Fed audit: Congress creates programs that already exist

politics | Apr 20, 2015 | By Martin Barillas

On C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program, the General Accounting Office’s fifth annual report on redundant federal government programs was the topic of discussion. Interviewer Greta Wodele Brawner spoke with the report’s co-author Nikki Clowers of the GAO. They discussed how 112 mental health programs are spread across eight different agencies, while other duplicated federal programs include eight different federal agencies involved in consumer product safety, in addition to forty-two transport services. See report here.
 
When asked how the GAO chose which programs to focus on, Clowers said “We find these opportunities to reduce fragmentation, overlap, or duplication or achieve other cost savings through routine audit work. The mission of the GAO is to improve the performance of accountability of the government.” The five years of reports, said Clowers, has looked at everything from defense to health and transportation.
 
As required by law, the GAO annually examines federal waste and duplication, as well as ways to capture more federal revenue. In the 2015, Clowers said that there were twelve areas where she found “opportunities for enhanced revenue or cost savings,” that could mean “tens of billions of dollars in savings for the government.”
Host Wodele Brawner said that since 2011, the GAO has made 440 recommendations to the White House and Congress for program consolidation but that only 37% of these have actually been put into place. This would have meant $20 billion in savings to the taxpayer.
 
Clowers responded that of the 440 recommendations, 40% are in implementation. She said that by 2023, another $80 billion in savings can be expected. She said that collaboration among federal agencies can mean cost savings. “One example,” she said, “is in the consumer product safety area, over 20 agencies in that area. There is unclear roles and in some cases agencies might be stepping on each other’s toes and creating regulatory gaps. We made a recommendation to create a formal coordination mechanism to help ensure the roles are clearly delineated.”
 
When multiple agencies focus on the same issues, an inefficiency or “bad effect” can arise, said Clowers. “Multiple agencies providing the same services or the same benefits to the same populations, as you move along, there is the potential for a greater bad effect.”
 
Clowers noted that Congress is not well aware of the scope of federal programs nor have an idea which are already in existence before creating another. 
“Also, one of the things we highlight in our report, a key issue, is a lack of visibility. There’s not good information on existing programs across the federal government. There’s not a centralized list that congressmen or policymakers can go to to see a program already in existence in a particular area before they create a new one.”

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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