Congress and the Trump administration could save tens of billions of dollars by acting to improve efficiency and effectiveness in dozens of federal programs that range from Medicare to military purchasing to storage of radioactive waste, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The GAO, a valuable congressional watchdog, makes dozens of new recommendations in its eighth annual report on reducing “fragmentation, overlap and duplication” in the federal government. (“Fragmentation” refers to more than one federal agency being involved in the same broad area.)
The recently released report also looks at what actions have been taken -- or not taken -- on its recommendations from previous years.
Elected officials and political candidates often talk as though the nation’s fiscal challenges can be solved simply by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. That’s incorrect. Broad, structural changes are needed to put the federal budget on a sustainable path.
Yet lawmakers and the executive branch should still do all that they can to make sure that tax dollars are well spent, and there’s certainly room for improvement on that. In addition, some GAO recommendations could improve the collection of government revenue. The GAO frames the issue well:
“The federal government faces a long-term, unsustainable path based on an imbalance between federal revenues and spending. While addressing this imbalance will require fiscal policy changes, in the near term opportunities exist in a number of areas to improve this situation, including where federal programs or activities are fragmented, overlapping or duplicative.”
The GAO report makes 68 new recommendations for action in 23 new program areas. For example:
The Defense Department could potentially save $527 million over five years by “minimizing unnecessary overlap and duplication” in distribution centers for troop support goods.
The Energy Department could save tens of billions of dollars -- and “reduce certain risks” -- through alternative approaches to treating certain radioactive waste at its Hanford Site in Washington state.
The Department of Veterans Affairs could save tens of millions of dollars when acquiring medical and surgical supplies by “better adhering to supply-chain practices of leading hospitals.”
From 2011 to 2017, the GAO suggested 724 actions to the legislative and executive branches. The latest report says that as of March, 551 of these had been fully or partially addressed, resulting in roughly $178 billion in financial benefits.
While the GAO considers this “significant progress,” it estimates that tens of billions of dollars more could be saved by fully addressing the remaining recommendations from the past as well as the 68 new ones.
Among the steps needed on the previous suggestions: Enhanced anti-fraud efforts at the IRS, further use of best-management practices on weapons acquisition in the Defense Department, modification of certain Medicare payments to cancer hospitals, and prevention of over-payments in Social Security’s Disability Insurance program,
There will always be a certain amount of waste and duplication In an organization as large as the U.S. government, and there is often disagreement over whether particular programs and practices are wasteful or worthwhile.
But the GAO’s work seems to identify a great deal of low-hanging fruit in terms of protecting tax dollars and often improving service to the public at the same time. Some of that fruit should have been plucked years ago.
So the new GAO report deserves careful review from lawmakers, President Trump and federal agency leaders. They should seize every opportunity to improve government efficiency and ensure that tax dollars are not frittered away.