Obama to propose major government reorganization

Wednesday - 1/26/2011, 12:55am EST

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

President Barack Obama doesn't want just to reform how the government works like many of his predecessors. Rather, he plans to try to eliminate and reduce the overlap and redundancy that has built up over the last 60 years.

"In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America," the President said during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night in Washington. "I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote - and we will push to get it passed."

The White House wants to do this reorganization while also freezing annual domestic spending for the next five years. Obama said he believes this will reduce the deficit by $400 billion over the next 10 years and bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

"We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable," he said. "We should give them a government that's more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past."

Obama said his administration has been taking on this issue of duplicative and underperforming programs for most of the last two years. In the last two budget requests sent to Congress, the White House has requested lawmakers to cut or terminate more than 200 programs.

"Now, we have made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste," he said. "Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We're selling acres of federal office space that hasn't been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more."

But a major organization of the government is, by far, the most ambitious government reform goal any administration has laid out in more than two decades.

In 2003, President Bush reorganized the homeland security agencies after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Obama is proposing broader changes.

"We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV," Obama said. "There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, supported the President's call for reorganization.

"If we are to move our nation forward, beyond the challenges of the present, we must first demonstrate a commitment and a willingness to live within our means, reduce the footprint of government in our lives and reform a bureaucracy that has grown to comfortable with being careless with the American people's money," he said in a statement.

Obama tried to get ahead of House Republicans who want to reduce spending back to 2008 levels. There are even proposals to reduce spending back to 2006 levels.

"This freeze will require painful cuts," Obama said. "Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I've proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without. I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

Obama said the domestic spending freeze would represent a little more than 12 percent of the total budget.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in the Republican response to the State of the Union that shows how they would do things differently, such as cutting spending to get the debt down, create jobs and reform government programs.