Move over, Tom Clancy — the newest thriller to go viral, at least by federal government report standards, is the Government Accountability Office’s just-published look at waste and duplication in federal agencies.
The “duplication report,” as it’s come to be called, garnered 90,277 visits in the first week after its March 1 release — or more than three times the previous best-read item on GAO’s website, a 2008 letter on a contentious fight over an Air Force tanker deal.
And the report’s popularity is no accident, coming at a time when waste and overspending are dominating conversations both inside Washington and in state capitals across the country.
“The interest in this report reflects the depth of concern among taxpayers about the lack of fiscal discipline in Washington, which is why the public overwhelmingly supports spending cuts,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who wrote the provision requiring the GAO to do the study. “If every American understood the extent of waste, duplication and sheer stupidity in the budget, we would solve our fiscal problems overnight.”
While readership has reached beyond the Beltway, it’s within the Capitol that the document has really hit the target, drawing praise even from the Senate’s top Democrat and the Obama White House.
“I don’t say this very often, but I’m glad Coburn asked for that,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters after it was released. “That’s a step in the right direction. And those are some of the things we can do over the long term that could save some money.”
The report looked at about a third of the government and found repeated areas where multiple agencies have similar, if not overlapping, duties: 47 job-training programs, 44 of which overlap at least somewhat; 82 distinct teacher-quality programs; and 80 economic-development programs spread across four agencies, totaling $6.5 billion in 2010.
“We issue about 1,000 reports and testimonies each year, and whenever the number of hits spike and Congress and the public find them particularly useful, we’re always gratified,” said Chuck Young, a spokesman for GAO.
Mr. Coburn had requested the GAO do this work before, but was told it was impossible. So last year, he wrote an amendment requiring the study, and attached it to a bill increasing the country’s debt limit.
The amendment passed overwhelmingly, and requires an annual report from GAO.
This year’s report looks at slightly more than a third of all government spending, and future reports will cover other areas.
Mr. Coburn on Tuesday filed an amendment to cut $5 billion in duplicative spending he identified from the GAO report, and John Hart, a spokesman for Mr. Coburn, said to expect “many amendments” to come.
After the report, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, reached out to Mr. Coburn to talk about teaming up, and Mr. Cantor told reporters last week that he has also asked if House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, would want to join the effort.
“We are always looking for ways to try and work with the other side,” Mr. Cantor said. “When you are talking about getting rid of the duplicative programs, there really is a lot of room for us to work together and come to agreement on that.”
Government reports are not known for the quality of their prose, and GAO reports in particular are often dry reads. But the waste report joins several others that have become breakout hits beyond the Beltway.
In 2004, bookstores stocked the 9/11 commission report, and the compelling narrative of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit the best-seller lists.
More recently, McClatchy news service reported last month that the “Financial Crisis Inquiry Report,” which looks at the 2008 financial markets crash, reached the New York Times paperback best-seller list.