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Congress standing in the way of waste reduction, lawmaker charges

Jan. 9, 2014 - 04:58PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

A push to identify and target federal programs in need of streamlining has been stymied by Congress’s failure to act on the findings, the lawmaker behind the effort said Thursday.

“I thought it would embarrass us into acting,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., at a hearing on government waste. “Boy, was I wrong. We haven’t done anything.”

Coburn was responsible for the 2010 legislation requiring the Government Accountability Office to report each year on overlapping, fragmented and duplicative programs. The GAO has so far released three such reviews, each of which has outlined potential savings of billions of dollars by consolidating programs across government.

According to Coburn, however, the only substantive legislative follow-up has so far been a House-passed bill that supporters say would consolidate some 30 job training programs. After narrowly winning House approval last March, the bill has stalled in a Senate committee.

One problem, Coburn said, is that congressional committee chairmen are reluctant to give up control of programs under their jurisdictions. “The problem is us,” he said.

In the latest installment of the duplicative report series, published last April, the GAO found that lawmakers and the executive branch had made some headway in dealing with previous findings. By allowing a tax credit for ethanol to expire at the end of 2011, for example, lawmakers reduced revenue losses by addressing overlapping federal efforts to boost production of the corn-based fuel, the GAO said.

Coburn appeared as a witness at the hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Other lawmakers were more sanguine about progress in reducing waste. From fiscal 2010 to 2013, the estimated amount of improper payments fell from $121 billion to $106 billion government-wide, said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who also appeared as a witness.

Although that amount is still too high, Carper said, “I am encouraged that we’re seeing these small, but significant drops in the levels of improper payments.”

Carper chairs the main Senate oversight committee with Coburn, the committee’s top Republican, he is co-sponsoring a bill to reduce waste and fraud in Medicaid and Medicare. Last month, Carper said, the Senate Finance Committee included major portions of that bill in a separate measure dealing with reimbursement rates for doctors.

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