GAO Report Finds Billions in Potential Savings

Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a comprehensive review of all federal programs in an effort to promote greater efficiency in government. This initiative was launched thanks to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who introduced an amendment to last year's debt ceiling increase and statutory PAYGO law that required GAO to report on "programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals and activities...including the cost of such duplication and with recommendations for consolidation and elimination to reduce duplication identifying specific rescissions."

GAO has certainly found some important savings. In its introduction, the report states that:

"Overlap and fragmentation among government programs or activities can be harbingers of unnecessary duplication. Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of tax dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services."

The report is broken down into two sections. Section I identifies 34 duplicative, overlapping, or fragmented government programs, which span the entire range of government services and even looks at reforming tax expenditures (which CRFB has championed).

However, GAO was not able to give a precise savings estimate for each of the proposed rescissions. This is mainly due to the fact that there is not enough information to determine funding levels for the specific, overlapping programs in question. For some, however, GAO does offer specific figures, such as $460 million annually in savings from restructuring the military health service system, and $5.7 billion in annual savings from ending duplicative programs that support ethanol production. A useful highlights document can be found here.

Section II appears to go beyond the mandate of the Coburn amendment as it identifies 47 other potential ways for the administration or Congress to reduce government spending or enhance revenues. The suggestions range from reducing farm program payments to Department of Defense management and payment reforms to promoting competition for government contracts, among many others. Once again, specific savings estimates are hard to come by, but these suggestions are certainly worthy of serious consideration.

We applaud GAO for laying out such a thorough list of suggested reforms in this report, which should hopefully lead to significant savings. And we should also give thanks to Sen. Coburn for spearheading this initiative over one year ago. However, we must caution that these recommendations are only as valuable as the political will of those in Congress to trim back our administrative bulk. And we cannot forget that cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse" will not be sufficient to solving our debt crisis. It is an important initiative to tackle, along with larger issues of discretionary spending, tax, and entitlement reform.