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GAO Readies Its ‘Naughty List’ of Duplicative Programs

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Image via R. Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock.com

This holiday season, the Government Accountability Office is compiling a list--and checking it twice--of all the government programs it deems potentially duplicative or overlapping. The list is the result of a law passed three years ago that requires GAO to annually publish a report detailing duplicative, overlapping, and fragmented federal programs. It will be issuing its third report in early 2013. But it is preparing its list now for potential government reorganizers.

The “Memos to National Leaders” project – jointly sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration -- recommends a reorganization commission, and it also offers suggestions for “virtual reorganizations” of programs, as an alternative. An earlier IBM Center blog series raised the issue as to whether the federal government should reorganize. But strategy and approach aside, the GAO reports are useful resources for identifying potential areas for government reformers to examine if the Administration moves forward on any reorganization initiatives it might undertake.

GAO has created a landing page for its series of reports, and it has made them more accessible by creating “e-report” versions of the especially long reports (over 300 pages) which make them far easier to access and analyze.

Its 2011 report highlights 34 areas where programs were judged to be overlapping or duplicative. For example, it:

  • identified 82 teacher quality programs administered by 10 agencies;
  • 80 economic development programs administered by 4 agencies;
  • 56 financial literacy programs administered by more than 20 agencies; and
  • 47 employment and training programs administered by 3 agencies.

For each area, GAO cites its past work and potential actions that could be taken.

Its 2012 report identifies an additional 32 areas of potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation. Examples include:

  • 15 unmanned aircraft programs in the Defense Department;
  • 6 different case management and adjudication systems for conducting background security clearances;
  • 53 programs that support entrepreneurs, administered by 4 different agencies; and
  • 173 of the 209 programs supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs, administered by 14 agencies, overlapped to some degree.

While the GAO reports provide starting places for potential reorganization or streamlining initiatives, policy makers shouldn’t take a “let’s reduce the number” approach since many of these programs may actually be mutually supporting and sometimes a degree of competition, like in the private sector, can spark innovation.

It will be interesting to see how many more programs GAO can identify in its next report before they become duplicative and overlapping themselves, even if there is a seemingly endless supply of examples!

Image via R. Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock.com 

John M. Kamensky is a Senior Research Fellow for the IBM Center for the Business of Government. He previously served as deputy director of Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, a special assistant at the Office of Management and Budget, and as an assistant director at the Government Accountability Office. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and received a Masters in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

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