Published Friday, April 12, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:17 pm
redundant federal spending
World-Herald editorial: Redundant federal spending

The Government Accountability Office has identified billions of tax dollars being spent by different parts of the federal bureaucracy for pretty much the same thing.

The GAO, in a new report this week, said it had found 31 more areas of the federal government where it could cut overlapping, redundant or otherwise inefficient spending.

The auditors offered a blueprint for Congress and the Obama administration to take a hard look at what one senator calls “duplication nation.” A few examples:

>> Three federal agencies are involved in catfish inspections. Potential savings identified by GAO: $14 million.

>> Six programs in four branches of the armed forces were developing similar combat uniforms. The extra cost: $82 million.

>> Thirty-one federal departments and agencies are buying high-tech mapping data and the systems to house it. “The federal government invests billions of dollars,” the GAO said, and “duplication among investments is common.”

>> Seventy-six programs in 15 agencies have the goal of preventing or treating drug abuse. They cost $4.5 billion in 2012.

>> There were 679 renewable energy initiatives underway in 23 federal agencies. In 2010, those cost $15 billion.

And that’s not all. This is the third annual report the GAO has produced on duplicative spending. Its 2011 and 2012 studies identified more than 130 other areas of federal duplication and inefficiency.

“The $95 billion in overlap identified in this report, combined with the $200 billion in overlap identified in GAO’s two previous reports, could easily cover the costs of sequestration,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., author of the law requiring the annual tallies. “GAO has told Congress where to find the savings. Now it’s up to us to act.”

Over at the White House, officials said the president recognizes the problem and that his new budget proposal would take aim at it with plans for reorgan- ization and streamlining. The administration proposes some 215 program cuts and consolidations at a savings of $25 billion, including reorganization of more than 40 programs delivering job training and employment services.

That all sounds good, although combined these efforts still would fall well short of covering any of the trillion-dollar budget deficits the federal government piled up over the past four years.

And the government has been slow to move on eliminating redundant programs in the past, implementing fewer than one in four of the GAO recommendations since 2011.

“We can’t afford to continue to operate the way we’re operating,” U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told lawmakers.

It’s not only reluctant bureaucrats protecting their turf, either.

“Congress created all these programs. Congress ought to oversight them, downsize them, put metrics on them and fund them properly, and then come back in two years and see if they’re effective,” Coburn told USA Today. “It’s hard because all programs have a parochial benefactor, and career politicians don’t want to irritate anybody.”

Except, maybe, taxpayers who wonder why it takes three federal agencies to inspect catfish.

Just because the GAO identified a program as duplicative doesn’t mean the job is unnecessary, of course. Anyone eating catfish for dinner wants to know it’s safe.

Still, Coburn is right. Congress needs to dig down into the budget details, require better planning, demand more coordination among the different agencies — then apply tougher oversight to measure agency performance and determine whether these programs are getting results.

Maybe then those 31 government departments could explain why they can’t share a map.

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