Government Reform: Senator Obama


Sen. Barack Obama

Sen. Barack Obama


When I started this blog last year I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be writing blogs from a wireless connection in an airport at 7 a.m.  But here I am in Sacramento, waiting for a jet plane. . . and blogging.


Tonight is the final night of the Democratic Convention in Denver.  Senator Obama will likely provide a stirring vision for the future.  But what about his vision for the government of the future?  That likely won’t be a theme! 

 What are Senator Obama’s and Senator McCain’s campaign agendas around government reform?  I understand the Wall Street Journal and Government Executive magazine will both be exploring this in more depth over the next few weeks, but I’d like to take a stab at it by reading what’s on their websites at the point of their parties’ conventions.


My initial impression is:  not much.  I’ll summarize what I’ve seen for Obama today, and provide a similar summary around the time of the Republican convention for Senator McCain. 


Based on a read of Senator Obama’s “Blueprint for America,” he offers several themes, but no grand vision of how he would govern.  The first theme touches on the importance of public trust in government to be honest and open.  The second touches on fiscal discipline.  The third theme touches on government’s ability to deliver specific services to specific target populations.  These are described in two documents:  His Blueprint for Change and a fact sheet:  Restoring Trust in America.


Honest and Open.  Under the first theme, Obama says he will:


·       Shine the light on federal contracts, tax breaks, and earmarks.  Obama says he will create a “contracts and influence” database to disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, how much they get, and how well they are doing.  He also proposes ending the abuse of “no bid” contracts and shining the light on earmarks and pork barrel spending.  He also says he will make bills passed by Congress available for public review before he signs them.


·       Bring Americans back into their government.  He says he will hold “21st century fireside chats” by requiring his cabinet to have periodic on-line town hall meetings.  He will also make communications with the White House about regulatory policymaking publicly available and conduct regulatory agency business in public.


·       Free the executive branch from special interest influence.  Obama says he will not allow new appointees to work on regulations or contracts related to their prior employers and they will not be allowed to lobby the executive branch if they leave government during his term in office.  He says he will also appoint officials who are qualified for their jobs.


Fiscal Discipline.  Under the second theme, Obama says he will:


Reinstate PAYGO budgeting rules, which require that all new spending be offset with cuts elsewhere, or new revenues. 


End wasteful government spending.  He says he will stop funding wasteful obsolete federal programs, end subsidies for oil and gas companies, and eliminate subsidies to the student loan industry.  He also says he will tackle wasteful spending in the Medicare program.


Late-Breaking Addition: In his acceptance speech at the convention last night, Senator Obama said:

“I will also go through the federal budget line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy.”

Fixing Broken Services.  Under the third theme, Senator Obama commits to focusing on several broken management processes. 


·       Electronic health information.  Obama will continue the 10-year commitment President Bush has made to make health records electronic, but Obama says he will invest $10 billion a year for five years to make it happen, along with making other health information electronic.


·       Veterans Benefits.  He commits to fixing the broken Veterans Benefits process.  Remember that VA Secretary Principi said, when he was confirmed seven years ago, that he felt his term in office could be judged a failure if he didn’t fix the broken VA benefits system.  So Obama’s made a tall commitment! 


·       Immigration Process.  He also commits to fixing the “dysfunctional” immigration bureaucracy. This was attempted under the Clinton Administration, with mixed results.


Other Sources of Campaign Commitments


Technology Advocate.  Beyond his website’s summary campaign documents, Senator Obama has addressed a number of other government management issues.  These are summarized on the Next Government website sponsored by the Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.  These include the items described above, but also include a commitment to create a technology advocate, as part of his technology platform.  He says he will create a chief technology officer to ensure the government has the right technology infrastructure, policies, and services.  The technology officer’s specific focus will be on increasing transparency of government information and deploying new technologies to obtain citizen input.


Public Service.  While he did not made any campaign commitments in his address at the commencement ceremony at Wesleyan College this past spring, Senator Obama did advocate volunteerism and a call to public service, encouraging the graduates to “hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself.. . . “


Civil Service Issues.  In addition, Washington Post’s Joe Robinson recently interviewed the Obama campaign and noted that as president, Obama would:   “restore effective oversight of the government- contracting process and reduce our dependence on private contractors in sensitive or inherently governmental functions.. . “  He went on to say that Obama committed to “ensure our federal workforce is working effectively and with real accountability,” and “ensure that government compensation is fair and we can continue to attract and retain talented workers.”


If you are aware of other commitments, please add to this list!  I’ll develop a similar status report after the Republican convention for Senator John McCain.  Then we can wait and see what the WSJ and GovExec come up with!






















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One Response to “Government Reform: Senator Obama”

  1. Norman M. Macdonald Says:

    I would like to add to the broken systems the whole area of the peoples greatest treasure Federal lands. The organizations involved in their management have been starved for money and personnel while the current economic conditions have increased the work load.

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