Tad DeHaven

The Government Accountability Office has released its third annual report on fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative federal programs and activities. Proponents of making the government more efficient view the findings as an opportunity to achieve cost savings. While there’s obviously nothing wrong with the government spending less money than it has to, the goal should be to permanently shut the trains down – not just try to get them to run on time. 

Some examples: 

  • The GAO says “Enhanced collaboration between the Small Business Administration and two other agencies could help to limit overlapping export-related services for small businesses.” The federal government shouldn’t be subsidizing export promotion for commercial interests, period. (See here and here.) 
  • The GAO says “Federal agencies providing assistance for higher education should better coordinate to improve program administration and help reduce fragmentation.” The federal government should not be subsidizing higher education, period. (See here.) 
  • The GAO says, “To achieve up to $1.2 billion per year in cost savings in the Federal Crop Insurance program, Congress could consider limiting the subsidy for premiums that an individual farmer can receive each year, reducing the subsidy for all or high-income farmers participating in the program, or some combination of limiting and reducing these subsidies.” Federal crop insurance subsidies and all farm subsidies should be abolished, period. (See here and here.) 
  • The GAO says, “Federal support for wind and solar energy, biofuels, and other renewable energy sources, which has been estimated at several billion dollars per year, is fragmented because 23 agencies implemented hundreds of renewable energy initiatives in fiscal year 2010—the latest year for which GAO developed these original data.” The federal government shouldn’t subsidize renewable energy (or traditional sources of energy), period. (See here.)

There have been numerous attempts to “reinvent government,” “streamline the bureaucracy,” etc, over the decades as the government has expanded in size and scope. Perhaps the GAO report will spur another. But while the initiatives change, the result is always the same: we still end up stuck with a bloated Leviathan that continues to have its snotty nose in every facet of our lives. 

As I often point out, waste always comes with government the same way a Happy Meal always comes with a toy and drink. There is duplication and waste in the federal government because it has become massive and there are virtually no limits on what politicians can spend money on. 

I’m not suggesting that government waste should be ignored. Indeed, examples of waste should be held up as reasons to terminate entire government agencies and programs. But I believe that a myopic fixation on “eliminating duplication and waste” is itself a waste. That’s because duplication and waste are merely symptoms of the real problem of big government.


Tad DeHaven

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Previously he was a deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. DeHaven also worked as a budget policy advisor to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).