A relatively recent study found many animals, from dogs to dolphins to bees, have bad short-term memories. Instead, the study found animals “store away useful information about what could help them survive.” This study, and a recent GAO duplication hearing, may shine some light on the behavior of our representatives on Capitol Hill.
Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing following the release of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) annual duplication report. In its 8th year, the report has saved taxpayers an estimated $178 billion, and this year identified 68 new actions that “Congress and executive branch agencies could take to improve operations across government.”
The reports are fascinating to say the least. This year’s report included 18 duplicative Coast Guard boat stations that could save $290 Million over 20 years if they were closed, and 163 federal STEM programs costing $2.9 billion annually which almost all overlap with at least one other program. More highlights can be seen here, but what was particularly fascinating was the honesty by the Comptroller General of the GAO, Mr. Gene Dodaro.
When asked at the committee hearing about what Congress could do to better achieve results in the report, Mr. Dodaro said, “I think there needs to be more oversight hearings.” The GAO director also emphasized that Congressional oversight will produce change, “without legislation I might add.” This has been a trend in Congress for decades. Committees are holding fewer hearings and inviting fewer witnesses to testify at the hearings it does have.
If Congress is holding fewer hearings with fewer witnesses, they’re probably following up on those hearings and solving problems though right? Wrong. Mr. Dodaro says Congress is failing to follow up with agency witnesses after hearings and letting those problems go unsolved. “Congress does a good job at shining a light, but as soon as the light goes away the problem doesn’t get much better.”
Like a dog chasing cars, Congress chases the next headline, the next problem, but fails to actually resolve any of those problems. Instead, like our short-term memory animals, Congress only stores information that will help them survive the next election.
There’s no better example of this than the aforementioned duplicative Coast Guard boat stations. The unclosed boat stations are not really the Coast Guard’s fault, as Congress shares most of the blame. In fact, GAO witnesses said if Congress did nothing, the duplicative stations would be closed. According to GAO testimony, the Congressmen who represent the districts where the boat stations are located are preventing the closures from happening due to unpopularity in the local community.
In total, Congress has only acted on 30 percent of the recommendations made by the seven prior GAO duplication reports – leaving billions to be wasted on duplication, overlap and other inefficiencies. While more rigorous oversight and follow-through would eliminate this waste, it would seem that Congress can act when their political survival is at stake. Unfortunately, saving taxpayers money and making government more efficient doesn’t come with ribbon cutting or political donations.
Fortunately, as long as we have good political servants like Mr. Dodaro and the folks at GAO, we as taxpayers will have an ally in the federal government. The GAO leads by example, and it only takes one domino to fall to start a chain reaction. GAO gave back $73 million last year in savings to taxpayers. What can your Congressman say he or she has done? Survive an election?