As Faith In Government Falls, Obama Tries To Spin A Positive Storyline

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Jonathan Ernst / REUTERS

President Barack Obama walks across the South Lawn as he returns via Marine One helicopter from a weekend visit at Camp David to the White House in Washington, July 7, 2013.

After months on the defensive over IRS targeting and NSA surveillance programs, President Barack Obama is trying to put the scandals behind him while attempting to restore trust in the federal government and his own management abilities.

He faces an uphill battle that has gotten steeper in recent years. According to a June CNN/ORC poll, a majority of Americans do not believe the president is “honest and trustworthy” — a record low for Obama. Additionally only 47 percent believed he could manage the government effectively, just off the lows of his tenure in office.

Exit polls from 2012 found that 43 percent of voters believe that the government should do more, down from 51 percent in 2008, when Obama was first elected. Tracking polls from Gallup show a continued downward trend, while polling from Pew shows trust in government at near historic lows.

This set the stage Monday for an event in West Wing where Obama convened a meeting of his Cabinet  “to lay out his vision for smarter government during his second term,” a White House official said.

“Taxpayers deserve the biggest bang for their buck, especially at a time when budgets are tight,” Obama said after the meeting from the State Dining Room in remarks that went ignored by all three cable news networks, and contained no new policy proposals.

Monday’s effort is not Obama’s first effort to modernize the government. In his 2011 State of the Union, Obama called for a sweeping reorganization of federal trade and commerce agencies and departments. “There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports,” Obama said. “There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.” Before the 2012 election, Obama floated the idea of a “Secretary of Business.”

But nothing came of either effort, as Congress ignored his requests. Obama renewed that ask Monday, saying Congress “gives a lot of lip service” to the notion of more efficient government.

There have been some successes, which Obama boasted about on Monday. The administration has made vast swaths of government data public to foster private sector innovation, and the White House has taken steps to streamline applications to the Obamacare exchanges. Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget, which hasn’t progressed in Congress, “includes 215 cuts, consolidations, and savings proposals, which are projected to save more than $25 billion in 2014,” according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Obama tasked OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burrell to lead the effort to modernize the government. He also announced the selection of 43 Presidential Innovation Fellows, including many from Silicon Valley and the tech community, who will work to bring agencies into the 21st century.