Obama pledges to fire managers, cut redundant programs

Obama speaks in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Obama speaks in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Chris Carlson/AP
To see where Obama and McCain stand on issues affecting federal employees, click here. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama fleshed out his government reform agenda in a campaign appearance Monday, promising to fire managers of poor-performing programs and appoint a White House "SWAT team" made up of government professionals to review programs for waste and inefficiency.

"I am not a Democrat who believes that we can or should defend every government program just because it's there," Obama said during a campaign event in Green Bay, Wis.

Obama pledged to create a "high-performance team" to evaluate every federal agency and office. After such reviews, he said, "We will fire government managers who aren't getting results, we will cut funding for programs that are wasting your money, and we will use technology and lessons from the private sector to improve efficiency across every level of government -- because we cannot meet 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy."

Obama's campaign released a plan stating that "in many areas of the federal government there is too much Washington bureaucracy -- too many layers of managers, and too much paperwork that does not contribute to directly improving the lives of the American people. At the same time, there are too few workers on the front lines in local offices around the country."

In the plan, Obama pledged to "thin the ranks of Washington middle managers, freeing up resources both for deficit reduction and for increasing the number of frontline workers."

The plan also seeks to "eliminate wasteful redundancy" in federal programs. "Obama will conduct an immediate and periodic public inventory of administrative offices and functions and require agency leaders to work together to root our redundancy," the plan states.

Under the plan, Obama and vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden would set up a "SWAT team" in the White House to work with agency leaders and the Office of Management and Budget that would be "composed of top-performing and highly paid government professionals" and be headed by a new chief performance officer reporting directly to the president.

The Democrat said he also would "experiment with giving government managers the ability to work with their teams to establish goals and to give bonuses when those goals are met. These steps will be guided by performance measures and will be transparent and visible to the public and Congress."

The plan appears to revive many of the principles of the Clinton-Gore National Performance Review and its reinventing government doctrine for improving government efficiency and reducing costs.

In the plan, Obama said President Bush's Program Assessment Rating Tool had failed to meet expectations and would be drastically re-organized.

The document said Obama would "open up the insular performance measurement process to the public, Congress and outside experts. Obama will eliminate ideological performance goals and replace them with goals Americans care about and that are based on congressional intent and feedback from the people served by government programs. Obama will also ensure that programs are not only measured in isolation, but are assessed in the context of other programs that are serving the same population or meeting the same goals."

The last round of performance ratings under the Bush administration, released earlier this month, provided detailed assessments of more than 1,000 federal programs. The final evaluation, which incorporated ratings for 67 programs that were reviewed for the first time or reassessed in the past year, found that 80 percent of initiatives were performing adequately or better. Evaluations are based on managers' answers to a 25-part questionnaire, which are available on the ExpectMore.gov Web site.

While PART has been a relatively uncontroversial aspect of Bush's President's Management Agenda, the Obama campaign cited critics who suggested that the system is "insular, arbitrary and is used to promote ideological goals rather than true performance standards."

"Obama's performance improvement effort will include cross-agency performance where service delivery requires coordination across federal agencies and multiple levels of government," the document said.

The policy document cited a July Government Accountability Office report which found that among federal managers, only 26 percent used PART to make management decisions. The watchdog also said that PART examiners at OMB may be spread too thin, unable to provide accurate assessments because they lack sufficient knowledge of the programs they are reviewing.

Obama also pledged to cut spending on government contracts, hire more contract overseers and improve training for federal contracting officers.

"The federal government's ability to manage contracts has not kept up with the increase in the volume and complexity of federal contracts," the plan said. "Barack Obama will hire more contract managers and improve training. He also will ensure that contract oversight remains within the federal government so that a contract's oversight is not outsourced to a business partner of the company doing the contract's work."

At the Monday event, Obama said, "We are facing the largest deficit in history. We are facing the largest government bailout in history. And we are also facing some of the greatest challenges in our history. All of this will cost money -- to fix our health care system and our schools and build a new energy economy. And the only way we can do all this without leaving our children with an even larger debt is if Washington starts taking responsibility for every dime that it spends."

Obama renewed a pledge made in his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination to "go through the entire federal budget, page by page, line by line" and "eliminate the programs that don't work and aren't needed."

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