Gardner on GAO report: Massive waste

Sen. Mark Udall

When was the last time you heard a politician campaign on promises of cutting government waste? When was the last time those promises turned out to be empty? When was the last time waste turned out to mean schools and health care?

Maybe it is different this time.

Earlier this month the Government Accountability Office released a 350-page report identifying duplication in federal programs. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for politicians to grab the report and promise to use it for something beside weight lifting.

Maybe Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner and Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall were on to something when each announced legislation to force Congress to examine ways to use the information as a means to actually cut waste from the federal budget.

The report is tantalizing with its tawdry promises of free money for the grabbing. One person familiar with the report told The Colorado Independent that it is possible Congress could cut as much as $200 billion a year from the federal budget by eliminating or combining duplicate programs and services.

From Reuters:

Duplicating, overlapping and fragmented government agencies are wasting tens of billions of federal dollars every year, according to a GAO study…

From a summary of the report itself:

Section I presents 34 areas where agencies, offices, or initiatives have similar or overlapping objectives or provide similar services to the same populations; or where government missions are fragmented across multiple agencies or programs. These areas span a range of government missions: agriculture, defense, economic development, energy, general government, health, homeland security, international affairs, and social services. Within and across these missions, this report touches on hundreds of federal programs, affecting virtually all major federal departments and agencies. Overlap and fragmentation among government programs or activities can be harbingers of unnecessary duplication. Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of tax dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services.

For example, while the Department of Defense is making limited changes to the governance of its military health care system, broader restructuring could result in annual savings of up to $460 million. Similarly, we developed a range of options that could reduce federal revenue losses by up to $5.7 billion annually by addressing potentially duplicative policies designed to boost domestic ethanol production.

Gardner has sponsored legislation in the House that would instruct each House committee to look at any areas mentioned in the report that fall under that committee’s purview and determine if unnecessary duplications exist and what can be done to eliminate such duplication where it does exist.

Gardner released this statement:

Recently, a report released by the Government Accountability Office made headlines when it identified billions of dollars of duplicative government programs and functions. Examples included more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 82 monitoring teacher quality, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training and 20 devoted to homelessness.

The amount of waste detailed in the 345-page report is mind-boggling. It is time to dig into why there are so many different programs with overlapping purposes and whether or not they need to be eliminated or combined.

To that end, I have teamed up with Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan, to introduce a bipartisan resolution that will call for the relevant congressional committees to hold hearings on all of the programs deemed duplicative by the GAO. The hearings will have to be held within 90 days of the report’s release.

From a prepared statement issued by Udall:

I partnered with Senator Orrin Hatch to introduce legislation that would establish a bipartisan Senate committee to identify and eliminate ineffective or redundant government programs. The Committee to Reduce Government Waste would add teeth to our efforts to streamline the federal government and thus save taxpayers’ dollars and strengthen the economy by chipping away at the national debt.

The Senate has dozens of committees dedicated to writing new legislation and creating new government programs. Most programs are created with good intentions, but in too many cases, Congress has also created a redundant and wasteful bureaucracy rather than strategically targeting resources where they are needed. This committee would do more than just recognize that spending cuts need to be made to put our country back on the right track; it would identify redundant and wasteful programs that can be cut or consolidated and push them onto the Senate floor for an expedited vote.

Government waste is not a new problem, and this committee is not a new idea. A similar committee was created by Senator Harry F. Byrd in response to the rising costs of WWII. The Byrd Committee was a great success, saving more than $38 billion in today’s dollars over just three years, and I believe that reviving this idea to address our modern budget crisis can be equally effective.

Gardner’s office did not return a call seeking further comment.

Udall responded to questions via email:

“Most government programs are created with the best intentions – but over time, we end up with a bureaucracy of programs with overlapping and even redundant missions. The problem is that the lawmakers who created the programs in the first place are often reluctant to cut them, and if we ask those lawmakers to make the decisions about what to cut, we’re not likely to get very far. The most efficient way to trim the fat is to create an objective, bipartisan committee with the single mission of finding redundancies and recommending cuts or ways programs can share resources. We’ve done it before – after World War II, a similar committee saved more than $38 billion in today’s dollars – and we can do it again,” Udall wrote.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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