Order limits smart phones, tablets and swag for feds

In a larger effort that could save billions of dollars, President Barack Obama has signed an executive order that will, among other things, restrict how many IT devices can be issued to each federal employee.

“Cutting waste, making government more efficient, is something that leaders in both parties have worked on, from Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, to Democrat Claire McCaskill,” Obama said at the Nov. 9 signing of the directive. “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. Not just to cut spending but to make government work better for the American people.”

The executive order directs agencies to limit the number of information technology devices -- cell phones, smart phones, tablets and laptops -- that they provide to employees or support. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, previously wasted millions of dollars each year by paying for unused cell phones and air cards. The agency now conducts annual audits of use and has saved $10.5 million to date.

It also contains other cost-saving provisions related to travel, the buying of "swag" with government funding and motor vehicle fleet efficiency.

Under the new order, agencies are required to stop printing documents that can be posted online. Agencies will also be directed to stop using taxpayer dollars to buy “swag” -- plaques, clothing and other promotional items.

The decision to cut spending in travel, printing and IT is because “we believe that we can get better results for less using technology,” Obama said in his remarks. He also added that the order would reduce spending in these areas by 20 percent.

John Palguta, vice president at the Partnership for Public Service, called the executive order a “no-brainer” but stressed that cutting IT devices should be done smartly.

“What you don’t want to do, obviously, is cut a dollar’s worth of technology that has the clear potential to save you $2 in program costs," he said. “I’m sure the president and OMB don’t intend this to be done mindlessly or blindly; I simply would hope that it translates down to the agencies that they have to do it in a reasonable and strategic fashion.”

It's also important to distinguish between technology that helps agencies accomplish their missions effectively and technology that is underused or not used at all. For example, it would make little sense to cut travel spending while also reducing the budget for technologies that enable remote work, Palguta said.

“You always hope when you get a directive like this that when it’s translated down throughout the 2.1 million civilian folks in government that this is done in a rational, strategic manner, and I think in most cases they will,” he said. “You just have to keep your eye on the outliers that will do this blindly, which will have a negative impact on mission.”

The executive order is the latest initiative of the administration's Campaign to Cut Waste, which was launched early 2010 by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. The campaign aims to pinpoint wasteful and inefficient spending on travel, executive fleet, publications, office equipment, and other areas. 


About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Tue, Nov 15, 2011

Re: “You always hope when you get a directive like this that when it’s translated down throughout the 2.1 million civilian folks in government that this is done in a rational, strategic manner, and I think in most cases they will,” he said. “You just have to keep your eye on the outliers that will do this blindly, which will have a negative impact on mission.”

In my agency, this order has already be "translated" as "reduce spending on IT." Period. We're removing hardware and software that enable employees to work more efficiently, in the name of saving money. Let's face it, the order is very poorly worded. An Executive Order shouldn't require this much interpretation.

Sun, Nov 13, 2011

Take my Blackberry! Please! Let's face it, the Federal Government is chock full of office workers. We mostly sit at our desks all day sending e-mails, writing documents etc. The tools of our trade are PC's, BB, Laptops, etc. If we were auto mechanics we'd have wrenchs, air tools, lifts. Can you imagine the head of GM's service division saying they are going to cut cost by reducing the number of tools in the shop? The President has a BB. I can only assume he justifies the expense by the presumption that it makes him more efficeint. Therefore the same logic applies to 99% of the federal work force. A BB costs the goverment about 2 hours of an employees pay per month. So in exchange for the 'privledge' of having a BB I am now expected to use it all hours of the day and night, weekends and holidays. In exchange for those 2 hours it costs the Government each month I donate many more hours of my off-duty time on that %$#@ BB. So yes Mr Presdient, Take my BB.. Please! Maybe then I can have more time for myself and my family when you are not paying me. Especaily since you are trying harder and harder to pay me less and less. Take my BB! Cut my pay, and let me work only 8 hours a day. You got a deal!

Thu, Nov 10, 2011

Where do I start? Under Executinve Order 13526 for transparency, agencies were directed to use technology to push info to citizens. Now we can't use technology. And our pay is frozen so we are not likely to attract employees who can use that technology according to the directive effectively to enable said information push. So, which is it?

Thu, Nov 10, 2011 Robert MD

You missed the SAT Phone when their on those fancy trips. While we are at it, perhaps Air Force One should be downgraded to a C13, and Marine One downgraded to an old Huey. NIX the Limo and give the president a Prius so he can help save fuel. As for all those presidentials meals, I think McDonalds is nearby and probably much cheaper.

Thu, Nov 10, 2011

and yet an Army base is spending thousands of $$ to add a waterfall feature to its main gate. The same base closes two gates at night because they don't have enough security guards for manning.

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