The federal government is doing a poor job of coordinating its responsibilities in dozens of areas, including food safety, breast cancer research, assistance to small business owners and home buyers and background investigations for federal job applicants — a disorganization that could be costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars annually, according to a new report.
The 428-page study by the Government Accountability Office details several significant cases of duplication, overlap or lack of coordination between agencies and programs. Here are a few examples:
— Fifty-three separate programs run by four federal agencies provide economic development assistance to entrepreneurs with 17 programs providing “technical assistance” to entrepreneurs: Two at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, six run by the Small Business Administration, five run by the Agriculture Department and four out of the Commerce Department.
— The lack of a coordinated reporting system makes it difficult for the National Institutes of Health, Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs to track health research funded by other federal agencies, GAO said, meaning agencies may issue duplicative grants to different research projects on the same topic.
— Federal agencies spent at least $79 billion on at least 7,200 investments in information technology last fiscal year. The Pentagon and Energy Department had the most.
— The government spent at least $1 billion last year to conduct more than 2 million background checks of federal job applicants, the report said. Costs have grown in recent years in part because at least seven agencies are spending tens of millions of dollars on separate databases to track personnel records.
The report also identifies 18 ways that the government could save money. Among other suggestions, GAO said the Air Force could renegotiate food service contracts, the Defense Department could explore consolidating Pentagon-area office space, the Energy Department could sell excess uranium in the government’s inventory, the Internal Revenue Service could step up its enforcement efforts, the State Department could reconsider requests to train and equip Iraqi security forces and the Treasury Department could replace the $1 bill with a new $1 coin.
The study was released Tuesday at a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and is the second in a series of reports mandated by law to comb through the federal budget for examples of mismanagement and overlap.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who called for GAO to conduct these annual reports, told the House panel that rooting out government duplication “is one of the most critical matters currently facing Congress. We must eliminate duplication immediately wherever we find it, and stop making the maze more tangled with our shortsightedness by continuing to create new, unnecessary and duplicative programs.”
The hearing was designed to “pinpoint solutions and address areas of opportunity,” according to Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who called for Congress to work with the White House and federal agencies to “produce and execute efficient policies.”
A similar GAO report last March earned wide attention and sparked outrage after identifying more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 82 monitoring teacher quality, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training, 20 offices or programs devoted to homelessness and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness.
In the weeks after the report’s publication, the White House launched a “Campaign to Cut Waste” that has identified new ways to eliminate redundancies, including accelerated plans to sell off excess federal real estate, cut back on official travel and end the distribution of some “office swag” and close more than 800 federal data centers by the end of 2015. More recently, President Obama requested authority from Congress to merge several trade- and commerce-related offices and programs into a new agency and is asking aides to identify other ways to consolidate programs.
Since last year’s report, the GAO said the Obama administration has addressed 110 of the 145 actions it proposed could be taken by the White House and federal agencies. Congress has addressed 12 of the 31 steps it proposed lawmakers could take, GAO said. The committee’s Democrats noted those figures mean the White House has done more than Congress to address concerns with duplication.
“These reports show that, if the actions are implemented, the government could potentially save tens of billions of dollars annually,” GAO Director Gene Dodaro told the panel. Though determining the total cost savings from eliminating or merging programs is difficult to estimate, “even limited adjustments could result in significant savings.”
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