Obama moves to curb wasteful spending

Ever notice how Republicans love to complain about “wasteful government spending” but never do anything about it when they’re in power?

Less than 100 days into his new job, President Barack Obama is taking a big step in the right direction:

Obama today issued a memorandum to the heads of all the executive departments agencies directing them to restrict no-bid contracts; to rein in outsourcing of “inherently governmental activities”; and to, if necessary, cancel wasteful contracts outright. The crucial paragraph, even if it’s written in bureaucratese, particularly calls out the Defense Department […]

Clearly, this has applications far beyond the Pentagon. But the list of big-ticket defense items that have experienced huge cost overruns is a long one. Future Combat Systems in the Army; the Littoral Combat Ship in the Navy; the Joint Strike Fighter in the Air Force – all of these programs, near and dear to the services, have run massively over budget. If I was a lobbyist for Lockheed or Boeing, I’d be dialing my contacts in the Pentagon and the Hill to figure out what the prospective damage to my company was. And then I’d come up with a strategy to fight this forthcoming Office of Management and Budget review.

Obama went further in remarks at the White House, calling it a “false choice” to say that protecting the country requires acquiescence to Pentagon waste. “In this time of great challenges,” he said, “I recognize the real choice between investments that are designed to keep the American people safe and those that are designed to make a defense contractor rich.” He also lent support to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and former presidential rival John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) legislation to create new procurement oversight positions at the Pentagon. “The days of giving defense contractors a blank check are over,” Obama said.

Music to my ears: no more blank checks for crooked defense contractors.

The White House estimates that changing the way the government does business will save about $40 billion a year.

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, the total cost of approximately 11,610 earmarks in fiscal year 2008 was $17.2 billion. In fiscal year 2007, earmarks cost American taxpayers an estimated $13.2 billion. Republicans howl about earmarks (when they’re not busy getting them for their own constituents), but will they get behind Obama’s new effort to reduce huge cost overruns and no-bid contracts?

Obama could save even more money by cutting obsolete Cold War-era weapons systems, but I don’t expect him to take on that battle anytime soon.

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Open thread on Hillary Clinton and Obama's national security team

At MyDD Todd Beeton has excerpts from this morning’s press conference:

Obama’s introductory remarks are remarkably poetic. “America’s values are our country’s greatest export to the world.”

He’s announced his nomination of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state (“I am proud that she will be our next secretary of state…She will help restore our reputation around the world,”) Robert Gates at defense (“responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control”,) Eric Holder for Attorney General (“The Attorney General serves the American people…I have no doubt he will uphold the constitution,”) Janet Napolitano as head of Homeland Security (“she insists on competence and accountability,”) Susan Rice as Ambassador to the UN and Jim Jones as National Security Advisor.

“We will shape our times instead of being shaped by them.” […]

As for his choice of Clinton at state, “it was not a lightbulb moment…she shares my core values and the values of the American people. I was always interested after the primary was over in finding ways to collaborate…It occurred to me that she could potentially be an outstanding secretary of state, I offered her the position and she accepted.”

On whether he still intends to remove troops from Iraq in 16 months: “Remember what I said during the campaign. I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq within 16 months keeping in mind that it might be necessary to maintain a residual force…As I said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders.”

Like I said last week, I have a bad feeling Gates and Jones were chosen in order to give Obama cover for breaking his campaign promises on Iraq.

Beth Fouhy of the Associated Press has details about the deal Bill Clinton made to allow his wife to become Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Apparently, the former president agreed:

-to disclose the names of every contributor to his foundation since its inception in 1997 and all contributors going forward.

-to refuse donations from foreign governments to the Clinton Global Initiative, his annual charitable conference.

-to cease holding CGI meetings overseas.

-to volunteer to step away from day to day management of the foundation while his wife is secretary of state.

-to submit his speaking schedule to review by the State Department and White House counsel.

-to submit any new sources of income to a similar ethical review.

I still think Hillary Clinton would be able to accomplish more over her lifetime as a senator from New York, but clearly she was strongly motivated to accept this position in Obama’s government.

However, I continue to be amused by the anguished commentaries from those Obama supporters who got too wrapped up in the primary battle to deal with Hillary in her new role.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

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Yet another thread on Obama cabinet appointments (updated)

The more I think about it, the more I think Hillary Clinton should stay in the Senate. However, most analysts are speculating she will accept Barack Obama’s offer to become Secretary of State. Here’s a roundup of recent coverage on the appointment.

Tom Harkin thinks Hillary will be secretary of state, and he likes the idea:

Harkin said he was confident that former President Bill Clinton would not pose conflicts, as he’s agreed to make public the donors to his foundation and clear his travel schedule and speeches with the Obama administration, should his wife become secretary of state.

“If he’s willing to do whatever the Obama team and the president wants – and he should understand it, he’s a former president – that would be fine,” Harkin said.

He also said Obama naming her would be a demonstration of unity to the world. Sen. Clinton and Obama waged an intense, six-month campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination this year.

“I think it would send a good signal to the world if Hillary Clinton were secretary of state,” Harkin said. “The signal it sends to the world is we can have big fights politically here in the United States and yet after the election’s over, we pull together.”

Where does that leave Bill Richardson? I hope he ends up in the cabinet. UPDATE: ragbrai08 has heard rumblings Richardson might become Secretary of the Interior, which would be a decent fit for him.

Kia Franklin of the Drum Major Institute wrote an interesting piece on Eric Holder, the likely attorney general, and where he stands on civil justice issues.

John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs blog offers “A Different View of [Tom] Vilsack,” the front-runner to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict when, where and from whom leadership will emerge. The book on Tom Vilsack is not complete, and perhaps that is a good thing. He does not get a perfect score on my litmus tests. But, when I disagree with him in the future I will continue to engage him, just as I always have, whether he is a private citizen or the Secretary of Agriculture. And he will engage me, just as he always has.

I hope that, at the end of the day, our next Secretary of Agriculture is the kind of leader that can help create a future for rural America with thriving family farms and ranches and vibrant rural communities. I believe Governor Vilsack can provide that leadership. Perhaps he just might get the chance.

James L. of Swing State Project is concerned that Obama might choose either Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin or Representative Collin Peterson for the USDA job. Both are from Republican-leaning districts that would be hard for a different Democrat to hold.

Obama supposedly was leaning toward offering the Commerce Department position to uber-fundraiser Penny Pritzker, but she withdrew her name from consideration.

Haven’t heard much about a possible secretary of transportation. Obama supports greater investment in core infrastructure as well as high-speed rail and public mass transit, so I am hopeful he will put someone with vision in charge of this department. The highway bill comes up for reauthorization in 2009 and is sure to be one of the major battlegrounds in Congress.

Still no word on a Treasury Secretary. Matt Stoller remembered another reason why Larry Summers is wrong for the job.

Most people seem to think Robert Gates will stay on as Defense Secretary. I don’t see why Obama can’t appoint a Democrat for that position. We have plenty of qualified people in our party. Keeping the Republicans in charge of defense supports their propaganda that the GOP is best for defending the country.

The Mayor of Miami, Manny Diaz, is being considered either for Transportation or for Housing and Urban Development. Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is not interested in the HUD appointment.

Share your opinions or predictions in the comments.

UPDATE: Why does Obama want to reinforce Republican stereotypes about how they’re the only ones who can handle national security? Now General Jim Jones, a supporter of the Iraq War and John McCain, is tipped to run the National Security Agency. That is just crazy. Put some Democrats in charge, please. It’s not as if we don’t have people who could do this job well. I would not be surprised if Jones undermines Obama in this position.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times says Hillary Clinton will take the Secretary of State job.

Several news outlets are saying Timothy Geithner, about whom I know nothing, will be Obama’s Treasury Secretary nominee. Geithner is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

NBC News says Bill Richardson will be Commerce Secretary. I don’t like him nearly so much for that job as I would like him for Secretary of State, Transportation, or Interior. Richardson’s a corporate Democrat, judging from his record in the 1990s. He ran the whip to get NAFTA through the House during Bill Clinton’s first term.

Still no progressives in Obama’s cabinet.

UPDATE 3: My brother, who works in the investment field and is much more of a moderate Democrat than I am, is “sick” about the prospect of Geithner running Treasury. His other comment about Geithner is not printable at this blog.

UPDATE 4: This is from a speech Geithner gave in May 2006:

Credit derivatives have contributed to dramatic changes in the process of credit intermediation, and the benefits of these changes seem compelling. They have made possible substantial improvements in the way credit risk is managed and facilitated a broad distribution of risk outside the banking system. By spreading risk more widely, by making it easier to purchase and sell protection against credit risk and to actively trade credit risk, and by facilitating the participation of a large and very diverse pool of non-bank financial institutions in the business of credit, these changes probably improve the overall efficiency and resiliency of financial markets.

With the advent of credit derivatives, concentrations of credit risk are made easier to mitigate, and diversification made easier to achieve. Credit losses, whether from specific, individual defaults or the more widespread distress that accompanies economic recessions, will be diffused more broadly across institutions with different risk appetite and tolerance, and across geographic borders. Our experience since the introduction of these new instruments-a period that includes a major asset price shock and a global recession-seems to justify the essentially positive judgment we have about the likely benefits of ongoing growth in these markets.

Despite the benefits to financial resilience, the changes in the credit markets that are the subject of your conference have also provoked some concerns and unease, even among those on the frontier of innovation and the most active participants in these markets.

These concerns are based in part on uncertainty-a candid acknowledgment that there is a lot we do not yet know about how these instruments and the increased role of nonbank institutions in these markets will affect how the financial markets are likely to function in conditions of stress.  […]

Let me conclude by reiterating the fundamental view that the wave of innovation underway in credit derivatives offers substantial benefits to both the efficiency and stability of our financial system.

Hmmm, he didn’t seem to have seen any of the current problems coming. Also, he apparently was involved in the bailout negotiations. So it seems like this is a very status quo pick for Obama.

On an even less encouraging note, Obama’s leading candidate to run the CIA is a “Bush-Cheney apologist.”

That’s not exactly “change we can believe in.”

UPDATE 5: Two people on Obama’s short list would both be highly competent and celebrated by progressives: Representative Raul Grijalva for Interior (he heads the House Progressive Caucus) and former Representative David Bonior for Labor (he has close ties to organized labor).

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