GAO Report: Billions Could be Saved by Simply Eliminating Duplication

At this point the federal government’s profligate spending habits aren’t exactly a well-kept secret. Pretty much everyone understands that Washington spends too much money and there is consensus (or as close to one as you’ll find in DC) that something must be done.

And yet year after year the Government Accountability Office issues a report showing just how little progress has been made in the quest for a more sustainable government.

The report, entitled “Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenues,” or alternatively, “Please, Don’t Ignore Us This Year…This is Important,” identifies wasteful or duplicative programs whose elimination could result in real savings to Americans with little or any reduction in service.

The report identifies 51 areas where programs may be able to realize savings, including 32 areas with duplication and 19 where waste and inefficiencies were prevalent. Among the problem areas:

  • $170 billion spent on 160 different housing assistance programs issued by 20 different entities
  • 94 federal “green building” initiatives run by 11 different agencies, two-thirds of which were unable to provide a goal or performance measure
  • 56 financial literacy programs across 20 federal agencies, which is only expected to grow with passage of Dodd-Frank

It’s not as if Washington is just coming to the realization that it is growing out of control.

“Any organization that spends more than $140 billion a year as the federal government does . . . is certain to have confusion, duplication and waste in its operation,” says an article from Nation’s Business dating back to 1966. “[T]he volume of duplication and confusion in federal ranks has now grown so large that even those who claim liberal attitudes toward both big government and centralized superplanning swallow hard at the thought of it all.”

In the more than 50 years since that article was written things have only gotten worse. And according to Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a leader fiscal responsibility, the blame rests with Congress.

“Duplication in this country has been created by the ruling class of career politicians seeking to slap short-term fixes on problems in order to claim credit at home and recognition in Washington,” said Coburn in testimony before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “Despite the thousands of existing federal programs on the books, nearly every passing week Congress creates more programs and federal efforts, piling new initiatives on top of old ones, which were created on top of even older programs.”

This is not the type of thing that should be difficult to cut. As the GAO said in last year’s report, eliminating duplication and waste could “save billions of taxpayer dollars and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services.”

It’s the definition of a win-win.

And yet this year’s report reveals that Congress and the Executive Branch have fully implemented 13 percent of the prior year’s recommendations. That is literally billions of dollars each year that is being left on the table after being taken from American’s wallets.

The deficit has received a great deal of attention in the past several years and rightfully so. Washington’s spending habits are simply unsustainable and will leave future generations a debt burden that will be impossible to pay off. It is all the more egregious then that Democrats act as a speedbump on the way towards positive reform.

Congress must begin to cut and fortunately the GAO has provided some darn good starting places.