A new study by a federal watchdog agency finds that overlapping and duplicative federal programs waste billions of taxpayer dollars each year, adding fresh targets as lawmakers in both parties seek opportunities to cut spending.
Forty-seven job training programs, 80 programs to help poor and disabled people with their transportation needs, and 82 distinct programs on teacher quality are but a few of the findings of the Government Accountability Office report, a summary of which was released on Tuesday.
"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 report says.
Republicans jumped on the report as the latest evidence that there's plenty of waste to cut as the deficit heads toward an astonishing $1.6 trillion this year.
"We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we are doing," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who was the driving force behind the study. "We could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services. ... GAO has identified a mother lode of government waste and duplication that should keep Congress busy for the rest of the year."
For instance, 53 of 82 teacher quality programs have budgets of less than $50 million, but many of them have separate administrative processes that could be consolidated to squeeze savings from the $4 billion devoted to the programs. And about half of 47 job training programs with a budget of $18 billion have had no performance reviews since 2004, which led the GAO to conclude that "little is known about the effectiveness of most programs."
One of the reasons for the mishmash is that new laws give rival agencies different responsibilities for jobs that are closely related.
For instance, a recent farm bill gives the Agriculture Department responsibility for monitoring catfish, while the Food and Drug Administration also has responsibility for oversight of the seafood industry. The FDA oversees the safety of chicken feed, while the Agriculture Department is responsible for the "health of young chicks."
And a streamlined health care bureaucracy at the Pentagon could save up to $460 million a year, the report adds.
Also at the Pentagon, the Army and the Marine Corps have developed separate "mine rollers" with the Marine Corps version costing $85,000 a unit while the Army's units cost $77,000 to $225,000, but there's disagreement over which version works better.
Some of the biggest savings could be achieved by consolidating the government's computer data centers, which have multiplied from 432 to more than 2,100 in little more than a decade. Some computer servers have utilization rates of just 5 percent. A private sector study estimates that consolidating data centers could save the government as much as $200 billion over 10 years.
It's unclear how many of the report's recommendations will be put in place. Lawmakers and committees often defend programs within their jurisdictional fiefdoms, as do federal agencies. Disagreement typically produces gridlock, but the pressure to cut spending will test the ability of lawmakers and agencies to defend wasteful practices.