Watchdog finds tens of billions in cost cutting opportunities

OMB Controller Danny Werfel touts progress on recommendations from last year. OMB Controller Danny Werfel touts progress on recommendations from last year. Charles Dharapak/AP

This story has been updated.

The Government Accountability Office on Tuesday issued a report identifying many overlapping or wasteful government functions, saying the government potentially could save tens of billions of dollars annually if the right remedies were pursued.

The second of such annual reports, the 426-page document outlined 51 areas in government where programs can achieve greater efficiencies, including 32 with evidence of duplication, overlap or fragmentation. GAO had identified 81 areas for savings in its 2011 report and reviewed the past year’s progress on its recommendations.

Among the examples of overlapping functions GAO found were 53 programs run by four separate agencies to provide entrepreneurs with economic development assistance, as well as $79 billion spent on more than 7,200 investments in information technology. GAO also outlined 18 other cost-cutting measures, including selling off excess uranium and replacing the $1 bill with the $1 coin.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning to address the report. Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., released a statement saying, "I have always said that the enemy isn't the Democrats, the enemy isn't the Republicans -- it's the bureaucracy."

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told the committee that “identifying, preventing and addressing unnecessary duplication, overlap and fragmentation” is difficult because it “may require agencies and Congress to re-examine within and across various mission areas the fundamental structure, operation, funding and performance of a number of long-standing federal programs or activities with entrenched constituencies.”

He encouraged Congress and agencies to set outcome-oriented goals -- particularly in cross-cutting policy areas -- as called for in the 2010 Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act. And though the new GAO report was finalized before President Obama released his fiscal 2013 budget on Feb. 13, Dodaro praised the administration’s new requirement that agencies set priority goals.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., testifying on the House side as a specialist in reducing government waste, blamed Congress for the meager progress on removing duplication. “Like last year’s report, which identified more than $100 billion in budgetary savings by simply eliminating duplicative programs, today’s findings are a testament to failed congressional efforts of oversight and a reminder Congress continues to shirk its duty to address even blatant areas of waste and mismanagement of taxpayer funding,” he said.

The problem with Congress is less that it’s partisan than its members are concerned about the next election, he said, adding: “We lack courage and leadership to do what’s in the country’s long-term interest.”

Coburn proposed lawmakers include a metric for program performance in all legislation and require a sunset provision for every program. He complained that most agencies can’t compile a list of all their programs, the exception being the Education Department, which does an annual inventory.

Ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., expressed wishes that the debate “steer clear of politically charged rhetoric that condemns the entire government as ‘obese’ or ‘bloated,’ [and] honor the millions of federal workers who do so much for this country on a daily basis.”

Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel earlier in the day touted the Obama administration’s record on responding to GAO’s recommendations, saying in a statement that nearly 80 percent of the issues GAO raised in 2011 have been addressed in some way. Lawmakers, however, addressed only 39 percent of the recommendations that required congressional action, according to Werfel.

GAO broke down the figures even further, noting that only 4 percent of 2011’s areas of recommendation were completely addressed, and the remainder were partially implemented or not touched on at all.

Werfel said the administration is taking “aggressive action” to streamline government as part of its Campaign to Cut Waste, including consolidating 1,200 data centers by the end of 2015 and cutting real estate costs across civilian agencies by more than $3 billion by the end of 2012.

Gabi Dechter, managing director for economic policy at the nonpartisan think tank Center for American Progress, released a statement mentioning the president’s trade reorganization plans, which include consolidating six business-focused agencies into one.

“In order for this and other reforms to happen, Congress must give the president the same fast-track consolidation authority enjoyed for more than 50 years by presidents Hoover through Reagan,” Dechter said. “The time to act is now.”

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, released a statement Tuesday in response to the report, calling it “disappointing, but not surprising.”

Carper pointed to initiatives like the Campaign to Cut Waste as steps in the right direction, but added that “the administration cannot do this alone -- we in Congress must do more work on our part to achieve success.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.