WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is hardly falling over itself to fulfill President Barack Obama’s legislative wish list, and Americans by and large think of Uncle Sam as a spendthrift.
So Obama turned Monday to what he can control — the federal bureaucracy — to boast of what he’s done to beget a smarter, high-tech government, and to promise more innovations are in the works.
It was iPads and Google and mobile apps at the White House — the vernacular of a younger generation whose tech savvy helped launch Obama in 2008 and whose ingenuity Obama hopes to channel in a second-term effort to make government more accessible to the American taxpayer.
“We are the first to confess that progress has not always come quick, and major challenges still remain,” Obama said, surrounded by Vice President Joe Biden and nearly a dozen Cabinet members. “But we’ve made huge swaths of your government more efficient and more transparent and more accountable than ever before.”
Touting “smarter, faster and better ways” to deliver government services, Obama pointed to innovations undertaken by his administration: the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s use of Internet apps to allow hurricane victims to register for help, the truncating of an insurance application prototype for new health care exchanges, and more than 75,000 sets of government data posted to a downloadable website.
But even those advances have, in some cases, served as reminders about why Americans remain skeptical that the government can be a model of efficiency and competence. The website, http://www.data.gov, has frustrated many users who say the data is limited, error-prone and hard to use. And the administration pruned the insurance application from 21 pages to five — three, by Obama’s count — only after widespread griping that they were as bad as tax forms and might cause uninsured people to give up in frustration.
Still, with the Republican-controlled House blocking much of Obama’s agenda, his administration is eager to show it’s engaged in transforming the government and making the most out of his authority, lawmakers be darned. It’s an approach the White House has deployed on other fronts — on gun control, where a set of executive actions became the focus after the Senate nixed a legislative package, and more recently on climate change, where Obama is turning to federal regulators to do what Congress says it will not.
“We can’t take comfort in just being cynical,” Obama said. “We all have a stake in government’s success because the government is us.”
Such cynicism is difficult to overcome. Only 1 in 5 people feel they can trust Washington to do what’s right, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in April. A year earlier, the Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of Americans describe the federal government as generally inefficient. Clear majorities also felt the government is careless with taxpayer money and doesn’t address people’s needs.
To that end, Obama announced a redoubled second-term effort to make government smarter and more accountable. He offered few specifics, mentioning only briefly that an ongoing project seeks to let Internet users auto-fill government forms just like online shopping websites. He said his budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, would lead the effort.
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