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GAO Sees Billions in Potential Savings Just by Trimming Government Duplication

The watchdog’s ninth annual report proposes scannable tax returns and new coins, among other things.

Once again, federal agencies have been found to be duplicating efforts and missing opportunities to cut costs in areas as diverse as disaster response, military health care and U.S. currency manufacturing.

That’s according to the ninth installment in a series of mandatory Government Accountability Office round-ups that flag potential opportunities for billions of dollars in savings.

The report, “Additional Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Billions in Financial Benefits,” identifies 98 new recommended actions for Congress or the executive branch in 28 new and 11 existing areas. Released last week, the report catalogues 396 open recommendations in total.

“The federal government continues to face an unsustainable long-term fiscal path caused by an imbalance between federal revenue and spending,” GAO wrote in a document that groups the proposals by topic and estimates potential savings for each. “While addressing this imbalance will require difficult policy decisions, opportunities exist in a number of areas to improve this situation, including where federal programs or activities are fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative.”

Key examples include:

  • The Energy Department could save billions by developing a programwide strategy for decision-making for safely cleaning up radioactive and hazardous wastes.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could save hundreds of millions by improving how the agency identifies and targets risk in overseeing Medicaid spending to identify and resolve errors in advance of payments.
  • The Defense Department could save millions annually by expanding intergovernmental agreements to obtain military facility support services such as waste management and snow removal.
  • The U.S. Mint could reduce the cost of coin production by millions of dollars annually by changing the metal content of currency.
  • Congress could permit the Internal Revenue Service to save millions annually by requiring scannable codes on tax returns that are prepared electronically but filed on paper to improve compliance and combat fraud.
  • Congress could save the government tens of millions every year in the Foreign Military Sales administrative account by expanding the definition of allowable expenses, thus curbing the need for appropriations.

“Significant progress has been made in addressing many of the 805 actions that GAO identified from 2011 to 2018 to reduce costs, increase revenues, and improve agencies’ operating effectiveness,” the report noted. “As of March 2019, Congress and executive branch agencies have fully addressed 436 actions (54 percent) and partially addressed 185 actions (23 percent). This has resulted in approximately $262 billion in financial benefits.”

On May 22, minority Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a statement imploring Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland to model his oversight agenda on the GAO report. “This duplication report should be a blueprint for our bipartisan oversight to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government,” said the joint statement released by Ranking Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

Rather than focusing on investigations of the Trump administration, the Republicans wrote, “We respectfully request that each subcommittee chairman commit to working with his ranking member to use the 2019 duplication report to develop an oversight agenda, including hearings, letters, and legislation as appropriate, to address open actions within the subcommittees’ jurisdiction."

The letter complained that Cummings had failed to hold a hearing on the report, but Cummings’ staff on Tuesday told Government Executive, “Unfortunately, Rep. Jordan failed to mention that both Democratic and Republican Committee staff received a briefing from GAO on its duplication report before he even sent his letter. He also did not mention that the Committee held a bipartisan hearing earlier this year with the head of GAO to discuss high-risk programs across the federal government. In addition, Rep. Jordan’s complaint about a lack of bipartisan hearings came on exactly the same day we were having a bipartisan hearing on facial recognition technology. The Committee has already examined a number of issues raised in the GAO duplication report, and we will continue to conduct oversight of these issues going forward.”