GAO Suggests Steps to Improve Government Efficiency

Policy Memo
Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Attacking waste is no panacea for the federal government’s fiscal problems. Those problems are simply too large, and in any case there are often political differences over whether a particular project is a waste or an important public service.

But a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a reminder that there are still opportunities for significant savings and efficiency increases in many parts of the federal government.

The report is the latest in a series of annual reports on reducing fragmentation, overlap and duplication in the government. It also includes suggestions on cost savings and revenue enhancement through such things as ensuring compliance with certain fuel taxes.

“The federal government faces a long-term, unsustainable fiscal path based on an imbalance between federal revenues and spending,” the GAO says. “While addressing this structural 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.”

This year’s report identifies 79 new steps that Congress and executive branch agencies could take in 29 areas to improve efficiency and effectiveness. For example, GAO found that the Army and Air Force could potentially save tens of millions of dollars by improving the management of their virtual training programs and related acquisition costs.

Another sample recommendation: The Department of Energy “could potentially save tens of billions of dollars by improving its analysis of options for storing defense and commercial high-level nuclear waste and fuel.”

GAO says Congress and federal agencies have made progress in addressing many of the 645 actions that were suggested in GAO reports from 2011 to 2016. These efforts, the report says, “have resulted in roughly $136 billion in financial benefits, of which $75 billion has accrued and at least an additional $61 billion in estimated benefits is projected to accrue in future years.”

The new report says that tens of billions in additional dollars could be saved by addressing more of the previously recommended actions as well as the newly identified ones. Congress and the federal agencies should consider following up on any reasonable recommendations to improve efficiency, save money and ensure appropriate revenue payments.