Little progress found in reducing waste by federal government

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Tuesday reported that the federal government has done little to address 81 areas GAO identified a year ago where the government duplicates its own efforts or fails to collect revenue it is owed. 

The report set off a new round of finger-pointing by the White House, which said lawmakers should give it the ability to make the government more efficient.

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More specifically, the White House said that the report underscores the need for Congress to grant President Obama enhanced powers to consolidate federal agencies. Since January, Obama has been seeking fast-track authority to combine trade agencies. 

Of the GAO problem areas, only four have been addressed completely: the streamlining of arms-control agencies, ethanol production, explosives investigation and a crackdown on the use of tax deductions by legal, non-resident aliens. 

Sixty areas have been addressed at least somewhat, while other areas have not been addressed at all. These include overlapping food assistance programs, border protection efforts, public health information systems and energy efficiency programs.

The GAO also identified 51 new areas of duplication and waste and said tens of billions of dollars can be saved through streamlining. These include addressing duplication in 209 science education programs, 160 housing assistance programs and 56 financial literacy programs.

One conservative lawmaker criticized Congress for not taking action since GAO identified the problem areas. 

“Congress has done almost nothing to address problem areas GAO has already identified. This report shows why Congress has a 9 percent approval rating,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Testifying before the House Oversight Committee, Comptroller General of the U.S. Gene Dodaro, who heads GAO, said that a special executive-legislative commission might be needed to root out the waste.

The Obama administration sought to paint the report in a positive light while criticizing Congress.

In a blog post, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Controller Danny Werfel said, "[N]early 80 percent of the issue areas for which GAO recommended action last year, and more than three-quarters of the recommendations for executive branch actions associated with those areas (76 percent) were addressed in some way.

“Congress addressed less than 40 percent of the GAO recommendations that required congressional action (39 percent) in some way,” OMB said.

Werfel also pointed out that the GAO report was completed before the 2013 budget was released on Feb. 13. 

Dodaro said Tuesday that 14 proposals in the budget could address GAO problem areas. He also said that to be fair to the administration, many of the 81 problem areas introduced in 2011 — the first such report — have been issues for years.

The range of actions by which items are partly addressed is wide. Many involve merely completing studies, starting to develop plans, or creating databases that don't quite work.

OMB points out that others involve "shutting down over 100 data centers to date and cutting well over $1.5 billion in real estate costs to date—and identifying over $3 billion in agency savings to be achieved by the end of the year."

Coburn praised the House for passing a bill to reform job training programs, which he described as the "most fragmented, stupid system I have ever seen in my life." 

The senator has offered an amendment to the highway bill before the Senate which would force OMB to find $10 billion by eliminating duplication identified by GAO.

This story was updated at 11:35 a.m.