Government Wastes More than the Cost of the Sequester
Business + Economy

Government Wastes More than the Cost of the Sequester


Disorganization across the federal government has led to billions of wasted tax dollars spent on redundant federal programs, from $30 million worth of catfish inspections performed by two separate agencies, to $66 million in contracts awarded by two different arms of the Department of Homeland Security unknowingly research the exact same thing.

These are just two examples from the Government Accountability Office’s third annual report to Congress identifying overlapping programs and inefficiencies across the federal government. This year, the agency watchdog found 31 new areas of overlap, which, if addressed would equal about $95 billion in potential cost savings. That’s $10 billion more than the sequester cuts that took effect last month.

“Instead of preventing furloughs, reopening air traffic control towers and restoring public access to the White House, Congress and the administration continue to defend billions of dollars in duplicative programs that are little more than monuments to the good intentions of career politicians in Washington,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, who sponsored legislation requiring the annual report.

Congress mandated that GAO conduct this report in an effort to cut back on wasteful spending. So far, the government has been slow to respond to the GAO’s suggestions. Since the first report in 2011, the government has only addressed 16 of the 162 redundant wasteful areas that GAO has identified. Meanwhile, 87 have been partially addressed and 27 were left completely ignored.

Unless real reforms are taken, the auditors don’t expect much to change. During a congressional hearing last week, U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, head of the GAO, emphasized the government’s sloth-like response to the agency watchdog’s suggestions for reforms: “My term goes to 2025.  I hope that I won’t be reporting all these same issues in that year. But I can tell you that it won’t change unless the Congress gets involved in this process with active oversight.”

President Obama, who vowed early on in his first term to eliminate wasteful spending, is making another attempt at streamlining the federal government. On the heels of the GAO report’s release, Obama unveiled his fiscal 2014 budget, which proposes to cut and consolidate programs, including eliminating two catfish inspection programs that would achieve $25 billion in savings.

Of course, Obama’s budget will likely not be enacted into law and even if it was, many experts say fundamental change in the federal government will only be achieved through a massive overhaul of the system. “A number of overarching trends, such as fiscal sustainability and debt challenges…underscore the need for a fundamental reconsideration of the role, operations, and structure of the federal government for the 21st century,” Patricia Dalton, GAO’s chief operating officer noted during congressional testimony last year on government reorganization.

For now, the GAO is ramping up its pressure on the federal government by launching a new website feature where federal workers can identify and track wasteful spending within their agencies. See the website here

Here are 10 examples of redundant programs across the federal government:

Catfish inspections:  The federal government currently spends $30 million to fund two different catfish inspections programs through the Federal Drug Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service and is in the process of implementing a third through the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the 2008 Farm Bill. GAO recommends streamlining the catfish inspection responsibilities to one agency could save the government $14 million.

Military Uniforms:   Four different branches of the U.S. military are spending millions of dollars on seven different combat uniforms that differ only in the color of their camouflage patterns. According to the GAO, if the military streamlined its combat uniform acquisition process, it could save the Pentagon $82 million. Currently, none of the services collaborate to manage their inventories or find other ways to standardize their uniforms, the report says.

Foreign Language Service at the DOD:   The DOD is spending more than $1 billion a year on foreign language support including translation and interpretative services. The GAO found that the Pentagon has hired more than 159 contracting organizations to provide similar language services for 10 different areas within the Defense Department. If DOD scaled back those contracts, it could save $50 to $200 million a year.

National Technical Information Service:  The National Technical Information Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, sells federal reports that can be found online for free. Regardless, government agencies continue paying for these reports. In 2011, NTIS earned $1.5 million in revenue, by charging $50 for a CD or $99 for a printed document. The GAO says about 75 percent of the reports sold today can be found online for free - just by doing a simple web search.

Drug abuse prevention and treatment programs: The federal government currently funds 76 different drug-abuse prevention and treatment programs—59 of which, overlapped responsibilities.

Training Programs for Veterans:  The Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs operate six different programs that employ and train veterans in virtually the same way. The programs cost the government $1.2 billion in 2011.

Department of Homeland Security Research and Development : Last year, two separate arms of the Department of Homeland Security were researching the exact same thing and nobody noticed. According to GAO, DHS awarded 50 different contracts to research the detection of the same chemical, which cost approximately $66 million.

Renewable Energy Initiatives : Auditors found extensive overlap across 679 renewable energy initiatives implemented by 23 different agencies across the federal government, including 82 initiatives for wind energy alone, which cost agencies about $2.9 billion and provided tax subsidies totaling at least $1.1 billion. In one instance, one company received funding from seven wind energy programs for the same project.
Higher Education Assistance:  Four federal agencies run 21 separate college aid programs that cost more than $140 billion a year, including eight targeted tax breaks, four subsidized loan programs, two grant programs and six others run by the Veterans Administration and Defense. Still, nothing has been done to evaluate "the effectiveness of this assistance,” the GAO says.

Broadcasting Board of Governors' Language Services: The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) spends 20 percent of its annual budget on 69 different language services—of which, 49 provide roughly the same responsibilities.