Audit: Agencies still wasting billions with overlapping programs

A large number of federal programs are plagued with duplication, fragmentation and overlap, draining the government tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars every year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

A new 426-page report follows up on a similar document GAO released in 2011 and outlines 51 newly-identified areas of duplication, overlap and fragmentation across government and recommends 130 actions. The areas include IT, transportation, job training, homelessness prevention and disaster response efforts, among others.

“Whether carrying out similar missions or funding similar projects, everything the government is doing once it is likely doing twice or three times and often not very well,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said in his Feb. 28 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


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Among the examples of duplicative efforts were 53 programs run by four separate agencies to help entrepreneurs with economic development, as well as nearly $80 billion funneled into more than 7,200 IT investments.

While the Office of Management and Budget provides direction on how agencies can report on their IT investments, the guidance doesn’t ensure comprehensive reporting or aid the identification of duplicative investments.

GAO found that the departments of Homeland Security, Defense and Energy need to address potentially duplicative IT investments to avoid investing in unnecessary systems. Although all three agencies have processes to identify duplicative investments, GAO found that 37 of 810 investments were potentially duplicative at DOD and Energy.

These investments account for about $1.2 billion in IT spending for 2007 through 2012 for DOD and Energy. While the watchdog didn’t find any potentially duplicative investments at DHS, officials there have independently pinpointed several duplicative investments and systems. The department plans to consolidate systems within these investments by 2014 to save $41 million.

Officials from the three agencies provided various explanations for the potential duplication, including decentralized governance within the department and a lack of control over certain facilities. Certain investments are also misclassified by function, which complicates agency’s work in identifying duplicative investments.

Asked by the committee what causes the overall problem with duplication, Comptroller General and GAO head Gene Dodaro cited a lack of oversight and processes that would give insight into which programs work effectively. Coburn, on the other hand, singled out Congress as the main culprit, saying duplication was created by career politicians “seeking to slap short-term fixes on problems in order to claim credit at home and recognition in Washington.”

Office of Management and Budget Controller Danny Werfel wrote on the OMBlog that almost 80 percent of the issues GAO raised in 2011 had been addressed, either fully or partially. But Congress, on the other hand, had tackled less than 40 percent of GAO’s recommendations, he said.

“No matter how difficult it may be to cut this waste, the administration is committed to getting the job done,” Werfel commented.
 

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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