Management

House Oversight Panel looks beyond sequestration for savings

John Kamensky

IBM's John Kamensky warns that sequestration won't change inefficient operations, allowing waste to continue even after the budget cuts. (IBM photo)

Sequestration, if it happens, will cut billions of dollars from agencies' budgets. Yet it will do little to change the government operations where waste happens regularly.

John Kamensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for The Business of Government, told members of Congress on Feb. 5 that strategies for streamlining government operations hinge on two things: decreasing mission-support costs, such as personnel and contracting, and spending less time on administration. Sequestration may trim those areas along with everything else, but it would not alter the ratios that are fundamentally inefficient, he said.

The government has historically spent some 30 percent of its total operating costs on mission-support efforts, Kamensky said in his testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In the private sector, on the other hand, these areas typically average about 15 percent of operating costs. Furthermore, he said, commercial companies believe reducing time spent in administrative process will "increase value to customers and reduce costs incurred by both the customers and the commercial business."

At the hearing, the committee asked experts to suggest ways the government could avoid wasting money. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in 2011 the inspector general community identified potential savings through government reform totaling almost $100 billion. "We must move beyond political divisions and face our financial realities in order to truly fix what is clearly broken," Issa said.

Yet while would-be reformers have no shortage of savings strategies to suggest, Dan Blair, president of the National Academy of Public Administration, said lawmakers and the administration should move cautiously when considering reorganization.

"Because it can be so challenging to fundamentally restructure departments and agencies, or to create new ones," he said, "the use of interagency councils can help achieve a 'virtual reorganization' of overlapping programs that cut across existing departmental boundaries."

In fact, said Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, there are saving to be had by restraining change in government -- and there, he suggested, Congress has not done its part. As much as the executive branch engages in wasteful operations, he said, lawmakers in both chambers have failed to agree on rule changes that prevent the creation of duplicative and overlapping programs. Without such restrictions, he warned, the size and scope of government will continue to expand.

"It's Congress that doesn't put its foot down and say, 'no,'" he said. "It's a political will issue."

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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