Will Congress Get Around to Scrapping Duplicative Programs?

WASHINGTON – The General Accounting Office offered a gift to the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee on Wednesday -- a laundry list of duplicative and overlapping programs within the federal government that can be eliminated to save taxpayers billions of dollars.

But it’s still not clear if Congress is in an accepting mood.

Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro reminded committee members that the GAO has provided guidance regarding unnecessary programs since 2011 and, while some positive steps have been taken, more needs to be done.

The GAO in the recent past has identified about 300 actions within 131 federal government programs that the White House and Congress could take to reduce or eliminate fragmentation, overlap, or duplication or achieve other potential financial benefits. As of March 6, according to the GAO, only about 12 percent of those areas were addressed, 66 percent were partially addressed, and 21 percent were not addressed at all.

Since March 6, the administration and Congress have taken additional steps -- President Obama proposed 215 cuts and consolidations in his 2014 budget package with an estimated savings of $25 billion. But Dodaro noted “as the fiscal pressures facing the nation continue, so too does the need for executive branch agencies and Congress to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and activities.”

“While the executive branch and Congress have made some progress in addressing the issues that we have previously identified, additional steps are needed to address the remaining areas to achieve associated benefits,” Dodaro said. “A number of the issues are difficult to address and implementing many of the actions identified will take time and sustained leadership.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking member, credited the GAO for citing $250 billion worth of duplications but expressed disappointment that “Congress has truly not acted.”

“As far as eliminating duplications, consolidating programs and actually making a difference for the American people, Congress is reticent to approach those things,” Coburn said.

Coburn urged the agency to make direct recommendations on programs that should be cut or shut down, asserting such a move would be a “powerful tool.”

This year’s GAO report identified 31 new areas where federal agencies could achieve greater efficiency or effectiveness, according to Dodaro. The Department of Defense could save as much as $82 million without adversely affecting the military’s level of performance by addressing the fragmented approach it takes in acquiring combat uniforms. In fact, the Pentagon doesn’t ensure equivalent levels of uniform performance and protection for service members conducting joint military operations in different uniforms, potentially exposing some to increased risk on the battlefield.

Since 2002, the military services have shifted from using two camouflage patterns to seven service-specific camouflage uniforms with varying patterns and colors. Although DOD established a board to help ensure collaboration and DOD-wide integration of clothing and textiles, Dodaro said the GAO found that none of the services has taken advantage of opportunities to reduce costs through partnering on inventory management or by collaborating on greater standardization.