The Government Accountability Office is telling Congress that better management of existing federal programs could save billions of dollars in the coming years.
GAO, in its 13th annual report on fragmentation, overlap and duplication, is adding 100 new actions to its list of recommendations that, if implemented, could lead to significant cost savings.
The watchdog agency estimates that agencies achieved more than $600 billion in financial benefits in more than a decade by taking steps outlined by GAO. Nearly $47 billion of those cost savings took place in 2022.
The Defense Department accounts for more GAO recommendations than any other agency, and has saved $195 billion through its actions over the past 13 years.
The GAO report identifies some actions that some departments and agencies can take up on their own. But the real cost savings come from multiple agencies working together to unravel a tangled web of federal programs that share many of the same goals.
GAO, for example, found that more than 30 federal agencies and programs are involved in disaster recovery.
Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week that better coordination across agencies on disaster response would lead to improved service delivery.
“It’s very rare these days that there’s a problem that doesn’t need coordination across the federal government. It’s become increasingly so,” Dodaro told the subcommittee on emerging threats and spending oversight. “There’s not a good institutional commitment.”
Dodaro said agencies would benefit from streamlined disaster response, given the increasing frequency of these incidents. The GAO report states FEMA was supporting community recovery efforts from nearly 500 disasters dating back to 2004.
“While we’ve become much better as a government and initial response, we’re not very good on the recovery process. It drags on for years and years,” he said.
GAO recommends that Congress set up an independent commission to address these disaster recovery challenges.
The Biden administration under the President’s Management Agenda is prioritizing disaster recovery as one of several cross-agency “life experiences” in need of better customer experience.
“OMB is trying to look at it from a consumer standpoint, or somebody who’s a disaster victim, and how difficult it is to deal with all these different agencies and understand even what’s available,” Dodaro said. “The process is difficult to provide the applications. You’ve got to apply to different agencies.”
GAO finds the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department could also better manage the federal response to ransomware threats that target state, local and other government entities.
The report also finds food insecurity programs for veterans could benefit from better cohesion between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Agriculture Department
The lack of a single governmentwide inventory of federal programs has led to some of these duplicative programs across the government.
Congress in 2021 passed the Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act, requiring the Office of Management and Budget to maintain an online database of all federal programs and the cost to run them. However, multiple administrations have struggled to create a such program inventory.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said lawmakers deserve some of the blame for creating a sprawl of redundant or overlapping federal programs.
“We fashion a bill, we get it passed. We don’t really spend a lot of time asking whether there’s already something that deals with that. We get that passed, and the executive branch dutifully sets up an agency or department or whatever to take it on, and there’s never a cleaning up,” Romney said.
The GAO report identifies areas where agencies can achieve substantial cost savings on their own.
The report, for example, estimates the Office of Personnel Management could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually by coming up with a way to identify and remove ineligible family members from coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program.
GAO finds the IRS enforcement could recover billion of additional dollars each year if it had greater access to third-party data in its efforts to shrink a growing “tax gap” between what taxpayers owe and what the agency collects.
The report finds the General Services Administration could also save millions of dollars by selling underutilized federal buildings and reducing the government’s overall office space.