Improvement Act (H.R. 2142), introduced by Reps. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, on April 28, requires agencies to periodically assess program performance and develop improvement plans. On the Senate side, the Agency Administrative Expenses Reduction Act, unveiled by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., on April 30, asks agencies to find ways to trim their administrative budgets.

The House bill appears to resuscitate many of the fundamental components of the Bush administration's Performance Assessment Rating Tool, a questionnaire Office of Management and Budget officials used to evaluate the effectiveness of almost every federal program. On the campaign trail, Obama pledged to "fundamentally reconfigure" PART, but the program has largely fallen off the map since he took office.

Agency managers, in consultation with OMB, would be required to review programs every five years. Assessment teams would evaluate programs' objectives, strategic and performance goals, management, and effectiveness, with an eye for opportunities to consolidate similar or duplicative programs. Senior officials then would submit to Congress a report summarizing their findings.

"Periodic performance assessments of federal programs provide critical information on whether a program is achieving its performance objectives and help Congress and the executive branch identify the most pressing policy and program issues and determine if specific operational, financial, or strategic reforms are needed to increase a program's efficiency and effectiveness," the bill states.

The legislation also calls on agencies to submit -- within 90 days of issuing their reports to Congress -- a plan for improving the management, organization and performance of each program. The assessment and improvement reports would be published on a searchable online database through OMB's Web site, and agency inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office would review the documents.

In addition, the measure statutorily mandates agency performance improvement officers -- required under a November 2007 executive order by President Bush -- and their cooperative performance improvement council.

The Coburn-Dorgan bill focuses less on systematic program improvements and emphasizes administrative cuts instead.

"This bill is a common-sense approach that American families are using for their budgets," Coburn said. "There is no reason Congress cannot adhere to the same principles as taxpayers are using when prioritizing spending."

Agencies would be required to itemize administrative expenses in their annual funding requests and to begin cutting those expenses. The bill sets targets of decreasing expenses by 3 percent for fiscal 2010 and 11 percent by fiscal 2013.

A 1993 executive order by President Clinton required agencies to list their anticipated administrative expenses but the order was not implemented. Obama has asked the Cabinet agencies to slash a combined $100 million in expenses and has indicated that his line-by-line review of the budget could lead to cuts or the elimination of at least 100 government programs.

Earlier this week, the Homeland Security Department completed the first of four 30-day efficiency reviews. The agency is working to reduce costs by eliminating nonessential travel; maximizing the use of conference calls, Web-based training and meetings; and consolidating newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

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