How many federal agencies does it take to do catfish safety inspections? At least three, according to the Government Accountability Office, which on Tuesday released its 2013 report on fragmentation and duplication of federal programs. This year's report -- there were two previous editions of the report first requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. -- documents an estimated $95 billion in duplicative programs that waste precious tax dollars. That brings the three-year total of potential savings documented by GAO to $295 billion.
Having three agencies doing catfish safety inspections may strike some as funny, but there is nothing to laugh about in the Department of Homeland Security having $568 million worth of overlapping research and development programs. Or that Department of Defense foreign language training services are provided by 159 separate contracting groups at a cost of $200 million. And why should taxpayers have to foot $15 billion worth of duplicative renewable energy programs?
The list of such examples identified by GAO is a lengthy one and, with the country's national debt fast approaching $17 trillion, it would seem logical to expect Congress and the White House to waste no time in implementing the watchdog agency's recommendations. However, as The Washington Examiner's Richard Pollock reported Tuesday, 85 of the 300 recommendations made by the GAO since 2011 have been totally ignored, while another 149 remain on the waiting list for action. It should be noted that by heeding GAO on eliminating duplicative programs, Congress and President Obama could have avoided all or most of the sequestration spending cuts this year.
No wonder Coburn said "this report has once again reminded the nation that while millions of Americans have been doing more with less, the federal government continues to do less with more. The $95 billion in overlap identified in this report, combined with the $200 billion in overlap identified in GAO's previous two reports, could easily cover the costs of sequestration. Yet, 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."
It's not hard to figure out what many members of Congress from both parties have been doing instead of acting on GAO recommendations. The Louisville Courier-Journal recently reported that the Department of Transportation received 1,078 letters from senators and representatives encouraging spending on projects in their states and districts in 2011, the first year after Congress banned earmarks. Readers will recall that earmarks were spending instructions individual congressmen inserted into legislation, often anonymously and without floor votes on the measures, to instruct agencies to spend tax dollars on a specified project or program. So now it appears these new "lettermarks" have replaced the old earmarks. Congressmen would be wise to pay more attention to acting on GAO recommendations for spending that should be stopped instead of writing letters to bureaucrats encouraging them to spend more.