This week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its annual duplication report. This is the ninth edition of GAO’s annual look at program duplication, overlap and fragmentation in the federal government. The annual examination was requested by our founder, former Senator Coburn, who had the provision included in the 2010 debt limit increase.
Over the last eight years, GAO has made over 800 recommendations to the executive branch and Congress to reduce inefficiencies and eliminate waste and fraud. Fortunately, the reforms that have been implemented based on the findings have resulted in $262 billion in cost savings. However, tens of billions of savings more could be saved as Congress has only addressed 33 percent of potential actions and the executive branch has only addressed 57 percent.
The 2019 report highlighted 28 areas of duplication, overlap, fragmentation and other areas that could produce cost savings. Here are some of the highlights:
- There are two different federal agencies trying to keep arsenic out of our rice. The USDA and FDA both have ongoing efforts to prevent the potentially dangerous contamination – yet GAO found that there was little to no coordination between the two agencies. This is unlikely the first, nor last, time the two food safety overseers overlap efforts. GAO found that “neither FDA nor USDA has a mechanism to coordinate this work. Instead, according to FDA and USDA officials, they coordinate on an informal basis.”
- GAO found that there are six different providers of human resource services for the Department of Defense – frequently providing fragmented and overlapping services to various branches and offices. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency – receives HR services from all six providers!
- The DoD spends an average of $608 million on printing each year. The Defense Logistics Agency is supposed to be the single manager of DoD printing – including high-speed and volume duplicating services along with document conversation and automation services. But other military branches and offices maintain the same capabilities as the DLA. After these findings, GAO reported that the DoD will close 74 of its 112 printing facilities in the United Sates.
- GAO found that the federal government spends $25 billion annually on core mission support services that are common across agencies. These services, like human resources and financial management, are sometimes shared but there are plenty of opportunities for better intergovernmental efficiencies through shared services.
- The Department of Homeland Security has at least four separate components (CBP, U.S. Coast Guard, the Office of Health Affairs, and S&T) that are working on chemical defense activities without coordinating together.
- Since 2010, we have spent $650 million in the Caribbean region to reduce illicit trafficking, improve public safety and security, and promote social justice within those countries. GAO found that we can’t assess the results of this spending because there is no planning and reporting mechanism for the initiative.
- The federal government spends nearly $70 billion annually on research. GAO found that research initiatives can be fragmented across several agencies. For example, at least six agencies support quantum computing research and ten agencies support synthetic biology research.
- GAO found that the way Congress funds inland waterway projects has led to significant cost overruns and construction delays. Rather than funding projects up front, Congress provides funding on an annual basis. This inefficient process has led one project to be $229 million over budget and another project to be 20 years behind schedule.
- Medicaid spends $630 billion each year – including $393 billion in federal dollars – to cover 75 million individuals. GAO found several shortcomings in their ability to identify and target wasteful spending and errors that could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars.
These are just a few highlights from the report’s extensive findings. While the annual duplication report has already yielded hundreds of billions in savings for the taxpayer, GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro asked Congress to pass the Taxpayers Right to Know Act to help GAO find even more waste. The Taxpayers Right to Know Act – which would require federal agencies to publish an inventory of all their programs along with metrics to evaluate their performance – has passed the House several times without opposition. Unfortunately, Senator Schumer objected to its passage in the Senate for very questionable reasons (you can read more about that here).
Budget talks are heating up in DC. Instead of working to increase federal spending by trillions more – Congress should look at the series of GAO recommendations and implement a litany of good government reforms that will give us better services for less cost. GAO’s already done all the hard work – now Congress just needs to follow through.