81 More Ways to Save Taxpayer Dollars

Like all presidential budget requests, President Obama’s FY14 budget includes recommendations for streamlining government to promote greater efficiency.  Traditionally, presidents propose cuts to programs (Obama’s budget includes 215) and encounter resistance from Congress, but this year might be different.

Congressional Reaction
Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) recently sounded a call to action: “We in Congress talk all the time about cutting waste and making the government more efficient. It’s time to go from talking to acting.” Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) shared the same sense of urgency: “At a time of increased budget pressure, American taxpayers cannot afford to keep buying the same service twice.”  Across the Hill, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-OK) declared, “It is unconscionable and immoral for Congress and the administration to ignore this problem.”  Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced plans to rely more heavily on Inspectors General to identify potential savings within federal agencies.

What accounts for this new-found enthusiasm to cut the bloat?  Members who had resisted cuts to their pet programs in the past are confronting life under sequestration and realize that nixing some questionable expenditures is far preferable to indiscriminate cuts in vital government programs.  Senator Coburn, long a critic of wasteful government spending, estimated that $95 billion could be saved—annually—if Congress and the executive branch would get serious about addressing the issue.

GAO weighs in
Since 2011, GAO has been statutorily required to issue an annual report with recommendations for reducing wasteful spending in government.  The 2013 report released this week (“Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits,” features 81 possible cost-saving actions ranging from eliminating a Medicare Advantage Bonus Payment that would pay billions to plans with only average performance to trimming unnecessary expenses for military uniforms, now available in seven different camouflage patterns instead of just two.

While there are dozens of opportunities for the executive branch to save money on its own, GAO reports on wasteful spending also include examples of fragmentation, overlap, and duplication that would require legislative remedies from Congress.  The 2013 report’s emblematic case is catfish inspection, a function currently entrusted to three different agencies (FDA, USDA, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.)  Some agencies seem destined to become hardy perennials in the annual reports citing ongoing challenges, for example, the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security.  The 2013 report notes approvingly that for the first time ever, OMB will complete an inventory of all federal programs.

Coinciding with the roll-out of its third report, GAO launched a new online tool to help hold agencies accountable. Crusaders against waste, fraud, and abuse can now follow “GAO Action Tracker” at http://www.gao.gov/duplication/actiontracker.  The website enables viewers to identify issue areas, click on specific programs, read the GAO recommendations for improvement, and see what (if any) remedial action the agency has taken so far.  The Tracker includes recommendations and progress reports from 2011 and 2012 as well.  Whether agencies will be spurred to make faster progress remains to be seen, but at least the GAO Action Tracker provides a benchmark.