Coburn: GAO report reveals $95 billion in government overlap

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The Government Accountability Office’s third annual report on government duplication revealed 17 areas of government fragmentation and overlap and 14 areas of potential cost savings.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn said that the amount of overlap revealed in the report and in previous years could serve to cover the cost of the sequester.

“While millions of Americans have been doing more with less, the federal government continues to do less with more,” Coburn, who passed an amendment three years ago requiring this annual report, said in a statement. “The $95 billion in overlap identified in this report, combined with the $200 billion in overlap identified in GAO’s previous two reports, could easily cover the costs of sequestration. Yet, instead of preventing furloughs, reopening air traffic control towers and restoring public access to White House, Congress and the administration continue to defend billions of dollars in duplicative programs that are little more than monuments to the good intentions of career politicians in Washington.”

Tuesday’s report adds to the existing GAO data on government inefficiencies as they pertain to fragmentation, duplication and overlap. GAO’s two prior reports revealed 131 areas of fragmentation, duplication and overlap and issued 300 recommendations.

According to a letter to Congress from Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, GAO released in conjunction with the report, the GAO evaluated the progress made on the area GAO highlighted.

“We found that the executive branch agencies and Congress have made progress in addressing the 131 areas we identified in 2011 and 2012,” Dodaro explained in his letter. “As of March 6, 2013, the date we completed our audit work, 16 of the 131 areas were addressed; 87 were partially addressed; and 27 were not addressed.12 We also found that of the approximately 300 actions needed within these areas, 65 were addressed; 149 were partially addressed; and 85 were not addressed.”

Tuesday’s report, “2013 Annual Report: Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits” revealed an additional 31 areas with 81 recommended actions.

Some of the more egregious examples within Tuesday’s report, highlighted by Coburn’s office, include:

-679 renewable energy initiatives at 23 federal agencies and their 130 sub-agencies cost taxpayers $15 billion in FY 2010.

– 76 programs to prevent or treat drug abuse are spread across 15 agencies, costing $4.5 billion in FY 2012.

-Three federal offices are involved in overseeing catfish inspections.

-159 contracting organizations in 10 different Defense Department components provide defense foreign language support. GAO estimates $50 to $200 million in potential savings by eliminating this duplication.

-The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) offers 69 different language services. GAO found 23 instances of overlap involving 43 of these services, accounting for $149 million, or nearly 20 percent, of the BBG’s FY 2011 annual appropriations.

-21 programs, including eight tax expenditures, are in place to help students save for, pay, and repay the cost of higher education, annually costing $45 billion, $104 billion in financial loans, and $25 billion in lost revenue from tax spending.

-Six programs to employ and train veterans are operated by two government agencies, which spent $1.2 billion in FY 2011 to serve 880,000 participants. The GAO found, “Despite these efforts, the unemployment rate for veterans who have recently separated from the military is higher than that for other veterans and nonveterans.”

-The Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS) was established in 1950 and tasked with collecting and distributing certain reports. Despite the fact that nearly 75 percent of these reports are now available online for free, NTIS continues to charge the public, and even other federal agencies, for these reports. GAO explains, “These results show that NTIS disseminates and charges for many reports that overlap with information that is available for free from federal agencies and other public websites.”  Over ten years ago, the GAO issued a report highlighting this clear overlap and government waste. In a November 2012, GAO “estimated that approximately 621,917, or about 74 percent, of the 841,502 reports were readily available from one of the other four publicly available sources GAO searched.” Even more, 95 percent of those on other websites, were available for free. Making the government looking even more foolish, GAO explains, “The source that most often had the reports GAO was searching for was another website located at http://www.Google.com.”

-Six separate offices at the Department of Homeland Security are involved in research and development. In one example, “two DHS components awarded five separate contracts that each addressed detection of the same chemical. Moreover, DHS did not have the policies and mechanisms necessary to coordinate or track research and development activities across the department.”

According to Coburn, the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the failure to address the inefficiencies is “unconscionable and immoral.”

“Every dollar the government takes from a single mom or low-income family to fund an overlapping catfish inspection program is a dollar taxpayers have to earn back by working longer hours,” he said. “And every dollar we take out of the economy to fund the government’s 679th renewable energy initiative is a dollar that isn’t available for businesses to renew our economy.”

Orice Williams Brown, GAO managing director of financial markets and community investment and lead author of the report explained to GAO’s Jeremy Cluchey on an agency podcast that the big picture is that agencies need to be aware of the effectiveness of their activities.

“Decision makers often lack the information that they need to make decisions about whether or not the fragmentation, overlap or duplication that may exist across programs is problematic,” she continued. “For example, if there are dozens of programs that address a particular need but they are well coordinated this may not be a problem, on the other hand if there are dozens of programs and only half are effective this may indicate that consolidation should be considered,” Brown said. “Until Congress gets this information it will be difficult for them to make decisions about which programs to consolidate and which ones maybe working effectively the bottom line is agencies should be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of programs and activities.”

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