Remember when President-elect Barack Obama pledged he'd go through the federal budget line by line with a scalpel? It implies that rather than making wholesale spending cuts, he'll consider which agencies can get by on less and which need to maintain, or even increase, spending levels.
In letters sent to employees at seven agencies during his campaign, Obama promises to restore some of the funding taken from various agencies by the Bush administration, monies largely redirected to the war in Iraq.
John Gage, president of the 600,000-member American Federation of Government Employees, asked Obama to write the letters, which were distributed through the union, reports the Washington Post. An Obama spokesperson says the letters were meant to convey to federal employees Obama's positions on their respective agencies. In several instances, Obama mentions "inadequate funding" provided to agencies during Bush's tenure.
Obama admits in the letters that additional funding will be hard to come by during the current economic crisis. Yet Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, believes that deferring even part of spending on Iraq to federal agencies would make a huge difference. Says Ruch:
These domestic discretionary programs are peanuts in the grand scale of things. A small diversion from the Iraq conflict, if they were put into Interior, EPA or NASA, those agencies would be in their salad days. The National Park Service is laboring under a [maintenance] backlog that would be cured by a month and a half of Iraq expenditures.
And there are other opportunities for savings, according to the National Taxpayers Union. Congress last year declined to consider a 25 percent cut for 220 federal programs the government rated as ineffective, which would have resulted in annual savings of $17 billion. Obama did not vote on the measure while he was a senator, the article notes.
Obama also targeted the Bush administration's penchant for privatization. Federal outsourcing contracts have increased on Bush's watch, from $207 billion in 2000 to some $400 billion in 2006. One result of this push toward privatization has been a movement of federal workers from government agencies to private companies where they earn more as contractors. For instance, Abraxas, a company run by a former CIA case officer, has hired more than 100 former government intelligence employees over the last six years, many of whom were put to work as contractors on government accounts.
In a letter to Department of Housing and Urban Development employees, Obama wrote:
We plan specifically to look at work that is being contracted out to ensure that it is fiscally responsible and effective. It is dishonest to claim real savings by reducing the number of HUD employees overseeing a program but increase the real cost of the program by transferring oversight to contracts. I pledge to reverse this poor management practice.