GAO report: Eliminating program duplication could save 'billions'

A Government Accountability Office report released on Tuesday concludes the federal government "could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually" by "reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation" in federal government programs.

The report was mandated by a provision included by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in a bill passed last year raising the federal debt ceiling. And Coburn said on Monday evening that the findings bolster his long-standing attempts to consolidate or eliminate duplicative programs.

"It makes us all look like jackasses," Coburn told reporters, arguing both the legislative and executive branches can barely track federal programs. "Anybody that says that we don't look like fools up here hasn't read the report," he said.

Coburn argued that eliminating duplicative programs should be part of deficit reduction legislation he is working on as part of a bipartisan group of senators. The bill will be based on a proposal last year by the heads of a presidentially appointed deficit-reduction commission.

A draft summary of the report provided by Coburn's office lists 33 areas where federal programs overlap, creating potential for savings through consolidation or elimination of overlap. It cites five separate arms-control and nonproliferation bureaus, including two in the State Department; 18 separate domestic food assistance programs; 20 programs in seven agencies to assist the homeless; 80 programs providing transportation for the disadvantaged; 82 programs to improve teacher quality; 56 programs to bolster financial literacy; and more than 24 presidentially appointed individuals in several agencies with some responsibility for bio-defense.

It is not clear that many such "duplicative" programs fully overlap. Nor does the report say that overlapping means they cannot provide cumulative benefits. In addition, some scholars who study bureaucracies believe that competing government programs may provide services more efficiently than those that do not face competition. Eliminating duplicative programs would also likely represent a relatively small step in reining in federal budget deficits driven largely by nondiscretionary entitlement spending.

Still, GAO states the duplication creates an opportunity for quick savings.

"Considering the amount of program dollars involved in the issues we have identified, even limited adjustments could result in significant savings," the report says.

The summary adds that "in some cases, there is sufficient information available today to show that if actions are taken to address individual issues summarized in the report, financial benefits ranging from the tens of millions to several billion dollars annually may be realized by addressing that single issue."

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