President Obama outlines his vision for better government services.

President Obama outlines his vision for better government services. Susan Walsh/AP

Obama Renews Call for Consolidation Authority, Defends Feds

Second-term management agenda centers on technological innovation.

This story has been updated. 

During a management reform speech Monday that focused largely on technology’s critical role in making government more efficient, President Obama also defended the federal workforce and nudged Congress to grant him long-sought authority to consolidate agencies to curb duplication.

Obama touted first-term progress, but pledged to get more aggressive in pushing innovation.

“We’ve been doing a lot of this work administratively,” he said, “but unfortunately, a lot of rules and legislation that were poorly designed force agencies into a lot of bureaucratic hoop-jumping, instead of concentrating on” providing good service to citizens.

He reiterated his previous request for Congress to give him authority to consolidate agencies to reduce duplication, a power presidents enjoyed until the 1980s. “Like a business, government needs to keep pace with the times,” Obama said. “We sure could use Congress’ help, especially given our fiscal constraints,” he added. “They talk about government efficiency and give lots of lip service to it. But it makes sense to redesign government so that it can deliver what people want it to.” 

Obama also stressed that the government has “a lot of dedicated and talented civil servants working every day to earn the public’s trust.” He said he will be asking more citizens to serve. “We the people means this government belongs to us,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to make it better rather standing on the sidelines and being cynical. We’ve got the potential to do so much better than we are doing now.” 

Obama’s talk drew praise from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Strong management is critical to ensuring an effective, efficient, and innovative government,” Carper said in a statement. “From improving ways to measure the performance of government agencies and programs, to increasing public transparency on how our tax dollars are spent, to rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in government programs, strong management can save billions and make our government work better.” Carper called the effort an important part of his committee’s agenda.