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GAO’s Latest Spending Report Identifies Duplicate Programs

Tuesday March 1st, 2011   •   Posted by Lindsay Boyd at 2:01pm PST   •  

The General Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report early Tuesday morning, identifying billions of dollars currently being spent on “duplicate federal programs”. How does this happen? It’s simple, really. When a bureaucratic body fails to be efficient and accomplish the objectives of it’s charter, our enlightened, pork-loving representatives in Washington simply finance a new one.

As reported by Politico,

The 345-page General Accountability Office report pinpointed 34 areas—from defense and job training to social services—where federal agencies, offices or programs have redundant objectives or are fragmented across several departments.

For example, there are 15 agencies that deal with the nation’s food-safety system, which the GAO said has led to inconsistent oversight and an inefficient use of resources. There are 80 programs across multiple agencies that focus on economic development.

Leading House and Senate Republicans are sounding the battle horns and waving the red flags, using the GAO’s findings as fodder for their budget battle against their Democratic colleagues. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) claims that “It provides a lot to work with, a lot of new areas to reduce spending.” The idea that we could potentially eliminate redundancies? Insightful conclusion, Senator.

Unfortunately, these startling revelations of duplicate spending in Washington are nothing new. In 2001, a report found over $200 billion in waste coming out of the federal government. So why is Senator John McCain (who so often boasts of his fiscal big stick) so “shocked—shocked!” by this latest report? Clearly, these elected officials can be efficient—when it comes to shopping on someone else’s American Express and conveniently forgetting to monitor the credit card bill.

Democrats are equally as quick to position their agenda strategically around the GAO’s report. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) takes us for a spin:

This is a chance to make smart cuts, instead of reckless cuts… Today’s GAO report shows us a path forward to responsibly, effectively reduce the deficit without slashing investment in our economy, cutting private sector job growth, or endangering the most vulnerable members of our society.

Let’s disembark from Shaheen’s tea-cup ride and examine her remarks more closely. She wants to cut the deficit while simultaneously preserving the government’s “investment in our economy”. Yet, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow William Shughart so aptly explained,

The act of investing implies careful consideration of expected streams of future benefits produced by current outlays, not only for the project under consideration, but also weighing anticipated net returns against the next best alternative uses of funds, with suitable adjustments for relative risk.

Because government can only spend the money it has borrowed from or taxed away from the private sector and, moreover, has no bottom line for measuring the economic soundness of the projects it undertakes, politicians have little or no incentive to allocate the resources under their control cost-effectively. Investment decisions by the public sector are primarily shaped by politicians’ and bureaucrats’ goals of being reelected or reappointed to office.

So what actions can we expect from our Washington representatives? Surely, leading voices will tout their various proposals for ways to utilize the report in addressing reckless spending. However, this report will likely join it’s predecessors on the dark and dusty shelves of the GAO archives unless our elected officials are prepared to go beyond politics and finally attack the spend-binge.

The Independent Institute and have issued a budget analysis, providing clear-cut solutions that Washington would do well to consider.

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March 2011