With Republicans and Democrats scrambling to work on a budget that may alleviate part of the $85 billion in sequester cuts, a new report from the Government Accountability Office should elicit debate over program funding and how to the administration can avoid unnecessary overhead. The 283 page annual report highlights 31 areas that the government can cut down on costs, spanning thousands of programs that fit the definition of “fragmentation, overlap, and duplication”.
Departments often have multiple programs that serve similar purposes, or that have been split up—fragmented—into smaller administrations. This leads to hundreds of disorganized programs spending money towards the same group of goals. GAO officials offer suggestions within the report, such as merging auditors and collaborating on information collection to avoid inaccurate data.
Some highlights from the report include 76 programs for drug abuse, in which the Department of Homeland Security uses five separate contracts to detect the same substance, at a $4.5 billion dollar cost. Other sections question the Department of Defense for spending over $5 billion on 7 military camouflage uniforms, instead of the previous standard of 2.
Yet the biggest offender appears to be renewable energy programs, of which the GAO identified 679 initiatives that were either overlapping or unnecessary.
Wind energy tops the renewable resource waste, creating millions of waste on administrative fees and unnecessary subsidies.
“The GAO found that the 82 wind-related initiatives were fragmented across multiple agencies. Additionally, most of the 82 initiatives had overlapping characteristics, and several of them have provided duplicative financial support to deploy wind energy projects. Specifically, regarding fragmentation, nine agencies implemented initiatives that involved the same broad area of national need—promoting or enabling wind energy development.”
Along with the numerous duplicate programs, the GAO discovered that certain wind initiatives didn’t require the support of a department, and worse still, some funding wasn’t even utilized for renewable energy:
“GAO identified three other DOE initiatives that did not actually fund any wind projects in the fiscal year," the report reads,"GAO’s review of a briefing memorandum from White House staff, DOE documents, and other documentation related to two wind projects suggests that agencies’ wind initiatives have, in some cases, supported projects that may have been built without their incremental support.”
In addition, the report includes various cost-saving “enhancements” that can streamline government services and increase savings. Among the suggestions was a need for cloud computing, TSA baggage screening upgrades, and crop insurance adjustments. The Internal Revenue Service also received its own section and was placed on the organizations “high-risk list”, citing a large net-tax gap as cause for concern. The IRS can improve its revenue collecting by allocating more funds towards payment enforcement, contacting taxpayers, and overhauling their information technology sector.
If these departments were able to cut back on spending and follow the guidelines of the GAO, estimated savings would equate to approximately $250 billion a year, nearly three times that of sequestration. White House officials expect these suggestions to be accounted for during the impending budget talks, but many of these programs have existed for years; suggesting a persistent willingness by politicians to avoid upsetting their constituents.