WASHINGTON — With the stroke of his pen, President Barack Obama has sacked souvenirs federal agencies buy with taxpayer money to promote their work.
The ban he signed Wednesday is part of a broader executive order to cut some $4 billion of dollars in waste and make government more efficient. Some office equipment will simply be scarcer, and fewer cell phones and laptops will be issued.
Obama has been using his executive powers on modest proposals – Wednesday's order targets trinkets like coffee cups, T-shirts and pens – to promote job creation, help homeowners or, in this case, redirect spending.
With such orders, signed in Oval Office ceremonies, Obama is trying to demonstrate that he is engaged in measures large and small and to distinguish himself from what he argues is a pretty unproductive Congress. Lawmakers are in the middle of a more gargantuan task – cutting deficits by at least $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
"It doesn't replace the importance of work the Congress needs to do in coming up with a balanced, bold plan to reduce our deficit," Obama said as he prepared to sign his administrative order. "But it indicates once again that there are things that we can do right now that will actually deliver better government, more efficiently, more consumer friendly for less money."
The saved money won't directly reduce deficits, however. In a statement in advance of the signing, Obama said, "We're cutting what we don't need so that we can invest in what we do need."
An administration official said the savings of about $4 billion would allow the administration to focus resources on veterans, members of the military and on infrastructure.
The order directs government agencies not only to reduce the authorizations for technology equipment, but also requires cutting the size of the executive vehicle fleet.
It also encourages agencies to use technology to save money, including teleconferences and online seminars to reduce travel and online publishing to cut down on publication costs.
Overall, the president aims to cut spending in the areas mentioned in the order by 20 percent.
"We believe we can get better results for less using technology," Obama said.
Vice President Joe Biden and White House budget director Jacob Lew attended the signing in the Oval Office.
Obama was also accompanied by four finalists in a cost-saving contest among federal government employees. One finalist suggested the creation of a tool "lending library," another proposed ending the purchase of U.S. code books that are already available online.
Among examples cited by the White House of cost-cutting already under way are the Internal Revenue Service's plan to cut 27 percent of its travel costs by relying more on teleconferences and webinars and the Homeland Security Department's decision to conduct annual audits to reduce the number of unused cellphones and air cards.
At the Commerce Department, the White House said, the agency has reduced the number of fleet drivers to one for all top departmental officials, including for new Secretary John Bryson.