Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H., speaks at a hearing in February.

Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H., speaks at a hearing in February. Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP

Watchdog Suggests 112 New Actions to Enhance Government Savings and Efficiency 

Taxpayer services, prison staffing and infectious disease modeling are some of the areas the Government Accountability Office listed as ripe for reforms. 

The federal government could save billions of dollars by transforming such disparate functions as taxpayer services, prison staffing and infectious disease modeling, according to a watchdog report.

The Government Accountability Office in its eleventh annual report on “New Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Billions in Financial Benefits” recommended 112 new actions in 29 new areas. 

“The federal government has made an unprecedented financial response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” GAO said. “Once the pandemic recedes and the economy substantially recovers, Congress and the administration will need to develop and swiftly implement an approach to place the government on a sustainable long-term fiscal path. In the short term, opportunities exist for achieving billions of dollars in financial savings and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a wide range of federal programs in other areas.” 

Some examples listed in the report include:

  • The Office of Management and Budget could save billions over the next five years and possibly eliminate duplicative contracts by improving how agencies buy common goods and services through addressing data management issues and establishing performance metrics;
  • The National Nuclear Security Administration could save hundreds of millions over the next five years approximately by implementing a cost savings program to increase operational efficacy at nuclear labs and production sites;
  • The Health and Human Services Department could better plan for future disease outbreaks by coordinating its infectious disease modeling work to prevent duplication;
  • The Internal Revenue Service could save millions annually by increasing business’ ability to file tax returns electronically, better serving taxpayers with limited English proficiency and more effectively managing staff overtime; 
  • The Bureau of Prisons could save millions by addressing its staffing shortages, thereby reducing its increasing reliance on overtime;
  • The Food and Drug Administration could improve its lab safety oversight by clarifying staff roles and responsibilities; 
  • The Defense Department and Small Business Administration should formalize their collaboration on providing services to clients related to federal contracting to reduce overlap. 

In previous reports, from 2011 to 2020, GAO identified over 1,100 actions and over 350 areas to help the federal government yield cost savings and increase efficiency. 

“We reported in May 2020 that actions from Congress and executive branch agencies to address many of these actions had resulted in about $429 billion in financial benefits, including $393 billion that accrued through 2019 and $36 billion that was projected to accrue in future years,” wrote Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “While we will update total financial benefits in fall 2021, at least tens of billions of dollars in additional financial benefits have been achieved since May 2020.” 

Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight on Wednesday afternoon, Dodaro said there are trends among the types of recommendations over the years because of the turnover of political leadership, need for congressional coordination on oversight and “inherent fragmentation” in some areas of the federal government, such as food safety. He noted there are 15 federal agencies administering 30 laws on food safety and this issue has been on GAO’s “high-risk list” since 2007. 

Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H., chairwoman of the subcommittee, noted that only one of the action-items in this year’s report requires congressional action, which involves the Defense Department’s payments to privatized housing projects.

The senator said she and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., ranking member of the panel, co-sponsored two bills in the last Congress that would address reducing elimination, duplication and overlapping of government programs.

One is the Acting on the Annual Duplication Report Act, which would require agencies to implement various recommendations that GAO has made over the years in order to yield savings. The other is the Duplication Scoring Act, which would require GAO to analyze bills reported out by congressional committees in order to prevent enacting programs and initiatives that overlap with or duplicate others.

Hassan and Paul stressed the importance of these measures, but Paul said not all of their colleagues share the same “zeal.”