More Duplication in Government

April 17, 2015
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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases an annual report on government duplication, fragmentation, and overlap. Since 2011 GAO has highlighted 440 different actions that Congress and the president could take to reduce this wasteful spending. This week, GAO released its updated report and included an additional 66 actions.

Here is a sample of items from this year’s report:

  • Consumer Product Safety Overlap. GAO found that more than 20 federal agencies are involved with the oversight of consumer products. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for overseeing the safety of children’s toys, but the National Institute of Standards and Technologies oversees toy guns. GAO noted that the current structure does not “leverage each agency’s expertise and therefore may not be the most efficient use of scarce federal resources.”
  • Nonemergency Medical Transportation. GAO found 42 programs within the federal government that provide nonemergency medical transportation. These programs focus on enrollees who are unable to provide their own transportation because of age, income, or disability. GAO noted that many of these programs target “similar beneficiaries … and engage in similar activities.” It noted that a coordination council was created to eliminate some of these issues, but the council hasn’t met since 2008. “Without proper controls, cost or ride sharing with other non-Medicaid programs could allow for improper payments for individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid,” GAO reported.
  • Serious Mental Illness. Eight federal agencies, overseeing more than 100 programs, support individuals with serious mental illness, with 30 of those programs “specifically targeting individuals with serious mental illness.” GAO estimated that the 30 programs spent $6 billion in fiscal year 2013. While rules are in place requiring the programs to coordinate their activities, GAO said that coordination was “largely absent.”

Aside from wasting money, this “fragmentation can result in unclear roles,” reports the GAO:

Although it may be appropriate for multiple agencies or entities to be involved in the same programmatic or policy area due to the nature or magnitude of the federal effort, the instances of fragmentation, overlap, or duplication we describe … occur in areas where multiple programs and activities may be creating inefficiencies.

Even with GAO’s long-time spotlight on these issues, Congress and the president are slow to fix problems. Of the 440 previous recommendations highlighted by GAO, only 37 percent have been fully addressed, and a full 20 percent have not been addressed at all.

As Congress and the president seek to set spending levels for next year, the GAO recommendations offer straightforward ways to cut and reprioritize spending.

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