Goverment Waste: From the Horse’s Mouth

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in the past few days to “identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives, either within departments or governmentwide, which have duplicative goals or activities.” They identified 34 areas where agencies have overlapping missions or provide similar services to similar populations. They also identified 47 other areas where Congress might be able to reduce the cost of providing government services.

Some of the areas for improvement don’t actually involve consolidating programs, and just represent programs that even the GAO is willing to concede are poorly thought out. Ethanol policy gets a nod at $5.7 billion. Consolidating Department of Defense procedural medical operations could save as much as $470 million annually. Certain farm subsidies are included at an unnecessary cost of up to $5 billion annually. A number of opportunities were presented for the IRS.

There were a few striking forms of government efficiency worth re-pasting here (pp6-7): There are 31 different agencies within the Department of Defense involved in securing urgent wartime needs. There are 15 different agencies involved in food safety monitoring, making “coordination” difficult. 24 different federal agencies help manage federal data centers. The federal “approach” to surface transportation involves five different agencies within the Department of Transportation and over 100 different programs.

Before the government runs an increasingly larger deficit or forces U.S. citizens to fork over an even larger portion of their paychecks, is it that unreasonable to ask for even a slightly more efficient government? Unfortunately, these issues are difficult to solve with numerous agencies pushing back at consolidation and the costs diffused among the public. The GOP struggled to agree on $60 billion on cuts last month. I suspect they could have found $30 billion more just from this report.

The GAO might also consider studying the effects of conflicting government goals that result in waste — Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign comes to mind, conflicting with a number of federal food subsidies that encourage obesity.