The Government Accountability Office (GAO) made a ripple in the news this week when they issued their legal finding that President Trump’s withholding of $214 million in funds for Ukraine violated federal law under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974.
The widely covered announcement came to the delight or chagrin of congressmen depending on which jersey they are wearing in the Impeachment Bowl.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, the hundreds of other reports that the government watchdog issues each year documenting billions in federal waste and inefficiencies go largely unnoticed.
This past year alone, GAO’s work led to $214.7 billion in savings for the taxpayer. Yet, many of their findings and recommendations are ignored, leaving billions of dollars of savings still on the table.
As of this week, there are 4,941 open recommendations, i.e. actions that federal agencies could take to improve operations and save tax dollars but have not taken yet.
While a majority of these recommendations can be handled by agencies without congressional action – a large amount of blame does fall at the feet of congress. Some of the fixes require Congress to provide authority to an agency or consolidate overlapping and duplicative programs. GAO noted in the latest annual duplication report that Congress has only addressed 33 percent of these potential actions.
Moreover, Congress can use the power of the purse and their oversight capacity to prod agencies into action on the thousands of aforementioned open recommendations. This could yield tens of billions in additional benefits to the taxpayers – something we desperately need as the federal government continues to rack up $1 trillion deficits on top of our $23 trillion national debt.
So now that GAO has captured our attention, here is a sampling of their other findings that could use some time in the spotlight too!
- 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.
- Since 2010, we have spent $650 million in the Caribbean region to reduce illicit trafficking, improve public safety and security, and promote social justice. GAO found that we can’t assess the results of this spending because there is no planning and reporting mechanism for the initiative.
- 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. But other military branches and offices maintain the same printing capabilities as the DLA. After these findings, GAO reported that the DoD will close 74 of its 112 printing facilities in the United States.
- 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 with each other.
- The federal government spends nearly $70 billion annually on research. GAO found that research initiatives are often fragmented across several agencies. For example, at least six agencies support quantum computing research and ten agencies support synthetic biology research.
- The federal government has 163 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education programs that total $2.9 billion. Nearly all of them overlap with at least one other program.
- The Navy has awarded hundreds of millions in incentive bonuses to shipbuilders without evaluating whether the incentive bonuses are effective.
Here’s to hoping the next report finding billions of waste at the Pentagon also gets the front-page “bombshell” treatment!