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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

Government overlap costs taxpayers billions, GAO reports

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Updated 3:15 p.m. ET
You think the government redundancies President Obama recently griped about were bad? Federal auditors found plenty more.

During his State of the Union address, Obama noted that 12 federal agencies or offices deal with international trade and at least two regulate salmon. Top administration officials are planning to revamp how the government handles trade issues -- and may later turn to other programs.

They'll have plenty to choose from, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday. The U.S. government has more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 82 monitoring teacher quality, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training, 20 offices or programs devoted to homelessness and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness. Another 15 agencies or offices handle food safety, and five are working to ensure the federal government uses less gasoline.

"Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services," the GAO said. Merging or terminating operations as recommended in the report could save up to several billion dollars.

The study, mandated last year as part of legislation raising the federal debt limit, is likely to be cited by lawmakers pushing for deeper spending cuts as part of ongoing budget negotiations. Several congressional offices received advanced copies of the report on Monday; The Washington Post obtained a written summary from congressional aides.

"This report will make us look like jackasses," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who read the report, told reporters Monday. He sponsored the amendment requiring the report's publication.

An outspoken critic of government waste, Coburn has said that Congress and the executive branch are equally to blame for failing to control spending. Last Halloween, his office published a report concluding that the federal government has paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000.

A considerable amount of the GAO report focuses on redundancies at the Pentagon -- where leaders are already pushing for budget cuts. Each military service maintains separate buildings, computers and personnel to address the health concerns of service members and veterans, but they could all be merged together, the report said.

A 2006 Defense Department study recommended a unified medical command, but nothing came of it. The idea could have saved taxpayers between $281 million and $460 million, the GAO said. Consolidating the Pentagon's contract acquisition offices, military intelligence operations and efforts to track improvised explosive devices could save tens of billions more, it said.

Much of the Obama administration's economic stimulus program has relied on the distribution of federal highway construction dollars, but the government's approach to the issue remains mired in the 1950s, auditors said. Federal transportation issues now involve more than 6,000 workers at five agencies within the Transportation Department, running about 100 separate funding streams for highways, transit systems, rail and transportation safety, the report said. The overlap costs an estimated $58 billion annually.

Through the years, several GAO reports have explored the issue of government redundancy, most recently reporting last month that nine federal agencies spend $18 billion a year on 47 separate job training programs. All but three of the programs overlap with others.

As The Federal Eye and colleague Karen Tumulty reported in January, presidents since Harry Truman have tried slicing through the morass of the federal government's structure, often bumping up against powerful special interest groups and congressional committees wary of curtailing their oversight powers.

"It is a situation in which small, narrowly based groups who have what they want and are afraid of losing it inevitably have proven stronger than large groups with more or less amorphous and less single-minded attitudes," Caspar W. Weinberger, President Richard M. Nixon's budget director, wrote in 1978 as he recalled a six-month initiative that merged the government's domestic functions into four super-departments.

Since then, Bill Clinton's "reinventing government" initiative cut the size of the federal workforce, and Obama, a former senator and close colleague of Coburn, spoke during his presidential campaign about the need to make the government work better.

"The president has made it a priority to reform government and make it more effective and efficient for the American people, which is why his budget reflects a commitment to streamlining government and saving taxpayer dollars," White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in response to the report.

Upon taking office, Obama quickly appointed a chief performance officer, a new position meant to tackle government organizational issues.

Jeffrey D. Zients, who holds the position, will lead Obama's efforts to overhaul federal trade issues and is also leading efforts to reduce the government's real estate portfolio. His colleagues Aneesh Chopra and Vivek Kundra -- the government's chief technology and chief information officers, respectively -- are also working on consolidating 2,100 data centers used by federal agencies.

A good idea, according to GAO. The government used just 432 data centers in 1998, and consolidating the ones used today could save taxpayers up to $200 billion in the next decade.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: Jay Carney makes his Twitter debut. Clarence Thomas's speech draws new criticism. What's the role of the national security adviser?

CIA:
African commission asked to take case challenging CIA 'rendition' program: The case could open a new front in efforts by human rights groups to hold the CIA and its partners accountable for what they claim was the torture of innocent victims in secret "black sites" prisons around the world.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT:
Synthetic marijuana widely used at Naval Academy: Midshipmen are using it because it cannot be detected in routine drug tests.

FAA:
Agencies spar over air safety data: The FAA is locked in a dispute with accident investigators over a sensitive safety issue: Who should have access to data that airlines voluntarily provide to the government?

Bill to criminalize laser pranks advances: People who knowingly aim laser pointers at aircraft would be committing a federal crime subject to up to five years in prison under a measure passed by the House on Monday. The Senate approved the measure a month ago.

FBI:
Massey official charged with lying to FBI in mine investigation: Hughie Elbert Stover, chief of security at the Upper Big Branch mine, was indicted on charges of making false statements to federal agents and obstructing a federal investigation by trying to dispose of key documents.

Private spies aid FBI in Afghan investigation: Not long after the Pentagon severed its relationship with a private spy network operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the FBI quietly tapped the same group to help investigate the killing of 10 medical aid workers.

IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT:
ICE chief defends Web site seizures: The federal government has seized the domain names of more than 100 Web sites it says have illegally live-streamed sporting events and otherwise offered pirated American music and movies and counterfeit luxury goods.

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT:
Interior makes new drilling permit official: The Obama administration announced the first permit allowing for new production in deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico since last year's BP spill.

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION:
SSA encouraging eligible employees to retire early: Employees age 50 or older with at least 20 years of creditable service are eligible, as are employees of any age with a minimum of 25 years service.

TREASURY DEPARTMENT:
U.S. freezes Libyan assets, takes steps to aid refugees: The action was taken under an executive order issued Friday by President Obama.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | March 1, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Oversight, Turf War  
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Next: Poll: Majority backs government workers in unions

Comments

We have the Unions which are just government sponsored parasites and the invading horde of criminal and uneducated parasites versus tax paying American citizens, with all of the power and media supporting the parasites!

Posted by: blowe09 | March 1, 2011 6:58 AM | Report abuse

Public Unions are just the Mob Collection agent for the Democrat Party. One would have to be brain dead not to recognize the inherent corruption in Democrat politicians rewarding unions with tax payers money in return for votes and money! In fact, the Unions and their hired Politicians have been so corrupt & greedy they are bankrupting this Nation!

Posted by: blowe09 | March 1, 2011 7:02 AM | Report abuse

Good report by the GAO - looks like we can cut thousandsof these government worker bloodsuckers without missing a beat and saving billions on the budget deficit!

Posted by: Realist201 | March 1, 2011 7:28 AM | Report abuse

Today, 1 March 2011 the General Accounting Office will release a damning and well researched report on duplication of resources, funding and staffing across federal agencies that results in multiple billions of dollars a year in excessive and unnecessary federal outlays.

The U.S. Coast Guard budget is a primary example of wasteful spending because of this duplication. This is specifically because of the fact that its missions are handled by other agencies at some level of government. Out of those missions only Search and Rescue is the core mission of that agency.

Aids to Navigation, Marine Inspection, Marine Environmental Protection, Naval Defense, Maritime Law Enforcement and Boating Safety are all being handled, in whole or in part, by other federal, state or local agencies. Since its inception in 1915,when it was born by the combining of the Revenue Cutter Service, the Federal Lighthouse Service, the Surfboat Service and the Marine Inspection Bureau the U.S. Coast Guard has fought vigorously to over reach in its mission tasking in order to justify its existence.

We simply cannot afford this anymore. Even the U.S. Air Force has a large Search and Rescue mandate that it shares with the U.S. Coast Guard. All of the other mission areas noted in the paragraph above are duplications of effort and resources that we can no longer afford.

The U.S. Coast Guard is probably 50% larger than it needs to be in order to meet its primary mission capability of Search and Rescue. It needs to be reduced in size at this time of funding limitation.

I have extensive experience with the U.S. Coast Guard since I served on active duty for almost 25 years and I do not believe that it needs to be as big as it presently is in order to satisfy its core mission tasking of Search and Rescue.

This entire budget over-reach by the Coast Guard needs to be looked at carefully and adjustments made.

CWO3 Tom Barnes USCG (Ret.)

Posted by: Barnes848 | March 1, 2011 7:37 AM | Report abuse

GAO to release report on federal spending that one senator says 'will make us all look like jackasses'
------------------------------------------
Make us look like jackasses??????? I been thinking that quite a while now.

Posted by: corebanks1940 | March 1, 2011 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Why is the President complaining? This inefficient waste creates jobs for which people are paid by the government. It stimulates the economy, right?

At least, that's the only plan they seem to be able to concieve. They've even trotted out Mr. Zandi to try to sell us the same nonsense a third time.

We should have MORE redundancy in government if government hiring could actually stimulate the economy.

But it doesn't.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | March 1, 2011 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Rationalizing the structure of the federal government is not exactly a new idea. I suspect GAO had a pretty easy time composing this report since all they had to do was go to their archives and extract information from previous studies. This situation will not be corrected until it includes congress. The committee and subcommittee structure in congress is a huge barrier to making changes in the structure of the executive branch. Take a look at how many committees and subcommittees the Dept. of Homeland Security has to respond to on a routine matters. Talk about non-value added work by the federal government. There are huge opportunities for saving if the "care and feeding" of congress can be simplified by reducing the number of congressional committees and sub-committees. If that were to happen, maybe congress could pass appropriation bills by October 1 each year like they are supposed to do. Anyone care to wager whether congress will do anything to fix this problem? I have money that says they won't do anything other than criticize the executive branch.

Posted by: cdierd1944 | March 1, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Gargantuan level of waste in government ??

I am shocked !!

Posted by: bandcyuk | March 1, 2011 8:34 AM | Report abuse

What a surprise, the Gov't is waiting Billions of dollars!!!!!! So what's the Administration going to do about it??? My guess is very little unless taxpayers demand it.

Posted by: Jimbo77 | March 1, 2011 9:07 AM | Report abuse

There is need for different overlapping government agencies, because they represent different constituencies.

For instance, there is a group that represents the agribusiness, genetically modified crop "sustainable farming" and there is a group that represents locally grown, cultivation process based sustainable agriculture.

For salmon one group in needed to regulate for the salmons survival, another for the short term profits of foreign companies investing in the salmon harvest, etc.

If you want a government representing a world wide mess, you need a messy goverment.

It would certainly be cheaper to only have a one party government, like China's. Is the extra cost of a coalitions of interest worth it?

Posted by: Don19 | March 1, 2011 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Of course, this is the same government which Obama proposes to dramatically expand through regulating our health care and creating czars for everything (26 at last count).

How many more porn-surfing feds do we want to pay? By the way, how many of those surfing porn instead of working were fired? Z E R O. Gotta love those union benefits...

Posted by: hill_marty | March 1, 2011 9:24 AM | Report abuse

Last time I checked, Federal Government Agencies and responsibilities were determined by Congressional mandate. Don't blame the Feds, they're just obeying the laws, often conflicting, that Congress has passed.

Posted by: blimy1 | March 1, 2011 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Dept of Homeland Security has 22 Agencies that report to 88 different congressional subcommittees.

That's not a problem caused by the Executive Branch.

Posted by: minstrelmike | March 1, 2011 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Ya know, from inside that wasting monstrosity . . . things which appear to have overlap, like the salmon the President mentioned, are often either the result of Congressional authorizations (i.e. how statutes are written telling the government what to do), or the conflation of similar sounding words by analysts who don't know what the programs really do.

Take the salmon case - yes, on paper both the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce manage Atlantic salmon under the Endangered Species Act. Interior works in freshwater, and Commerce works in salt water, they also split duties habitat restoration in rivers in Maine. If you actually look at the program, what you find is that, rather then overlapping, they are complimentary. Interestingly, salmon on the west coast are managed only by the Commerce Department, in part due to lessons learned with Atlantic Salmon. But you didn't hear that in the President's speech, nor will you find this sort of admission in the GAO report - it's too easy to conflate similar sounding stuff when you want to make a rhetorical point.

So before we go throw the baby out with the bathwater, let's make sure we really understand WHY there are so many offices and programs that APPEAR to deal with similar issues. Just because two different high schools in the same district teach the same curriculum doesn't mean they overlap - why should we just assume the feds are any different based on the names they call things?

Posted by: kcsphil | March 1, 2011 9:47 AM | Report abuse

If the best government is that which governs least, I guess there are two ways to get there:

1.) To have a small government
2.) To have a large but inefficient government.

A large, efficient government would be, on this principle a bad one.
So we should count government inefficiency among our blessings.

Posted by: Don19 | March 1, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Senator Coburn estimates the GOA Report identifies between $100 billion and $200 billion in duplicate spending. This results in zero accountability when you have dozens of federal agencies doing nearly the same thing.

The GAO Report found 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality; 80 to help disadvantaged people with transportation; 47 for job training and employment; and 56 to help people understand finances.

The FDA makes sure that chicken eggs are "safe, wholesome, and properly labeled" while the Department of Agriculture "is responsible for the safety of eggs processed into egg products."

How many different spy agencies does the Federal government have?

Posted by: alance | March 1, 2011 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Good ideas...reform these areas and save the money; however, we're missing the big picture. These are not areas where government spending is growing at an uncontrollable rate. Healthcare is where the real problems are. Until the federal government gets serious about reforming Medicare and Medicaid, nothing else will make much of a difference to our deficits.

Posted by: chadborman | March 1, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, once a program or agency is created, its primary mission becomes survival, rather than solving whatever problem it was designed to address.

I hope the Obama administration takes the GAO report seriously, and eliminates the redundancies, along with their supporting contractors.


Posted by: postfan1 | March 1, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Obama should also look with The White House for structural problems that impede progress and cost money and time. For instance, OMB's mandatory review of policies created by agencies can add 12-24 months of delay in implementation. In the electronic age, this review would appear to be work that could be conducted outside of the expensive National Capital Area on alternative schedules, to ensure that policy keeps pace with organizational demands across the government.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | March 1, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

At the end of the day, we will see exactly how much the BUSH Administration wasted in taxpayer funds.

Posted by: Sincear2021 | March 1, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

"82 monitoring teacher quality, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training, 20 offices or programs devoted to homelessness"

None of which are even the responsibility of the federal government.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | March 1, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Also worthy of note: The report covers only duplication at the Federal level. Another glaringly obvious waste, to me anyway, is the concept of Federal taxes that are then sent back to the states. This is an unnecessary duplication of bureaucratic processes that must result in a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.

If a state or local program relies mainly on Federal grants for operation, we have an added level of bureaucrats that isn't needed.

Local agencies develop there budgets and submit them to the state. The state submits its consolidated budget to a Federal agency (or more, as the GAO report states). The Federal agencies submit their budget to Congress. Congress wrangles with it, with the state representatives fighting for the most for their states (pork). (Meanwhile the IRS and Treasury are figuring out how many Federal tax dollars they collected - poorly as the IRS has never passed a GAO audit.) The Federal agencies are given their share of the approved budget.The Federal agencies load the budgets, taking out their administrative and operational costs, then pass the funds to the state agencies based on their grant applications. The state agencies pass the funds out to the state and local programs, after taking out their administrative and operating costs. The state and local programs use/pass the funds to the benefit of the citizens, after taking out their administrative and operating costs.

A truly inefficient system ripe for waste and abuse. If the funds are used mainly at the state level, get rid of the Federal agency control and the associated Federal tax. The states will need to raise their tax rate to compensate, but it will be less the cost of the Federal processes and bureaucracies.

Posted by: quark1 | March 1, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I am all for a more effective and efficient government. Systemic analysis of the entire government should be done on a regular basis. While there will likely be savings, it should be done with an emphasis on improving government performance and serving the public better, not to save a few bucks.

I am leery of politicians like Coburn with their anti-government bias trying to discredit the government with reports like this. We can all do everything we do better and more efficiently, and we should always try to refine our processes. There is, however, a big difference between improving government and government bashing. In a democracy, the government represents us and presenting it as an enemy force occupying our country only hurts ourselves and our freedoms.

Posted by: LeoNoVA | March 1, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for eliminating redundancy. This is the no-brainer stuff - these are the places where it makes nothing but sense to do something that will save money. It's the rest of the GOP's cuts I'm leery of.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | March 1, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Another way to save money throughout the US is to federalize school funding. All money goes to the Feds, instead of local boards - it would even out the huge issue of quality (due to lack of money) at a lot of schools in poorer neighborhoods.

Posted by: Georgetowner1 | March 1, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I noticed there's a lot of Walmarts in my city. Seems like a lot of overlap and a waste of resources.

Those overpaid, unionized Walmart employees should be fired and stripped of their benefits while the struggling CEO and executives have to pay out the nose to fill up their charter jet and yachts.

And what about McDonald's. There's one of those places on every corner!! They certainly don't need to pay all those employees to get your order wrong.

How about we consolidate them and put them all together and save money.

Posted by: TaxManCommeth | March 1, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

OK. If we got rid of Obama and some of His friends we could possibly SAVE 135 TRILLION over the next 10 years. As long as Democrats believe money grows on trees, we will be a nation heavily in debt.

Posted by: markypolo | March 2, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: dietfood | March 5, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Start by consolidating Social Security offices

Posted by: dritei | March 7, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

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