'Tens of Billions of Dollars' Wasted on Duplicate Federal Programs: Report

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U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) holds up a copy of his deficit-reduction plan during a media availability in the Capitol in Washington
A new report showing billions being wasted on duplicate federal programs was the brainchild of Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican.

A federal government watchdog said Tuesday tens of billions of dollars are being wasted because of duplicate programs run by several agencies, and more effort is needed to address a problem first identified last year.

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan agency, said there are 51 areas where programs can be streamlined and made more efficient. The GAO's 428-page report identifies programs that share goals and services, and that are spread across multiple agencies.

Further, there has been little headway on 81 areas of duplicate programs identified in the GAO's 2011 report; only four issues have been fully addressed, while the government made partial changes to 60 programs in need of streamlining. The remaining 17 have yet to be addressed.

We have found that agencies can often realize a range of benefits, such as improved customer service, decreased administrative burdens, and cost savings from addressing the issues we raise in this report, the GAO said.

If the areas outlined in the GAO's 2012 and 2011 reports are fixed, the government could potentially save tens of billions of dollars annually, depending on the extent of actions taken.

Cross-Spectrum of Duplicate Programs

The programs identified in the report run the gamut of the federal government services, such as humanitarian assistance, support for entrepreneurs, information technology, health research and training to spot phony travel documents.

Its findings involve a wide range of government missions and touch virtually all major federal departments and agencies, wrote Gene L. Dodaro, the U.S. Comptroller General and head of the GAO.

Here's a sample of what is inside the GAO report, delivered to Congress Tuesday:

-Costing $2.6 billion in 2010, there are 53 programs administered across four agencies -- totaling $2.6 billion -- that provide technical assistance for business training, research and development support, financial aid from grants and loans, and help on landing government contracts. For instance, Department of Housing and Urban Development runs 12 programs to provide technical and financial assistance, while the Small Business Administration runs 19.

-Thousands of investments in information technology services cost $79 billion in the 2011 fiscal year. The GAO took a sample of 810 investments across the Energy, Defense and Homeland Security departments and found 37 were duplicated at two of the agencies.

-There needs to be better sharing of information on health research spending between the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Department, and Department of Veterans Affairs -- a total of more than $40 billion in fiscal year 2010, according to the report. While the GAO notes that research funding on the same topic can be necessary, there are no safeguards to prevent duplication of health research funding, which in fiscal year 2010 cost more than $40 billion.

-Defense spending, always a massive portion of the federal budget, contained several areas where programs were duplicated. For instance, the report found overlapping programs for electronic attack systems, unmanned aircraft systems, humanitarian and stabilization efforts abroad.

White House Pushes Consolidation Efforts

Danny Werfel, an official in the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a blog post the GAO's analysis was a snapshot in time released without taking into account President Barack Obama's 2013 budget proposal, which included significant reforms in 21 areas highlighted in the report.

Werfel also said Obama has pushed proposals to speed up consolidation efforts and legislation to merge six business and trade agencies. Obama had also launched an effort spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden to get agencies to reduce spending by sniffing out waste and fraud.

The Administration will not wait for congressional action. Where we can, we are taking aggressive action to eliminate overlap and reduce fragmentation administratively across government, said Werfel, the controller for the OMB's Office of Federal Financial Management.

The GAO report stemmed from a 2010 vote on raising the debt limit, which included an amendment from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn requiring the office to identify duplicate programs.

Congress is wasting hundreds of billions of dollars every year because it has created duplicative and fragmented programs, many of which are producing little or no value for taxpayers, said Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican. Even worse, Congress has done almost nothing to address problem areas GAO has already identified.

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