This isn’t “news” in the sense that any half awake Zombie knows the truth of it. Nor is it shocking, or even necessarily surprising that the government wastes up to $100 billion in duplication of services and overlapping responsibilities.
It is, what it is: The American government in the 21st century — out of control, massively and ineptly wasteful of taxpayer money, and staffed by people who really don’t care much about it one way or the other.
According to the Government Accountability Agency’s 2012 annual report, nearly every department of the Executive Branch has room for improvement.
The report, which gives 51 areas and recommends 130 actions, follows a 2011 GAO report that showed 81 areas and 176 actions to be taken to “reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation or achieve other potential financial benefits.”
“Collectively, these reports show that, if the actions are implemented, the government could potentially save tens of billions of dollars annually,” Gene Dodaro, comptroller general for the U.S., said in remarks prepared for Tuesday’s hearing in the House Oversight and Government Relations Committee.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also a witness Tuesday, estimated that waste and duplication costs taxpayers more like $100 billion per year.
“Not one corner of our daily life remains untouched by a government program or federal effort,” Coburn said in testimony being delivered Tuesday. “From what we eat and drink, to where we live, work, and socialize, nearly every aspect of human behavior and American society are addressed by multiple government programs.”
Coburn said last year’s report listed more than 100 surface transportation programs; 88 economic development programs; 82 teacher quality programs; 56 financial literacy programs; 47 job training programs; 20 homelessness prevention and assistance programs; 18 food for the hungry programs; and 17 disaster response and preparedness programs.
That’s government progress for you; from 81 areas down to 51 areas and 176 actions down to 130 in a year. One would think when we’re talking about $100 billion that there might be a little greater sense of urgency, a little better priority setting by the departments. But the agencies don’t see it as their job to save money. Efficiency isn’t rewarded the same way that coming up with ingenious ideas to spend money is. Ergo, a culture exists that doesn’t necessarily encourage waste — it just doesn’t punish it.
But then, who really cares? A few fuddy-duddy conservatives — most of them not even in Congress — might make a stink on the blogs and in conservative media, but the news (or should I say non-news) rarely makes it on the cable nets or any other major media outlet. A page 16, one column wire report in the Washington Post, perhaps. Will the New York Times even care enough to put in a Page Six column?
And what of the departments themselves? Has $100 billion of our money become chump change — the flotsam and jetsam of a government trying to do too much for too many? The excuse “They’ve got more important things to do” is ridiculous. Of course there is nothing more important for cabinet secretaries than to manage the resources they are given in a prudent and proper manner. In this task, most of them receive a failing grade.
Ultimately, the buck stops at the president’s desk. And President Obama is far too busy thinking up new ways to spend money to care much about how it’s been allocated in the past.