GAO: Government overlap costing billions

The federal government could save billions of dollars a year by streamlining its efforts in a wide range of policy areas, from autism research to AIDS initiatives, according to a new federal report.

The Government Accountability Office highlighted more than two dozen areas where the federal initiatives have too much overlap or other inefficiencies in the report, its fourth in as many years on the subject. Those findings add on to the more than 160 parts of the bureaucracy the GAO urged changes to in the previous reports.

“The federal government faces an unsustainable fiscal path. Changing this path will likely require difficult fiscal policy decisions to alter both long-term federal spending and revenue,” Gene Dodaro the U.S. comptroller general, wrote in a letter accompanying the report.

“Yet, in the near-term, executive branch agencies and Congress can act to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and activities.”

The new report found five areas in the Pentagon alone that could benefit from streamlining, including a single Air Force base that has 10 separate satellite programs operated by eight different control centers.

The Defense Department has already moved to make fixes in one of the areas cited by the GAO report, saying its seeking to consolidate efforts to search for prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

Elsewhere, more than 80 percent of the government’s autism research could be duplicative, the GAO found. Ten separate Health and Human Services agencies and offices gave out grants for AIDS outreach efforts to minority communities.

The Office of International Religious Freedom and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, both created by a 1998 law, have no plan for how they should interact. And the report found that the Energy Department had more than $4 billion remaining in an environmentally friendly vehicle loan program that it didn’t have any plans to use.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a longtime critic of bureaucratic overlap, said in a statement that “turning this ready-made list of cuts into savings is one of the best ways Congress can regain the trust and confidence of the American people.”

But Coburn, who wrote the measure requiring the reports, also said that Congress and President Obama had yet to grab too much of the low-hanging fruit identified by the GAO.

“Congress, particularly the appropriations committees, has no excuse to not achieve these savings when GAO has already done much of Congress’ work for it,” he said.

In all, Coburn’s office says that Congress and the White House have only fully addressed about a third of the 380 recommendations contained in the first three reports. Another 44 percent were partially addressed, and almost one-fifth of the recommendations weren’t addressed at all.