UPDATE 1-Obama tells agencies to save on travel, coffee mugs

Wed Nov 9, 2011 2:40pm EST

Related Topics

* Obama seeks to trim spending in non-essential areas

* White House says to save $4 billion over a year

By Malathi Nayak

WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama asked government agencies on Wednesday to slash $4 billion in spending on things like travel, printing and coffee mugs, in his latest effort to sidestep Congress and help the economy.

The White House order on cost-cutting is the latest in a series of small-scale initiatives Obama has been carrying out that do not require congressional approval.

By taking the executive actions, the Democrat is trying to put pressure on opposition Republicans to work with him on his $447 billion jobs package and other legislative proposals, and blame them for failing to act in the country's best interest.

Wednesday's order urges agencies to use teleconferences and videoconferences to cut down on travel and to reduce printing costs by making more information available electronically.

Government bodies are also being encouraged to limit the number of laptops, cellphones, smart phones and other devices issued to bureaucrats and workers to cut unnecessary costs.

The federal vehicle fleet used to taxi government officials around Washington would also see its budget cut, from a current estimated $9 million per year.

Obama told reporters at the White House the order would cut spending in the targeted areas by 20 percent.

"At a time when families have had to cut back, have had to make some tough decisions about getting rid of things that they don't need in order to make the investments that they do, we thought that it was entirely appropriate for our governments and our agencies to try to root out waste, large and small," he said during a short signing ceremony.

In attention to operations-related budget items, the order also calls for less spending on "swag" -- promotional clothing, branded coffee mugs and other gadgets and memorabilia that government agencies sometimes buy with tax dollars.

Items emblazoned with the presidential seal are commonplace in and around the White House and on the president's aircraft, Air Force One, and are highly coveted by foreign dignataries as well as other visitors.

White House spokesman Jay Carney did not say how the order would affect spending at the White House. Most leading companies and schools also spend some money on branded goods for marketing and other purposes.

Obama's series of small-bore executive actions have been criticized for being largely symbolic and a political ploy, rather than a genuine boost to the U.S. economy which has been growing slowly with unemployment at 9 percent.

By drawing attention to spending on government spending in non-essential areas, Obama risks raising questions about why those budgets have not been trimmed already in a time when Washington's debt and fiscal strains are a major concern.

An administration official said the estimated $4 billion saved by the measure would be reinvested in "things that really matter" like "our nation's infrastructure to help grow the economy and create jobs."

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