WASHINGTON — Government freebies handed out at conferences — T-shirts, mugs, etc. — will be cut back under an executive order President Barack Obama signed Wednesday, looking to cast himself as a frugal steward of taxpayer dollars.
Under the latest move in his "We Can't Wait" campaign — which seeks to castigate Congress for not moving faster on boosting the economy — Obama signed a measure aimed at cutting waste and promoting "more efficient spending" across the federal government.
In addition to stopping federal agencies from using taxpayer dollars to buy plaques and other "unnecessary promotional" swag, the president is instructing them to rely more on video teleconferencing than travel, to limit the numbers of cellphones, smartphones, tablets and laptops that are issued to employees, to stop printing documents that can be posted online and to cut the federal fleet of vehicles.
"These are important steps that can save taxpayers billions of dollars over the next several years," Obama said from the Oval Office, joined by two federal employees who came up with cost-cutting measures of their own.
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"It doesn't replace the importance of the work that Congress needs to do in coming up with a balanced, bold plan to reduce our deficit, 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 president said. "And we're going to keep on finding every possible way that we can do that even if Congress is not acting."
The White House estimates the cutbacks could save as much as $4 billion a year.
Republicans ridiculed the move, with the Republican National Committee charging that the administration has wasted "millions in taxpayer dollars" on failed energy loans and the federal debt has grown under Obama's watch.
White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged that the trims won't be enough to solve the nation's "long-term deficit issues.
"But this is important to do because it demonstrates the need to tighten our belts and make sure that we're spending taxpayer dollars wisely."
The order directs agencies to cut back on travel and conference-related spending, limiting travel to "circumstances where the activity can only be performed away from the employee's primary office."
It won't, however, affect presidential travel. Obama is scheduled to leave town Friday on a nine-day Asia-Pacific trip, with his first stop the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii.
"The president makes trips as part of his capacity as commander in chief and president of the United States," Carney said. "There are no plans to change his travel."
The trip isn't entirely business. Before Obama leaves Hawaii for Australia and Indonesia, he'll attend a fundraiser for his re-election campaign Monday, his only event of the day.
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