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Coburn to White House: With cuts on way, why a 100-city spending tour?

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Byron York

With sequestration budget cuts set to take effect in less than a week, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn has sent a letter to the White House asking for more information about a new initiative to help cities receive federal grants and other aid.  The initiative involves White House and administration officials traveling to 100 cities around the country, helping local governments apply for federal money.

Given the president’s warning about dire effects from the coming cuts, Coburn wrote to Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients, “It is somewhat surprising, therefore, for the White House to be headlining a 100 city government spending tour, transporting representatives from multiple departments and various agencies around the country to promote federal largess.  If Washington is truly cutting spending on missions many consider vital, how can we at the same time promise and promote more financial assistance, much less afford this mammoth 100 city cross country tour?”

The White House has not announced the tour.  Coburn relied on a news report from the first stop, February 14 in Beaverton, Oregon.  “The city will host the feds at a daylong symposium to discuss how government agencies, nonprofits and businesses can help the city,” the Oregonian reported.  “The event is the first in a new White House ‘Connecting Your Community’ program, in which national leaders plan to meet with representatives of 100 cities to pair federal programs with local needs.”

The Oregonian reported that officials from the White House, Environmental Protection Agency, Housing Department, Highway Administration, and other agencies traveled to Oregon for the event.  The city of Beaverton has hired a consultant to help it win more federal grants, the paper said, looking for more federal dollars to add to millions in current grants from HUD, the CDC, the EPA, and others.  The paper said the remaining 99 cities on the federal spending tour have not been announced.

“If Washington is truly cutting spending on missions many consider vital, how can we at the same time promise and promote more financial assistance, much less afford this mammoth 100 city cross country tour?” wrote Coburn.  “While well intentioned, I urge you to cancel the 100 city government spending tour.”

The text of Coburn’s letter:

Dear Director Zients,

Much is being made about the possible impact of sequestration on government programs for the poor and middle class, food safety, and the defense of our nation.  It is somewhat surprising, therefore, for the White House to be headlining a 100 city government spending tour, transporting representatives from multiple departments and various agencies around the country to promote federal largess.  If Washington is truly cutting spending on missions many consider vital, how can we at the same time promise and promote more financial assistance, much less afford this mammoth 100 city cross country tour?

The first stop of the 100 city “Connecting to Your Community” tour in Beaverton, Oregon featured representatives from the White House, the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   While the city most likely appreciated so many officials traveling across the country to visit, Beaverton has already proven itself quite adept at obtaining federal funds which makes the trip seem even more unnecessary.  Since 2011, the city has received nearly $2 million in federal grants and assistance.  Beaverton has even hired a consulting firm to apply for grants and the mayor’s “travels to the nation’s capital exceed those of his predecessors.”   In 2011, the Mayor and nine other city and county representatives, for example, spent two full weeks in Washington, D.C. to visit with various federal officials and lobby for federal aid.   The same information presented at the daylong symposium could have been shared with the mayor during his next visit to Washington or with the city’s consulting firm via electronic communication such as a teleconference, website, or email to save taxpayers money.

While well intentioned, I urge you to cancel the 100 city government spending tour.

I would also request the following information:

•  The total cost to the federal government for participation and support of the Beaverton Revitalization Roundtable;

•  The total number of federal employees who traveled to Beaverton for the Revitalization Roundtable; and

•  A complete listing of the other locations on the 100 city tour along with the dates for each event, an estimate of the number of federal employees attending each event, the projected or actual cost of each event, and a total estimated cost of the entire 100 city tour initiative including planning, travel, and staff time.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I would appreciate a response no later than April 1, 2013.  It is important that we as public officials lead by example and I look forward to continuing to work with you to save taxpayers money and better prioritize government spending.

Sincerely,

Tom A. Coburn, M.D.

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