GAO: Duplication, Waste Costs Taxpayers Billions Each Year, Coburn Says Report Makes Congress Look Like ‘Jackasses’

Mar 1, 2011 3:40pm

ABC's Matthew Jaffe reports:

Original Post at 8:21pm, Feb. 28th:

With Congress currently embroiled in a contentious spending fight, a Congressional watchdog has found that a staggering level of duplication is plaguing the bloated federal budget – and chewing up billions of dollars in funding every year.

In a new report obtained by ABC News, the Government Accountability Office determined that “reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services.”

For instance, the GAO found, the Department of Defense could save up to $460 million every year by undertaking a “broader restructuring” of its military health care system.

The cost of such programs with duplicative and overlapping purposes is eye-opening. The military came in for special scrutiny: over $10 billion on defense-wide business systems every year; $49 billion in military and veterans health services; and at least $76 billion since 2005 in urgent processing systems for the military.

But the military is by no means alone. $58 billion at the Department of Transportation for over 100 separate surface transportation programs. And almost $1 trillion in government-wide tax expenditures listed by the Treasury Department, some of which the GAO found “may be ineffective at achieving their social or economic purposes.”

“Considering the amount of program dollars involved in the issues we have identified, even limited adjustments could result in significant savings,” the GAO said.

The GAO was forced to conduct the report on the behest of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK., who pushed a Senate vote in January 2010 to direct the GAO to assess duplication in the budget.

The report, Coburn told reporters at the Capitol Monday evening, will “make us all look like jackasses.”

According to the GAO, not only has Congress been busy spending money on duplicative efforts, but the government has neglected to investigate numerous programs, making the expenditure of some funds not only redundant but wasteful.

For instance, only five of 47 job training and employment programs surveyed by the GAO had been studied to evaluate whether outcomes were the result of the program itself or another cause altogether.

“Little is known about the effectiveness of most programs,” the watchdog observed.

That point also applies to domestic food assistance, where “little is known about the effectiveness of [11 of the 18 programs] because they have not been well studied,” the GAO said.

In fiscal year 2008, for example, the government spent $62.5 billion on those 18 programs.

Ultimately, it all makes the $4 billion in cuts included in the latest two-week spending proposal seem paltry in comparison.

Update at 3:40pm ET, March 1:

Republicans in Congress are pouncing all over this report today as evidence that Democrats should not be fighting against spending cuts, but supporting them.

“None of us would run our families this way. None of us would run our businesses this way,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK. “And there is tremendous potential for us to still take care of those that require a safety net by eliminating duplication and the dollars that we’re spending that we don’t get anything in return for.”

The Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell went even further, denouncing the report as a sign of “virtual incompetence” in the federal government.

Across the aisle, Senate Democrats were predictably more restrained in their comments.

“I think there are duplicative programs we’ve got around here that we can eliminate,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who applauded Coburn for insisting on the GAO report.

 One interesting tidbit from the report: at a time when the national debt has soared over the $14 trillion mark, the government has 20 different agencies – housing 56 different programs – all working on the same thing… improving financial literacy.

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