Obama pledges massive overhaul of government

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

In addition to a five-year discretionary spending freeze, President Obama on Tuesday night announced a reorganization effort to consolidate duplicative federal programs and reduce government waste.

Government hasn't undergone a major restructuring in decades, leaving agencies with overlapping responsibilities, the president said during his State of the Union address. Efforts to cut waste haven't gone far enough, and administration officials in the coming months will develop a proposal to merge and reorganize the federal government, he said.

"There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked," said Obama.

The president also highlighted the role of technology in streamlining government. "We have made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste," he said. "Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We're selling acres of federal office space that hasn't been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger."

As expected, Obama also announced a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending. He called the freeze "painful" but said the proposals would reduce the deficit by $400 billion during the next decade. Cuts include the two-year freeze on federal civilian salaries approved in December, tens of billions in Defense Department spending and other federal programs. "Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years," Obama said.

"Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in," the president said. "That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same."

Obama expressed support for even deeper cuts, noting lawmakers and the bipartisan deficit commission have developed a number of proposals to reduce spending. Other efficiencies could be found in health care programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, beyond annual domestic spending, he said.

In addition, the president called for efforts to strengthen Social Security and emphasized his recent request for a review of government regulations. The White House last week issued an executive order mandating a regulatory review to improve or potentially repeal outdated, burdensome and inefficient rules that could be stifling private sector job growth.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who delivered the Republican response to Obama's address, said the president did not go far enough, and pledged that the GOP would work to limit the government's reach and spending. "Limited government also means effective government," he said. "When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn't do any of them very well. It's no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.