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Posted at 11:52 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

What the GAO thinks we can do without

By Ezra Klein

The Government Accountability Office has released a more than 300-page report tallying up 34 areas in which the government has duplicative, fragmented or overlapping programs, and an additional 47 areas where better management or spending decisions could save us money or raise revenue without any obvious loss to program effectiveness. Don't let the length of the report scare you off from giving it a look: The first set of recommendations is summarized on pages 5-7, and the second set on pages 155-158.

In general, I think conservatives tend to be more excited about these reports than liberals. Sen. Tom Coburn's office not only churns these sorts of reports out on a daily basis, but it also authored the amendment that led to the GAO producing this paper. That's a lost opportunity for liberals: It's the people who believe in government who should be angriest and most insistent on taking action when it fails to work, not the people who believe government can't work and see failure and inefficiency as proof for their argument. I give Coburn a lot of credit for the work he and his staff put in to identifying places where we could save money without hurting outcomes, but his crusade is inexcusably lonely. The Mark Warners of the world should be at least as loud on this issue. The necessary partner to big -- or at least biggish -- government is good government.

People will argue, of course, whether every item in here really is waste, fraud or abuse. But the GAO is considered pretty good at its job, and I think it's safe to say that most of this stuff is low-hanging fruit in terms of saving or raising money and making the bureaucracy work a little bit better. It won't solve our budget problems -- we need to get health-care costs under control to do that -- but it'd do some good. And that should be enough.

By Ezra Klein  | March 1, 2011; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

Getting rid of the funding for PBS is a good place to start. LOL

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 1, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Government works when it is small. When it is big you end up with all these programs that government does not follow to see if they work. They just passing bills and go on. As Thomas Paine once said.
"Government is best when it governs least.
I like this one the best."
"Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one."
As it is now.

Posted by: texasoil | March 1, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Obama embracing the report will make it toxic to Republicans or not. It seems like a good thing, it would be a shame if Obama didn't acknowledge it and an even bigger shame if Republicans flee as soon as Obama endorses its recommendations.

Posted by: will12 | March 1, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

This is Obama's fault. He created all these unnecessary government jobs and these people just push paper around.

Posted by: farmsnorton | March 1, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

With Internet and computers, It should be a No- Brainer to cut federal spending....Lets start with all the fed agencies/employees/nurses/doctors/clerical/aides- "that service the alcohol and drug abuse-"industry",-funding,-offices,-clinics,employee-overlapping, over overlap, like so many dogs fighting over the same bone...CUT IT!!

Posted by: stormpost | March 1, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

"That's a lost opportunity for liberals: It's the people who believe in government who should be angriest and most insistent on taking action when it fails to work"


But its so much easier for liberals to say the status quo works here but doesn't work in areas where they want it changed (ie healthcare). The fact that they don't see both sides (as you do Ezra) shows that they really don't care about the deficit either. If politicians are going to politicize every pet project then nothing's going to get done and we're going to simply get deeper and deeper into debt.

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 1, 2011 1:11 PM | Report abuse

farmsnorton wrote:

"This is Obama's fault. He created all these unnecessary government jobs and these people just push paper around"

That's right, he started just after his birth and has been going at it for about 45 years or so.

Haven't seen you around in a while, where ya been? Pretty obvious that you haven't been working on an education or anything!

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | March 1, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't see how they can possible cut spending without some sort of crisis.
The whole balloon is filled with comfortable multi-generational bureaucrats whose only goal is to make it bigger plusher and more bureaucratic. I'll bet that the Roman bureaucrats didn't do a thing about "the budget" until the Visgoths were banging on the door and even then I'll bet they couldn't agree on any cuts.
A more likely scenario fot us is a slow winding down of everyman's hopes and dreams as more and more people realize that they will be designated "lower-class" and that they will never have a shot at getting into the bureaucratic wagon.
As decades pass and we sink into an abject poverty, lorded over by a bureaucratic class who's only goal is the prominence and preservation of the bureaucratic class. The public debate will evolve into a harrowing dance with the secret police as every web page you see and every thought you type is duly noted by the bureaucracy.
If your spending patterns vary from what is acceptable you will be gently reprimanded if your confusion about just who it is who is in charge leads you to an oppositional stubborness you will be apprehended and corrected.
That's the future and if you make any move now to prevent it you will be set upon by the pack of braying dogs they call "the media" or surrounded and fined into submission by the keening wallet snatchers we refer to as "the bureaucracy".
Well, anyway, I've got to get my taxes paid, before the taxman knocks on my door.

Posted by: Cheesy1959 | March 1, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I do not see anything in these potential budget cut areas that would be too controversial, whether one is a conservative or a liberal, with the possible exception of some of the refinements regarding business taxation, but those seem relevant and should be pursued, in all probability. This is exactly what we should be doing; refinining, improving, streamlining government so that what resources we do have can be used wisely and justly. From the listings, I would think that there are probably many more areas, where maybe not the same mega savings might result, but quantitatively, when all are put together, could generate considerable savings as well. So, hopefully, everyone will get off their little soap box and just roll up their sleeves and get it done. Thanks for a really good article.

Posted by: rryder1 | March 1, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Our taxpayer dollars are being wasted with
duplicate government programs;
Our taxpayer dollars are being spent by public unions for political campaigns;
Taxpayers are tired of being "CHUMPS" for the Democratic party's purposes!
Wake up America, vote every democrat THIEF,
PARASITE out of office !
Republicans are on the right track: smaller
government: AMEN!

Posted by: ohioan | March 1, 2011 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Christ, of course there's waste, but there is waste *everywhere*, in every industry. Every place I've ever worked has featured its share of people who don't pull their weight, and that people are promoted to their point of incompetence is a truism.

What's laughable is that it should somehow be different because taxes are extracted from individuals to fund this. But there are unofficial "taxes" extracted from us all the time for goods and services that are de facto essential to our everyday lives. Consider health care, health insurance costs. Consider what affects the cost of gasoline (actual supply doesn't seem to be at issue in the latest spike). Consider prices of cable television, phone service, or internet contracts.

The distinction is that the government actually discloses information about its doings, and there is some accountability. It's also in the business of providing safety, and safety is never a sexy sale when you're paying to maintain the status quo, never mind that most people don't account for it.

Our population is spoiled.

Posted by: arm3 | March 1, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

" .... The distinction is that the government actually discloses information about its doings, and there is some accountability...."

Well, there is no competition for government to keep its costs in line. And, we have no choice about whether to buy its services. And, the money it runs on comes from people who pay for it through a collection mechanism, not on a "stated price for goods/services" model. And the people in charge of spending the money are at arm's length from the "customers". And the CEO keeps his job for 4 or 8 years, no matter how badly the operation is performing in terms of quality, cost, customer satisfaction, and efficiency. And the "fourth column" (press) cannot be as pointed as industry analysts are in calling out poor performance lest they lose their access to the powers that be. And those who finance the appointment of the potential power brokers are standing in line for paybacks.

Aside from those differences and a few that don't come to mind immediately, you're right. THE distinction is availability of detailed information.

Posted by: TerryOtt | March 1, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

On the issue of whether liberals should care about getting rid of redundancy in government, I agree with you.

I disagree that they should be jumping all over this report. This kind of report is incredibly easy to demagogue, and the more hype it receives, the more likely the right is to advance the argument that government is a hopelessly wasteful behemoth unworthy of public support.

Posted by: lrbrink90 | March 1, 2011 4:26 PM | Report abuse

We could really do without:
1. Barry Soetoro.
2. Nancy Pelosi.
3, Harry Reid.
4. Sen. Upchuck Schummer.
5. Newt Gingrich--he who might "..Steal The Election From The Repubs.

Posted by: fregameeate | March 2, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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