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New GAO report identifies $95 billion in overlapping programs

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Photo - A new GAO report requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, and released today estimates that $95 billion is lost annually on federal programs and services that duplicate each other. (AP Photo)
A new GAO report requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, and released today estimates that $95 billion is lost annually on federal programs and services that duplicate each other. (AP Photo)
News,Watchdog,Richard Pollock

Duplicative drug abuse and treatment services are strewn over 76 federal programs. Housing services are spread across 20 different agencies. Renewable energy projects go through 23 federal agencies and 130 sub-agencies.

Even federal catfish inspections are done by three different agencies.

These are only a few of 162 examples identified by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, of fragmented, duplicative federal programs and services.

The 2013 edition of the annual report originally requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, is being released today and it concludes that not only does such managerial dysfunction hobble the federal government, it's also extraordinarily costly.

"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," Coburn told The Washington Examiner.

"Yet, instead of preventing furloughs, reopening air traffic control towers and restoring public access to White House, Congress and the administration continue to defend billions of dollars in duplication programs that are little more than monuments to the good intentions of career politicians in Washington," he said.

The GAO has been spotlighting such problems for years, but President Obama and Congress have enacted only a few of the watchdog agency's previous recommendations.

Of the 300 recommendations issued by the agency in 2011 and 2012, 85 have been totally ignored and 149 were only partially addressed.

"As the fiscal pressures facing the nation continue, so too does the need for executive branch agencies and Congress to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and activities," declared Gene L. Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the United States in his letter to Congress on the report being released today.

Government overlap and duplication have dogged the federal government for years. President Reagan formed the Grace Commission to identify examples of the problem, and President Clinton assigned to Vice-President Gore the task of ending it by "reinventing government."

But the new GAO report makes clear that examples continue to pile up.

Obama's fragmented and duplicative renewable energy programs, for example, unnecessarily cost taxpayers an estimated $15 billion, according to GAO.

Contractors for Defense Department foreign language services are forced to navigate among 159 separate contracting organizations. Consolidating them could save taxpayers up to $200 million each year.

The Department of Homeland Security has so many overlapping research and development programs that it cost taxpayers $568 million.

Law enforcement intelligence agents must share information among 268 field-based entities.

Combat camouflage uniform redesigns are funneled through six different DOD programs, costing $82 million extra.

The Justice and Treasury Department's forfeiture programs lost $94 million in 2011 because the two agencies cannot find a way to share storage facilities.

Two-thirds of the government's international broadcast services overlap with competing government broadcasters. Slimming down the programming could save taxpayers $149 million.

Drug abuse prevention programs are strewn over 76 programs, costing taxpayers $4.5 billion.

Federal education assistance is fragmented over 21 programs. The duplication and fragmentation can cost government more than $170 billion.

The Veterans Administration could save $1.2 billion by consolidating employment training programs for vets.

The lack of joint VA and DOD Information Technology systems for patient health cost $102 billion in 2013.

There is duplication within the Medicaid audit program that is designed to find fraud and improper payments. The overlap costs taxpayers 7 percent of Medicaid's $19 billion expenditure.

And those catfish inspections? Consolidating the work of the Food and Drug Administration, the Food Safety and Inspection Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service could save $14 million, according to GAO.

Coburn believes "it is unconscionable and immoral for Congress and the administration to ignore this problem" because "every dollar the government takes from a single mom or low-income family to fund an overlapping catfish inspection program is a dollar taxpayers have to earn back by working longer hours."

For more from Coburn on the report, go here.

Richard Pollock is a member of The Washington Examiner's Watchdogn investigative reporting team. He can be reached at rpollock@washingtonexaminer.com.

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