You have to assume that when Team Obama announced that the President would convene his cabinet and challenge them to cut $100MM from their budgets, they were thinking people would be impressed. Government doing its bit, setting an example, showing that they can be good managers and not just spenders of OPM.
So they are probably surprised at the derision with which their announcement was met. People like me who've worked all their lives in what Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr has called "the dreaded private sector" have always suspected that government managers live in a different world, one where prices can be increased in bad times, where budget baselines ALWAYS grow, year over year, by at least 3-5%, where the consumer of your services -- the taxpayer -- can be treated with indifference, since they cannot bring their business to a competitor.
President Obama's laughable idea of managerial frugality only confirms our worst fears. We're laughing because we work in smaller organizations than the federal government that have been cutting, cutting, cutting -- way beyond 1/36,000 of our company's budget.
Corporate managers across America are used to getting challenged to cut costs every year. Just one example: One of the Silicon Valley's largest and most important concerns, Cisco, committed last year to cut its expenses by over $1 billion over the following year. By all accounts, they are getting there.
From what I hear, people are Webexing instead of flying, eating in rather than out, reducing everything down to cafe hours and office supplies. Cisco is a company of about 60,000 employees, with total revenues in excess of $50 billion. By any measure, the federal government is several orders of magnitude larger -- and yet Cisco's frugality measures are several orders of magnitude larger than the federal government's.
There are similar examples here in the Silicon Valley, but only one makes the point: The President's challenge to his top managers belies either an ignorance of what frugality is all about, or is a disingenuous PR announcement that shows contempt for people's intelligence.
A while ago on this blog, I suggested that the President challenge his cabinet to reduce their administrative budgets by a percentage -- say, 10% -- and that they implement a hiring freeze to stop the growth of the federal workforce, to ensure that stimulus dollars go to local communities, not growing DC bureaucracies. Do more with less -- that's what good organizational managers should always try to do.
Instead, we're told that one cabinet secretary figured out how to save a million or so buying office supplies in bulk from Staples. (Guess the Bushies never captured that low-hanging fruit!).
C'mon Mr. President, set the bar higher than that.