Order limits smart phones, tablets and swag for feds

New rules also extend to printing documents and vehicle efficiency, as reality of tight economic times takes hold.

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. 

 

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