Federal Times Blogs

Deficit reduction, Onion-style

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Tired of hearing about one wonky proposal to avert sequestration after another? Trust us, you’re gonna want to read this one.

The Onion yesterday published an eight-point plan to avert the rapidly-approaching fiscal cliff, and its editors are nothing if not confident. The editorial begins by declaring: “Those who reject any part of this plan are not only ignorant, but are also guilty of actively trying to undermine the nation and its government.”

Their cuts would be brutal … and unique. The Onion proposes abolishing several agencies (such as the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency), New Mexico, dams, and elk. Schools would only teach corn farming, nuclear weaponry and print journalism. All foreign aid would be cut, except to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. And fishing licenses would cost $140,000.

Since my wife is from Iowa, I was somewhat disturbed to see The Onion propose targeting Iowa and Minnesota teenagers as a way to eliminate 8 percent of the nation’s population. (They don’t explain how this would be accomplished, but I suspect it would involve some sort of Hunger Games.) But I don’t want to be accused of actively trying to undermine the United States, so I guess I have to support their whole plan.

But at least they’re not proposing more cuts to federal pay and benefits. So that’s something, at least.

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Technology could cut federal deficit by billions, report says

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As Congress and the administration grapple with how best to cut the federal deficit, a group of industry and government leaders are suggesting that information technology be used to reduce that number by billions of dollars.

The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Institute for Innovation on Tuesday released recommendations for the Obama administration to cut the deficit by $220 billion annually through increased use of data analytics and industry best practices. ACT-IAC  is public-private partnership focused on helping government use technology to serve the public.

More than 100 volunteers from government and industry provided input for ACT-IAC’s first Quadrennial Government Technology Review, a series of reports detailing how IT can be used to solve the nation’s most challenging issues such as rising healthcare costs, citizen services and a lack of qualified workers for science and technology-related jobs.

Here’s a very high-level explanation from ACT-IAC on how it arrived at $220 billion in annual savings:  

- $70 billion by using big data analytics creatively in the federal healthcare space, based on numbers from the McKinsey Global Institute. McKinsey estimates that the nation’s healthcare sector could save $300 billion anually through big data, and $70 billion is the federal sector.

- $50 billion by using enhanced IT tools to better share, access and analyze data to reduce improper payments and uncollected taxes. In the report, ACT-IAC backs this claim using IRS reports that the amount of uncollected taxes is $385 billion and improper payments made by the federal government total more than $100 billion a year. The group suggests that IT tools could reduce the overall number by 10 percent.

- $100 billion by investing in technology to increase productivity and reduce costs, based on industry best practices. These savings are a fraction of the total $970 billion that government could save over 10 years by adopting industry best practices identified in the report.

Streamline Government Supply Chain $500B
Monetize Government Assets $150B
Consolidate Infrastructure $200B
Reduce Field Operations/Self Serve $50B
Shared Mission Support $50B
Reduce Energy Usage $20B

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Watch the White House’s budget briefing here

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Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew will give a budget briefing today at 12:15 p.m. FedLine will be streaming the video below, so check back here around lunchtime to get the news on expected spending cuts in 2012.

But first, President Obama will speak at 10:20 a.m. about his key budget priorities next fiscal year.

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Senate votes down pay freeze

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The Senate earlier today voted down the latest Republican deficit reduction proposal that would have frozen federal pay raises and bonuses.

The tax bill amendment, offered by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., would have also capped federal staffing levels and imposed a 5 percent across-the-board budget cut for all federal agencies except the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments. The amendment was defeated on a 41 – 57 vote.

Thune blasted lawmakers for defeating the amendment, which he called “a common sense step toward restoring fiscal sanity.”

“The defeat of my amendment was a missed opportunity for Congress to prove they are serious about tackling our dangerous spending habits and $13 trillion national debt.”

But Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., criticized Thune’s proposal, which he said would have hurt law enforcement and civilian Defense employees, and slashed Homeland Security and intelligence budgets.

“I support finding ways to make our government more efficient,” Baucus said. “But these cuts are arbitrary. They’re not thoughtful. They’re meat ax cuts.”

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GOP, unions do their usual dance on federal pay freeze

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Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A leading Republican deficit hawk proposes cutting out federal employees’ 1.4 percent 2011 pay raise, which would represent less than two-tenths of a percent of the annual $1.4 trillion deficit and not even scratch our fiscal troubles. Federal unions holler and decry the effect a pay freeze will have on federal workers, who are — let’s be honest — relatively shielded from the economic troubles facing much of the rest of the nation, such as layoffs. Both sides pull out their own conflicting numbers on the difference between federal and private-sector pay — neither of which are completely reliable.

Wash, rinse, repeat. And because this is an election year, we’re going to see this two-step happen a lot more before November rolls around.

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Latest postal casualty: wilderness airmail

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With the U.S. Postal Service poised to run out of money by year’s end, it’s had to make some tough calls. It’s cutting management and supervisory positions, encouraging employees to retire early and closing administrative offices.

Its latest target? A rural airmail service that provides weekly mail delivery to about 20 addresses scattered across hundreds of square miles of Idaho backcountry.

Facing a $6 billion deficit this year, the Postal Service says it can no longer afford to make the deliveries. That’s cold comfort to the residents, of course, who pay extra to get necessities such as food and medicine delivered along with the mail.

One of those residents tells National Public Radio that he wonders if the Postal Service will begin cutting delivery to other rural areas where delivery is cost-prohibitive.

Oh, we almost forgot to mention the savings the Postal Service is reaping from cutting this costly service: $46,000 a year.

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