GAO: Government not cutting waste

Congress and the Obama administration have scrapped just a fraction of the duplicative programs targeted for cuts by Government Accountability Office (GAO), the agency’s chief told lawmakers Wednesday.

Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro said just 12 percent of more than 300 recommendations issued by GAO since 2011 to eliminate, combine or modify duplicative programs have been fully carried out.

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“You just need to be organized better to tackle the problem,” Dodaro said during testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The hearing follows the release of the latest in a series of GAO reports finding billions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted on government overlap spread across dozens of federal agencies.

Among its findings is the existence of two separate programs responsible for federal catfish inspections, 76 different drug abuse programs and a general lack of coordination between departments charged with providing veterans services.

The Pentagon has wasted $82 million in unnecessary expenses for military uniforms that now come in seven different camouflage patterns. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is in danger of losing $8.35 billion over 10 years on an unproven Medicare Advantage bonus program, the GAO found.

The report identified billions more in revenue lost as a result of untargeted enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service and dozens of contracts awarded by the Department of Homeland Security that overlapped with activities already conducted elsewhere in the department. Together the contracts totaled roughly $66 million.

“A lot of it is associated with stupidity,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the panel’s top Republican.

Coburn blamed much of the waste on a lack of metrics in place to monitor the effectiveness of programs and Congress’s unwillingness to approve legislation aimed at reducing the problem.

For example, he pointed to the SKILLS Act, a bill to consolidate a host of federal workforce development programs. The legislation has stalled in the Senate after passing the House in March.

Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said there’s no easy fix for many of the problems identified by the GAO.

“The issues cut across various departments and long standing federal programs that have entrenched constituencies and, in many cases, provide the public with much-needed services,” said Carper. “It is time, then, for Congress and the executive branch to roll up our sleeves and get to work solving these issues.” 

Dodaro said the GAO has seen progress on a number of fronts. The executive or legislative branches have taken some action to address roughly two-thirds of the recommendations, leaving only 21 percent completely untouched.

“We think there’s some traction,” Dodaro said.

President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal included more than 215 cuts, consolidations and other savings that, together, are projected to save more than $25 billion.

Federal lawmakers are also working on numerous fronts to weed out duplicative programs.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), for example, said this week they would introduce an amendment to the farm bill to repeal the Agriculture Department’s superfluous $14 million catfish inspection program.

But Congress must do more, Dodaro said. He said House and Senate committees would have to increase their oversight of government agencies to ensure they address the recommendations. Since many of the issues cut across jurisdictional lines, joint-committee hearings could be in order, he said.

Dodaro also urged aggressive implementation of the 2010 Government Performance and Results Act, which requires agencies to set goals and priorities for programs, conduct data-driven reviews and monitor success.