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Building on a Successful Recovery.gov

Obama Administration Launches Initiative to Cut Wasteful Government Spending

SOURCE: AP/Charles Dharapak

Vice President Joe Biden announces the Campaign to Cut Waste, a new initiative to help federal agencies improve their performance and cut waste across government, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the White House in Washington, Monday, June 13, 2011.

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Vice President Joe Biden yesterday launched a campaign to cut wasteful and improper spending across the federal government. President Barack Obama issued a related executive order.

The so-called Campaign to Cut Waste aims to emulate the successes of Recovery.gov, the website tracking federal spending under the $800 billion stimulus law of 2009. A new Government Accountability and Transparency Board, modeled after the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, will oversee and guide the new initiative. And Biden will chair periodic meetings with Cabinet secretaries to monitor progress.

Biden highlighted the success of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in introducing the new initiative. One of the objectives of the stimulus bill had been to foster “a new standard of transparency so that taxpayers know where their dollars are going,” he said at a White House event. Biden said Recovery.gov helped to “deter,” not just “detect” fraud, and allowed the American people to become public interest “watchdogs.”

These new initiatives mirror proposals put forth by the Center for American Progress last November in the report “The Power of the President,” in which we recommended building upon Recovery.gov as a framework for tracking funds in real time. We also proposed creating a “budget dashboard” that anyone could log on to and track federal expenditures.

The administration’s push for greater transparency will help improve government performance at a time when our fiscal situation requires a redoubled effort to root out waste in government. Recovery.gov has proven successful at reducing fraud, for example. Indeed, fraud complaints have been made on just 2 percent of Recovery Act contracts and grants, compared with the typical 5 percent to 7 percent rate.

This antiwaste initiative has potential to build on that success by applying the same approach across government. But the proof will be in the pudding. Obama’s executive order stops short of promising to apply the Recovery.gov approach to all federal spending. Instead, it asks the new oversight board to recommend within six months implementation guidelines that take into consideration tools “proven successful during the implementation of the Recovery Act.”

That’s a welcome start. Outside groups should keep up the pressure so the kind of transparency and accountability we benefited from during stimulus spending becomes the norm for all federal spending.

Julia Kantor and Sam Ungar are interns at the Center for American Progress.

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