'Sometimes it's useful to have multiple small programs'
First, keep your eye out for attempts to turn the GAO report into a fight not over waste, but the over the actual programs themselves. Perhaps federal homelessness programs really could be run better, but my guess is that what Coburn and a lot of his allies really want is simply to slash funding for homelessness programs. Exaggerated accusations of waste and duplication are a convenient cudgel in that fight, but that's all they are.
Second, it's worth keeping in mind that sometimes it's useful to have multiple small programs instead of one big coordinated program because small programs can experiment with different approaches to see what works best instead of being stifled by a single big bureaucracy. It's also the case that sometimes it's actually more efficient to have multiple programs. A homelessness program aimed at helping municipal governments is probably best run out of an agency that already deals with municipal governments and doesn't have to reinvent the wheel just to figure out who the players are and how to do outreach. Ditto for programs aimed at church groups, nonprofits, law enforcement, etc.
As he notes, the fact that we have five programs, each with a $250 million budget, doing worker training doesn't mean we only need one program. It means there might be a case for combining the five programs and either spending less or more, depending on whether we feel it'll help us achieve our goals. But this is why people who want to see government work better have to be out in front on these kinds of efforts. The point of ferreting out possible inefficiencies in government is to get to a more efficient government. But if the people discovering duplication and fragmentation and possible pockets of waste are people who primarily want to cut the size of the government, then that'll color how their findings are sold.
| March 2, 2011; 2:55 PM ET
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