It has been 50 years since we put a man on the moon. But the federal government still can’t provide a comprehensive list of the programs that it runs.
A bipartisan group of Senators is trying to change that. In a week full of newsy updates on debt limit and budget cap negotiations – this may actually be the biggest development.
Senators Enzi (R-WY) and Lankford (R-OK) led a bipartisan letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) asking for a progress update on the federal program inventories that are required under the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRMA Modernization Act).
The GPRMA Modernization Act required OMB to issue guidance and coordinate the development of program inventories for each federal agency. The inventory was supposed to include every federal program that each agency runs, along with basic cost and performance information.
In 2013, there was an attempt by OMB to get agencies to produce the program inventories. But a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review found them to be woefully inadequate. Since that failed initial attempt, OMB has abandoned their efforts to put a federal program inventory together.
A bipartisan bill called the Taxpayers Right to Know Act has been in the works since 2011 to spur OMB into action on the federal program inventories while clarifying some definitional issues and enhancing the performance metrics reported in the inventories. Unfortunately, that broadly bipartisan bill has been thwarted for spurious reasons by Senate democratic leadership (read more here).
Despite the legislation’s failure, OMB already has the legal obligation to publish the inventories per GPRMA Modernization Act of 2010 – a point that was persuasively made in this week’s bipartisan letter.
OMB’s failure to produce the inventories comes to the detriment of federal program managers, Congress, watchdogs and taxpayers alike. As the Senators’ letter lays out, these inventories are “critical to helping Congress make informed budgetary decisions and ensuring that we are able to identify – and take appropriate steps to eliminate – duplication, fragmentation, and overlap in federal programs.”
Nobody knows about the struggle against waste, fraud, and duplication more than GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro – whose agency is charged with producing the annual duplication report.
Over the years, GAO has found massive duplication across the federal government, including 15 programs on financial literacy, 160 federal housing assistance programs, 94 green building programs, 253 crime prevention programs, 14 diesel emission reduction programs, 45 early learning and child care programs, and 209 STEM programs.
So far, these reports have yielded $247 billion in cost savings.
But Mr. Dodaro believes that having comprehensive program inventories would make his agency significantly more effective while yielding even greater benefits to the taxpayer.
In a recent hearing, Mr. Dodaro lamented that it currently takes GAO months to figure out how many programs are operating with similar goals.
He made the point that not having a full listing of federal programs also hurts the ability of agencies to coordinate.There are tremendous opportunities for savings because so much of the duplication occurs across multiple agencies. Unless OMB pulls together the data, nobody will have the tools to find out who is doing what and to what effect.
For example, GAO recently found that there are 45 programs and one tax expenditure that provide help to veterans and their families to find jobs and they are strewn across 12 different federal agencies. There are a ton of programs available to veterans, but there was nothing that “could easily give Congress or potential participants a complete picture of available benefits.” In that report, GAO noted the absence of a program inventory makes it “difficult to assess the extent of the federal investment in supporting the civilian employment of transitioning service members, veterans, and their families.”
People have genuine differences of opinion on the proper size of government. But everyone should agree that we want a more efficient and effective one. By benefiting GAO, agencies, Congress, and the public, a federal program inventory would take a big step towards accomplishing this goal.
Over the years, Congress has passed laws requiring extensive disclosure requirements on publicly traded companies.
Unfortunately, the same courtesy is not afforded to taxpayers – who are still left in the dark on where our tax dollars go – let alone how effectively they are used.
With the prodding of these Senators, we hope that is about to change.