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Project on Government Oversight

POGO's Guide to the 2011 State of the Union

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January 25, 2011

As a leading watchdog for the prevention of government waste, fraud, and abuse, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has compiled a guide for Congress, which also addresses some of the issues President Barack Obama will likely mention in tonight’s State of the Union. Below are highlights of POGO’s positions on spending, open government, and financial reform. Click here to read “POGO’s Reform Agenda: A Good Government Guide for the 112th Congress.”

“If President Obama and Congress worked together, they could find billions of dollars wasted each year in poorly monitored contracts, extraneous defense programs and unnecessary outsourcing of government responsibilities,” said Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director. “Reforming government isn’t about being red or blue, progressive or Tea Partier, it’s about recognizing what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer and having the courage to set aside partisan politics.”

Spending

While cutting government spending and reducing the deficit will be at the top of President Obama’s priorities, it’s critical that the public interest be the driving factor and not political expediency.

A major area that neither the president nor Congress has focused on is the cost of the mammoth “shadow government” of federal contractors and grantees. The federal government spent at least $535 billion on contracts and awarded $554 billion in grants in fiscal year 2010. Congress should make it a priority to examine the real costs of using contractors over federal employees.

Congress must pursue contracting reforms that make the process fairer to smaller businesses, while also conducting more frequent pre-award and post-award audits to detect and prevent waste and fraud.

There also is a serious need to reform defense spending, both in how and what we buy. The Department of Defense (DoD) should not allow weapon systems programs to ramp up production until their critical technologies have been proven through sufficient developmental testing and independent operational test and evaluation. Congress should hold the DoD accountable to this standard by regularly investigating and holding hearings on acquisitions, especially for large weapons programs that may cost more and be less effective than weapons currently in our inventory. For example, the venerable A-10 aircraft is slated to be replaced by the Joint Strike Fighter, even though the A-10 costs less money and is much better suited for the close air support missions the U.S. is likely to face in the short and medium term.

In addition, tens of billions of dollars can be saved by scrutinizing construction of unneeded nuclear weapons facilities

Open Government / Whistleblowers

The backlash from the Wikileaks disclosures must not be used as an excuse to increase government secrecy or undermine the public’s right to know. POGO calls on Congress to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and to make all reports requested by Congress available online. Congress should also immediately pass the Faster FOIA Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the last Congress by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) to examine ways to improve FOIA.

Enacting stronger protections for whistleblowers is essential in rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in federal government. Passing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act would save billions of taxpayer dollars and countless lives by establishing real, desperately needed protections for those in our government who warn us of waste, fraud, political tampering with science, and other abuses.

In addition, only some contractors have whistleblower protections under the law today, leaving our huge shadow government without critical accountability. We must provide best-practice whistleblower protections for all government contractors.

Financial Reform / Ethics

It is disturbing that just a little more than two years after the near collapse of the U.S. economy, some in Congress are calling for the repeal or de-funding of the critical financial reforms in the Dodd-Frank Act. Congress must provide MORE oversight of our financial markets, not less.

Congress must conduct more frequent oversight, as well as ensure that regulatory agencies, such as the Securities Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Federal Reserve, and newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, are not abusing exemptions to FOIA.

One target for oversight should be the revolving door between regulatory agencies and industry.  While the revolving door between Wall Street and the federal government is troublesome, the same abuses can be found in the DoD and other agencies. Although the Obama administration has taken unprecedented steps toward a more ethical government, there’s more that can be done.

Congress should expand the current post-employment rules to apply to all federal employees and positions with regulated industries, not just lobbyists. Also, the Obama revolving door bans should be made permanent in statute and should apply to all federal employees, not just political appointees.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.