Senator’s reform package takes aim at wasteful spending, program duplications

Oil paintings, presidential allowances and administrative leave — the legislative package Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) plans to introduce covers a variety of federal programs and payments, with the singular goal of government reform.

“We haven’t given it a name yet, we don’t have the right acronym, but it’s really a group of 15, maybe 16 pieces of legislation that implement the recommendations of the [Government Accountability Office],” Johnson said April 27. “It’s good government, it’s continuous improvement. It’s not the be all end all, it’s not going to solve the entire problem, but just like the duplication report, you start here and you start making progress.”

That duplication report is the GAO report on “fragmentation, overlap and duplication,” and earlier this month GAO released its sixth iteration. GAO recommended 92 new actions that Congress or agencies can take to improve efficiency and effectiveness, and save money across 37 areas of government missions and functions.

According to the report, Congress and the federal agencies have addressed 224 of the total 544 actions — or 41 percent — which have resulted in a financial benefit of roughly $56 billion between fiscal 2010 and 2015. An additional $69 billion is expected to be saved or recovered by 2025.

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“I would note that most of the big dollar savings so far have come from the Congress taking action, and I would encourage you to look carefully at the recommendations in our appendix,” said Comptroller General Gene Dodaro during an April 27 Senate committee hearing. “I think that they are very good, sound ways to save money … to help stay under the marks so sequester’s not needed. By making smart cuts and not cuts that will have unintended bad consequences on people.”

One of those requests, which is included in Johnson’s legislative package, is to clarify GAO’s ability to access the National Directory of New Hires Database, which is housed within the Department of Health and Human Services.

“It has up to date information on employment and wages. This information would help us evaluate the means-tested programs across the federal government,” Dodaro said. “This is an area we believe we have the access but the department doesn’t agree with us. Congress clarifying this could save a lot of money.”

Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced the GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2016.

“Our legislation is simple: Let the taxpayers’ watchdogs do their job,” Sasse said in a press release. “Right now, GAO cannot access a critical database to prevent fraud in government programs. We fix that and ensure that GAO has full access to the National Directory of New Hires. It’s an important step to ensure that Washington follows the laws and the system isn’t being gamed at the taxpayers’ expense.”

HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among some of the other bills included in Johnson’s legislative reform effort are:

  • Administrative leave reform to cut back on employee abuse
  • Taxpayers Right to Know Act, which would create an inventory of all federal programs with more than a $1 million budget
  • Making the existing ban on appropriating money for oil painting portraits permanent
  • Limiting bonuses for federal employees who are guilty of misconduct
  • Addressing federal pay for former presidents and their surviving spouses
  • Expanded whistleblower protections

Opportunities for improvement

GAO’s report put the spotlight once again on the DoD, Treasury Department and HHS.

Among the most recent actions the GAO directed DoD to do:

  • Distribute excess ammunition to federal, state and local government agencies
  • Better manage its underutilized military installation spaces
  • Review eligibility requirements for living quarters allowance

Auditors recommended for Treasury:

  • Improving the Internal Revenue Service’s efforts to stop identity fraud
  • Better management of the IRS’ public referral programs

Recommendations for HHS include:

  • Improving the accuracy of federal Medicaid eligibility to reduce improper payments
  • Equalize Medicare health care service rates, rather than basing them on where a service is performed
  • Reducing duplicative federal spending on a person who moves between Medicaid and exchange coverage

“While not all actions taken by Congress and executive agencies result in financial benefits to taxpayers, all of our suggested actions, when implemented, can result in gains in government efficiencies or the elimination, reduction, or improved management of fragmented, overlapping or duplicative programs, among other benefits,” the report stated.

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