- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

President Obama wants the federal government to do some belt-tightening during tough economic times. On Tuesday he signed an executive order directing agencies to cut back on everything from travel to cellphones, printing, and even promotional or commemorative items, such as T-shirts, plaques and mugs.

Each executive-branch agency has a month and a half to identify areas to slash expenditures to 20 percent below fiscal 2010 levels, which will produce what the White House estimates will be $4 billion in annual savings.

“At a time when families have had to cut back, have had to make some tough decisions about getting rid of things that they don’t need in order to make the investments that they do, we thought that it was entirely appropriate for our governments and our agencies to try to root out waste, large and small, in a systematic way,” he said

But don’t expect the Oval Office to start cutting back on the official White House M&Ms on Air Force One or curtailing pricey presidential travel.

Mr. Obama is traveling to Hawaii on Friday to host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which aims to advance trade and other U.S. economic ties to the region, and then will move on to Australia to promote the two countries’ long-standing alliance. He will end his travel in Bali at another summit, this one aimed at boosting security and anti-terrorism initiatives with Pacific Rim nations.

Air Force One will be flying an estimated 50 hours in 10 days, from Washington to San Diego to Honolulu to Canberra, Australia, to Darwin, Australia, to Bali, Indonesia, and then back to Washington. The 50 hours of flight time, multiplied by the $181,000 per hour to operate Air Force One, amounts to more than $9 million, not including the cost of staff time for those traveling with him.

After the announcement, during a briefing with reporters about Mr. Obama’s trip, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether the president planned to trim some fat from his travel schedule because he has asked others to do so. Mr. Carney shot down any such notion.

“The president makes trips as part of his capacity as commander in chief and president of the United States. There are no plans to [change his travel],” Mr. Carney said.

Although Mr. Obama is not leading by example - at least when it comes to travel - at Wednesday’s signing ceremony he commended two agency officials for taking the lead in cutting waste and abuse from their departments. A Commerce Department official, he said, found $2 million a year in savings in cellphone charges, and a Department of Homeland Security official managed to produce tens of millions of dollars in cost savings by changing the way the department obtains goods and services.

Mr. Obama on Wednesday also thanked Sens. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, for leading efforts to cut waste, fraud and abuse in Congress.

“We haven’t seen as much action out of Congress as we’d like, and that’s why we launched on our own initiative - the campaign to cut waste,” he said. “Not just to cut spending, but to make government work better for the American people.”

The White House sold the move as a portion of his “We Can’t Wait” campaign to circumvent Republican opposition to his job-creation plan, but the executive order is also part of a broader push to reduce government waste and abuse and increase efficiency.

In June, Mr. Obama announced an “oversight and accountability” task force, headed by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, aimed at helping agencies reduce waste, fraud and abuse.

Reacting to Wednesday’s executive order, Mr. Coburn applauded the president for taking “common sense” and “obvious” steps toward fiscal sanity.

“Congress - and especially the Senate - should follow the president’s lead and look for new ways to save instead of new ways to spend,” he said. “We waste at least $350 billion a year in wasteful and duplicative spending that could be eliminated without the average American noticing. The hard steps will be much more manageable if we learn to take these easy steps together.”

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

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