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Obama aims to cut wasteful spending

In his weekly address, the president vows to eliminate 'dozens of government programs' and says he'll ask Cabinet secretaries to slash department budgets as part of an efficiency campaign.

April 19, 2009|Noam N. Levey

WASHINGTON — President Obama, whose healthcare and economic stimulus initiatives threaten to dramatically inflate the federal budget deficit, heralded a new push Saturday to cut wasteful spending in Washington.

The president said that in coming weeks he would announce the elimination of "dozens of government programs." And he said he would ask his Cabinet secretaries on Monday for specific proposals to slash their departments' budgets, promising there would be "no sacred cows and no pet projects."

"As surely as our future depends on building a new energy economy, controlling healthcare costs and ensuring that our kids are once again the best educated in the world," Obama said, "it also depends on restoring a sense of responsibility and accountability to our federal budget."

To lead the efficiency effort, Obama said, he was tapping Jeffrey D. Zients, a former corporate executive and founder of the Washington-based investment firm Portfolio Logic.

Zients is to serve as chief performance officer, a job that the administration had hoped would go to Nancy Killefer, but Killefer withdrew after revelations that she had mishandled payroll taxes for household help.

Obama also said Aneesh Chopra, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's secretary of technology, would serve as chief technology officer and assist in the new campaign.

The president's declaration, delivered in his weekly address, comes at a time when the administration is working to build support for his budget and his ambitious -- and potentially very costly -- domestic policy agenda.

Obama, who was in Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday for the annual Summit of the Americas, did not say how much money he hoped to save with the efficiency campaign.

Since Democrats pushed through the $787-billion stimulus package in February, Republicans on Capitol Hill have called the administration and its congressional allies profligate spenders.

On Saturday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) continued the criticism. "When will all this spending and borrowing end?" McCarthy asked in the GOP's weekly response.

Under President George W. Bush, a budget surplus inherited from the Clinton administration turned into years of multibillion-dollar deficits. Republicans recently have been working to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility.

Obama has argued that investments in expanding access to healthcare, improving schools and addressing global climate change will save money in the long term. But the president on Saturday sought to highlight more immediate efforts as well.

He said that "every program, every entitlement, every dollar of government spending" would be examined.

The president singled out a move by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to end consulting contracts to create seals and logos that he said had cost the department $3 million since 2003.

And Obama commended an effort by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates -- along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) -- to reform defense contracting, a longtime target of budget watchdogs.

The president also hinted at broader efforts to cut fraud and abuse in the $500-billion Medicare program and to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

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noam.levey@latimes.com

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