Government is getting 'smarter,' management officials say

An official said the recently exposed $820,000 training conference the GSA held at the M Resort in Las Vegas was “unconscionable.” An official said the recently exposed $820,000 training conference the GSA held at the M Resort in Las Vegas was “unconscionable.” Flickr user Exothermic

The Obama administration’s efforts to reduce government waste and create a “smarter” government are demonstrating results, and are motivated in part by current fiscal pressures that function like the profit motive in private enterprise, according to a team from the Office of Management and Budget.

Speaking Tuesday at a conference on governmental accounting and auditing put on by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, four government finance specialists described progress in the White House Campaign to Cut Waste, reforms in federal real estate management, curbs on improper payments and pilot programs to improve efficiency in agency grantmaking.

Norman Dong, deputy controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, stressed OMB’s mission of going beyond the mere quest for clean books “to use financial data to manage programs effectively, to shift resources if necessary, to make informed decisions and maximize the impact of limited financial resources.”

He called the recently exposed $820,000 training conference the General Services Administration held in Las Vegas in 2010 “unconscionable,” saying that money could have been used to support staff salaries and program areas. “We have to do better and we are,” he said, citing a projected savings of $8 billion in fiscal 2013 from President Obama’s November 2011 memo curbing agency spending on travel, printing, professional and technical services, agency fleets, information technology and extraneous promotional items.

He noted that a May presidential memorandum tasked agencies with cutting administrative spending by 30 percent has produced “good results throughout the summer, and agencies are committed.”

Karen Lee, an analyst at OMB’s Office of Federal Financial Management, said agency property management staff are well on their way to reaching or surpassing Obama’s goal of saving $3 billion in real property expenses by the end of fiscal 2012. She cited $950 million savings in disposals of excess assets; $930 million savings in improved space management; $370 million in improved sustainability; and $130 million in innovations using IT.

“We instructed agencies not to increase their property footprint unless they can find a corresponding offset,” she said. “The goal is not only to reduce expenses but also to provide better service in achieving the mission.” Lee also said OMB is performing a major review of eight circulars affecting grants management, to reform the structure to “unify the grants community” while improving efficiency and accountability.

Michael Wetklow, also of OMB’s Office of Financial Management, said the White House is on track to cut the error rate in federal payments, which was on the rise when Obama took office, to save $50 billion in improper payments, through such tools as the administration’s centralized Do Not Pay List and an analytic data service from the Treasury Department.

Wetklow said he sees debt collection as a new priority, not through a centralized OMB directive, but through agency efforts, which could save billions in the long run. OMB also is analyzing its financial management guidelines to reconcile circular A-123 with A-127.

Another OMB analyst, Mary Ellen Wiggins, described how nine agencies are pursuing pilot programs under the administration’s Partnership Fund for Program Integrity. The Justice and Health and Human Services departments, for example, are collaborating with state and local and nonprofit entities to find innovative methods of data management to head off juvenile crime, for example, or reduce fraudulent billing by health screening providers. Forums to promote collaboration on the project are administered by the National Academy of Public Administration, and after three years it is expected to save $200 million, she said.

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