Obama offers guidelines for ‘smarter’ government

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Two years after his call for government efficiency brought limited results, President Obama vowed Monday to try again, saying this time he would make agencies work “smarter.”

“We’ve made good progress on all fronts, but now we need to do more,” Mr. Obama said at an event with administration officials in the East Room of the White House. “We should all want a government that’s smarter, quicker and more responsive to the needs of the American people.”

The president said he wants to model the government’s delivery of services on user-friendly technologies deployed by Google and by his re-election campaign, to save taxpayers at least $2.5 billion per year.

He met with his Cabinet on Monday, the second such gathering of his second term, to urge agency heads to find ways to make government work more efficiently.

But with the administration grappling with a violent revolution in Egypt, fallout from developments such as the Internal Revenue Service scandal and the hunt for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, officials acknowledged that the president’s “passion” for efficiency isn’t making waves.

“But in an ideal world, a world less crowded with, you know, news like what’s happened in Egypt or the like, this would get the kind of attention that I think it deserves,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. He said it’s a multiyear effort to reduce costs and improve services.

Mr. Obama issued a call two years ago for more efficient government, with mixed results. For example, the president in June 2011 vowed to cut the number of federal websites in half within a year.

Two years later, the administration has cut the number of federal Web domains by 27 percent — about halfway to the goal in twice as much time as Mr. Obama projected.

According to the website PolitiFact, which rates the truthfulness of politicians’ statements, Mr. Obama since 2008 has kept 11 of 32 promises to improve government efficiency. It said Mr. Obama has broken nine of those promises and compromised on another 11 issues.

One pledge, Mr. Obama’s call to merge various federal agencies, was not rated. (The president has blamed Congress for not heeding his call.)

In the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to “thin the ranks of Washington middle managers.” But PolitiFact found this goal hasn’t been achieved and is virtually impossible to define.

Conversely, Mr. Obama pledged to eliminate wasteful subsidies to private student lenders and invest nearly $6 billion in savings into additional student aid. He did sign legislation in March 2010 that replaced the private lending program with direct lending and eliminated subsidies to private student lenders. That was rated as a promise kept.

Mr. Obama used the government’s response to Superstorm Sandy on Monday as an example of improved efficiency, in spite of the many complaints from homeowners and businesses affected by the storm that government aid was too slow to arrive. The president said Federal Emergency Management Agency agents with iPads went door-to-door to sign up residents for disaster relief.

“So we’re making sure that we’re delivering services better, faster, more efficiently,” Mr. Obama said.

That wasn’t the opinion of Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, New York Democrat, who told the Government Accountability Office in May that the U.S. Small Business Administration was slower to process applications and disburse funds for Sandy victims than it did in the aftermath of hurricanes Ike in 2008 and Irene in 2011.

It had taken the SBA an average of 43 days to review applications from companies damaged by Sandy, compared with a two-week turnaround the agency reported after hurricanes Ike and Irene, Ms. Velazquez said.

Of the SBA loan money approved, only about 15 percent was issued in the five months after the storm, down from about 40 percent delivered in the first five months after Irene.

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