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Opinion

March 9, 2011

Coburn says GAO report exposes waste, duplication in Federal budget

CHICKASHA — U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) recently released the following statement regarding a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that takes an unprecedented look at duplication in the federal government.

Dr. Coburn offered an amendment to last year’s debt limit vote which required GAO to do the report by law.  The amendment was approved by a vote of 94 to 0 on January 26, 2010.

“This report confirms what most Americans assume about their government. We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we are doing.

The executive branch doesn’t know.  The congressional branch doesn’t know. Nobody knows. This report also shows we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services. And, in many cases, smart consolidations will improve service. GAO has identified a mother lode of government waste and duplication that should keep Congress busy for the rest of the year."

GAO did not provide a specific estimate of the cost of duplication in its report but Dr. Coburn estimated it to be at least $100 billion.

Moreover, GAO only examined a fraction of the federal budget and only a handful of missions of varying scope.  Dr. Coburn expects future reports will identify even greater overlap, duplication, and mismanagement.

 GAO concluded: “Considering the amount of program dollars involved in the issues we have identified, even limited adjustments could result in significant savings.”

 Key GAO findings and examples of duplication, mismanagement and waste:

• Dangerous lack of coordination regarding defenses against biological terror threats. At least five departments, eight agencies and more than two dozen presidential appointees oversee $6.48 billion related to bioterrorism.

GAO writes: “There is no national plan to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response.”

 • $1 trillion for special tax benefits, many of which are redundant. 

GAO writes: “For fiscal year 2009, the U.S. Department of the Treasury listed a total of 173 tax expenditures, some of which were the same magnitude or larger than related federal spending for some mission areas.”

• Financial literacy education offered by a government with a $14 trillion debt. Twenty agencies operate 56 programs dedicated to financial literacy but GAO and agencies can’t estimate what they cost. 

• Economic development programs with little evidence of economic development. The federal government runs 80 economic development programs across four agencies at a cost of $6.5 billion.

• Highways programs have not been rebooted since 1956.  The Department of Transportation (DOT) spends $58 billion on 100 separate programs run by five DOT agencies with 6,000 employees.  GAO says the programs have “not evolved to reflect current priorities in transportation planning.”

 Special treatment for catfish.  GAO found that the Farm Bill assigned the United States Department of Agriculture responsibility for monitoring catfish, thus splitting seafood oversight between USDA and FDA.  Fifteen federal agencies administer more than 30 food related laws.

 Senseless duplication among military branches.  GAO found that the military wastes untold billions on duplication and overlap.  For instance, Army and Air Force transportable base equipment, which includes mobile housing and dining facilities, could be used by both service, but are not.

 This report is the first of what will be an annual report from the GAO on duplication.  Specifically, the amendment Dr. Coburn attached to last year’s debt limit vote (S. AMDT. 3303 Division I to H.J. RES. 45) “directs the Government Accountability Office to annually identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals and activities, to estimate the cost of such duplication, and to make recommendations to Congress for consolidation and elimination of such duplication.”

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