Leadership

GAO highlights billions of dollars in wasteful programs

The GAO's annual report identified 66 actions agencies could take to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government, such as improving the quality of data to increase tax revenues or streamlining purchasing programs to save on administrative costs.

Over the last few years agencies have implemented 149 of the 440 recommendations GAO made for reducing duplication, saving about $20 billion. Agencies could save an additional $80 billion in future years if they followed all the recommendations, according to the GAO.

But that only represents 39 percent of the total actions agencies could take to reduce duplication, according to the agency.

Agencies could save additional money by:

  • Managing the purchase and disbursement software licenses among agencies, which could save hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Implementing a more comprehensive improper payment measurement methodology in order to recover additional funds from the Defense Department's TRICARE health program.
  • Using data to help bolster tax compliance programs and potentially collect hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R- Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the report shines an important light on redundant programs and wasteful practices.

"The Committee will examine recommendations made by the GAO to ensure that the necessary reforms are being implemented. There are clear inefficiencies that need to be addressed immediately," Chaffetz said.

GAO: 9 ways agencies can cut waste and save billions of dollars

But while the administration has made progress on strategic sourcing initiatives, it needs to better set governmentwide goals and establish success metrics to avoid missing billions of dollars in savings, GAO said.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said at a hearing April 14 while reducing duplication is important there are many instances where more than one agency focusing on an issue does not mean the government is wasting money.

"Cybersecurity, protecting water quality, and assistance for disabled Americans are just a few areas that come to mind where it makes sense to have multiple federal agencies bringing their expertise to bear in addressing critical needs," Carper said.

But many of the programs or issues are complex or difficult to solve, and some cut across departments or long-standing federal programs that have provided much-needed services, Carper said.

"What the GAO report tells us is that we need sustained leadership and oversight in both the executive branch and Congress to decide where there is unnecessary duplication that can be eliminated, or where we need better coordination among government programs with similar missions," Carper said.

The administration can also boost efficiency by better controlling its IT spending through reporting tools such as PortfolioStat, which agencies are struggling to implement effectively, according to GAO.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said at a hearing April 14 GAO's findings show that spending more money and creating more programs is not a solution.

"Well-intentioned legislation is not always well thought out. Too often, Congress creates new initiatives to address a pressing issue of the day without first doing its homework. The result is a hodgepodge of redundant programs, agencies and departments tasked with similar missions but lacking coordination," he said.

He said while the GAO report shows unnecessary duplication across government Congress must do a better job of overseeing agencies and understanding what agencies are currently doing, if its working and whether a new program is required.

"This report was intended to help give Congress a blueprint to stop spending money we do not have on things we do not need," Johnson said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the GAO's findings show the executive branch has done far better than Congress implementing cost-saving measures.

Agency efforts to become more efficient should also become models for other agencies and for Congress to follow, he said.

"We must recognize these accomplishments and shine a light on them. We want them to become the model that we all strive to achieve. At the same time, it is also clear that more work needs to be done," Cummings said.

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