It’s déjà vu all over again.
The federal government is spending tens of billions of dollars each year on programs that serve virtually the same purpose, a government watchdog says in a new report.
The Government Accountability Office has issued a report every year since 2011 flagging a number of overlapping programs that should be consolidated to save tax dollars. Last year alone, some $45 billion was spent on redundant programs, the GAO said.
This year’s report, released today before a Congressional Oversight and Government Reform hearing, recommends 24 actions Congress and the executive branch could take to cut down on duplication, fragmentation and inefficiencies in 12 areas across the federal government.
For example, the report recommends closing or consolidating underused Defense Department facilities valued at about $850 billion in 2013. Lawmakers should also consider repealing the U.S. Family Health Plan, part of the DOD’s Military Health System, the auditors suggested. It provides essentially the same benefits that military personnel already receive through the Tricare health care program.
While the report has plenty of recommendations for the Pentagon, other departments such as Health and Human Services are also major targets for cost savings. Congress should consider changing the way Medicare pays cancer hospitals, the auditors say, to save $500 million per year.
“Advances in techniques and drugs have increased treatment options and allowed for more localized delivery of care,” the GAO report said. “The primary setting for cancer care has shifted from the inpatient setting to the outpatient setting. In addition, Medicare’s current payment system better recognizes the resource intensity of hospital care than the system put in place in 1983.”
The report targets other wasteful and duplicative programs. For example, a whopping 42 different programs within six different federal departments (no, these are not typos) offer transportation to Americans to help them get to the doctor. Eight different federal agencies handle consumer product safety issues. There are 112 different mental health programs within the federal government — and two agencies inspect the same government labs within the same year.
The GAO’s annual report generally receives a fair amount of attention from lawmakers and agency officials who have at least attempted to take up some of the recommendations in the past.
Auditors say that so far Congress and agencies have taken up 169 recommendations out of the 440 that have been put forward — for a savings of about $20 billion. However, GAO said that if Congress takes up more of its recommendations it could realize tens of billions in additional savings.
“As the fiscal pressures facing the government continue, so too does the need for executive branch agencies and Congress to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and activities,” the report says. “Such opportunities exist throughout government. ”
It’s now in the agencies’ hands as well as the hands of Congress to deal with the GAO’s latest recommendations.
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