Parks and Recreation, Obama Style

Coburn to White House: Stop visiting cities promoting federal-local partnerships as sequestration looms
Sen. Tom Coburn / AP

Sen. Tom Coburn / AP


Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) sent a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Thursday asking the administration to terminate its “Connecting Your Community” campaign in which federal officials meet with leaders in 100 cities across the country to discuss ways the federal government can better assist local governments. The campaign began last week.

“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,” Coburn wrote in the letter.

“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 largesse,” he continued.

Mandatory, across the board spending cuts totaling more than $1 trillion will occur on March 1 unless Congress and the president act to prevent the so-called “sequestration.”

Coburn is the ranking member on the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The letter is addressed to Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Coburn asks in the letter that the White House “cancel the 100 city government spending tour” even though it is “well intentioned.” He also requests spending and personnel information for the tour.

Coburn highlighted the first stop of the 100-city tour in Beaverton, Oregon, to argue that the campaign is unnecessary.

Several government officials attended the event on Feb. 14, including White House Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs Jay Williams and Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency Mathy Stanislaus. Officials from the Departments of Labor, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development also attended.

“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,” Coburn wrote.

“The city has received nearly $2 million in federal grants and assistance since 2011,” according to an Oregonian article that Coburn’s letter highlighted.

City officials have also spent considerable time in Washington DC lobbying for funds. Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle has traveled more to Washington than his predecessors, according to the article.

City officials saw the event as an opportunity to try to get yet more money from the federal government, the Oregonian reported.

“We are strategically positioning ourselves to get funding for our key vision projects,” said Cindy Dolezel, the event organizer.

“The city deserves no less than trying to get ourselves help from the federal government,” said Doyle.

Doyle’s office did not return a request for comment.

Beaverton is a suburb of Portland, Oregon. It sits in Washington County, which voted heavily for Barack Obama in the November elections.

For their next stop on the campaign, Williams and other executive officials visited Racine, Wisconsin, city officials on Thursday, Feb. 21, the day Coburn sent the letter to the OMB.

Racine sits in the district of Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), although election returns from this past indicate that the city is far more liberal than Racine County and Ryan’s district as a whole.

Racine Mayor John Dickert told the Washington Free Beacon that the officials at the meeting discussed both federal funding for projects and more efficient organization for the projects. He emphasized “the importance of working collaboratively with local municipalities” for the federal government.

He acknowledged that money in Washington is tight, but argued “there’s no place that’s more efficient for funds than local municipalities.”

“Maybe we can find some cost savings by leveraging these funds” at the local level, he said.

Dickert took strong issue with Coburn’s argument that the federal officials’ trips are a waste of money.

“With all due respect to the senator, I just completely disagree,” he said.

He argued that the officials got more done in the meeting than they had in “three to six months.”

“While I understand the fight that is going on up in Washington, DC between the two parties … we as mayors don’t really care about partisan politics,” he said.

A spokesman for Coburn responded to the mayor’s critique by saying, “It’s about priorities.”

“The administration should lead by example and show they can reduce spending items such as city tours meant to promote federal spending to select communities that could be conducted via teleconference or online,” the spokesman wrote in an email.

The White House and the Office of Management and Budget did not return a request for comment.

Andrew Evans   Email Andrew | Full Bio | RSS
Andrew Evans is an assistant editor at National Affairs and a former reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, where he covered government accountability and healthcare issues.