Obama Names Chief Performance Officer
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. We begin this hour with presidents plural. In a moment, we'll hear about the lunch meeting of all four living presidents and the president-elect. First, Mr. Obama announced another member of his administration today. It wasn't one of the highly anticipated announcements of CIA director or surgeon general. It was a new post - chief performance officer - to keep a close eye on spending. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, that appointment came on the same day that the Congressional Budget Office predicted the deficit this year will balloon to nearly $1.2 trillion.
SCOTT HORSLEY: The gap between what the federal government spends and what it takes in is not so much a gap anymore, but a yawning chasm. The deficit, as a share of the overall economy, is forecast to be the biggest it's been since World War II. President-elect Obama today tried to underscore the seriousness of that budget shortfall, while at the same time taking pains to say it didn't happen on his watch.
President-elect BARACK OBAMA: We're going to be inheriting a trillion-plus-dollar deficit. And if we do nothing, then we will continue to see red ink as far as the eye can see.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama warned that the deficit is likely to get even bigger in the short run as the government pours money into new roads and bridges and tax cuts in an effort to jump-start the economy. He said in these tough economic times, it's especially important that government dollars are spent wisely.
President-elect OBAMA: Our problem is not just a deficit of dollars. It's a deficit of accountability and a deficit of trust. So change and reform can't just be election-year slogans. They must become fundamental principles of government.
HORSLEY: As part of that effort, the president-elect named Nancy Killefer to be the federal government's first chief performance officer. Killefer has been a senior director at McKinsey & Company, a big management- consulting firm. She also held a management role at the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration.
Ms. NANCY KILLEFER (Chief Performance Officer-Designate): I know from my experience bringing about change in the private and public sectors that government has the capacity to deliver services more efficiently and effectively. I have seen it done.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he'll be counting on Killefer and the rest of his budget team to identify cost savings to help offset some of the hundreds of billions of dollars he plans to invest in the economic-stimulus package. The president-elect has yet to specify a price tag for that package. But he said today he expects it to be at the high end of the range his advisers have cited - that is, about three-quarters of a trillion dollars. That would still fall short of what some economists have recommended. Mr. Obama says he's also looking for stimulus projects that will provide an immediate boost for the economy but won't create long-running obligations for the government.
President-elect OBAMA: Part of our stimulus package is going to involve revamping all federal buildings so that they're energy efficient. If we do that effectively then over the long term, we are going to save billions of dollars in energy costs for the federal government and for taxpayers.
HORSLEY: Critics are wary, however, that some other elements of the stimulus package, such as tax cuts, could be hard to undo, adding to the government's red ink for years to come. Ultimately, Mr. Obama says, the government will have to get a handle on some of its biggest expenses such as Social Security and Medicare. He offered no details, though, about how he plans to do that.
During his news conference, Mr. Obama refused to weigh in on the conflict in Gaza. He said the principle of one president at a time is especially critical when it comes to foreign policy.
President-elect OBAMA: The day that I take office, we are prepared to engage immediately in trying to deal with the situation there, and not only the short-term situation but building a process whereby we can achieve a more lasting peace in the region. But until I take office, it would be imprudent of me to start sending out signals that somehow, we are running foreign policy when I am not legally authorized to do so.
HORSLEY: The president-elect also steered clear of the fight over whether Roland Burris should occupy his old Senate seat after being appointed by Illinois' scandal-plagued governor. Mr. Obama called that a Senate matter.
President-elect OBAMA: I know Roland Burris. Obviously, he's from my home state. I think he's a fine public servant. If he gets seated, then I'm going to work with Roland Burris just like I work with all the other senators to make sure that the people of Illinois and the people of the country are served.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says part of his challenge will be to provide that service with greater efficiency and transparency. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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