- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A year after the government’s chief investigators identified 81 areas where the government double-spends or could cut costs, President Obama and Congress have solved just four of them, the Government Accountability Office said in a follow-up report Tuesday.

In another report looking at other parts of the government, the GAO found still more duplication or places where better technology or goals could save the government money.

“There are tens of billions of dollars that could be saved,” Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, head of GAO, said in submitting both reports to Congress.

As Democrats and Republicans fight over how to reduce record deficits, the duplication and cost-savings reports would seem to be a road map to some easy cuts.

But the going has been slow, according to the GAO.

The watchdog laid out 176 action items for the 81 areas it highlighted in last year’s report. Of those 81, four have been completed, 60 have undergone early steps and 17 have had no action at all.

Congress required the reports under an amendment that Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, attached to a 2010 debt-ceiling increase.

The White House posted a blog item arguing that it has taken at least some action on most of the areas identified last year, including three-fourths of those programs where they can act without waiting for Congress.

In the blog, Danny Werfel, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, said Mr. Obama also suggested more changes in his 2013 budget, submitted this month.

Mr. Dodaro did credit the administration for making some efforts, particularly on trying to clamp down on improper payments that the government makes.

Mr. Coburn said the problem is not the White House, but rather members of Congress from both parties who are all too willing to add programs.

On several occasions, he said, he has been approached by lawmakers who have written proposals for programs that turned out to duplicate programs already in existence. The lawmakers withdrew their plans after talking with Mr. Coburn.

“The responsibility lies with us because we in fact have created the mess,” he said.

Mr. Coburn has tried on several occasions to force the government to stop duplication. One amendment he offered last year would have saved $5 billion by forcing the White House to use the GAO’s recommendations to produce that much in cuts.

The provision passed, but the bill attached to it was stalled so the cuts never became law.

The new report, which looks at areas the GAO didn’t get to in the previous report, adds to the workload.

Among the findings:

• The Justice Department has spent $30 billion on overlapping crime-prevention and victim-services grants since 2005.

• Twenty agencies administer 160 programs to support homeowners and renters, including 39 programs aimed at those buying, selling or financing homes. Those 39 programs span four federal departments.

• Two-thirds of all “green building” initiatives to push environmentally friendly building and updating don’t have goals or performance measures, which the GAO said means it’s impossible to measure how well they’re doing.

In its update on last year’s 81 items, GAO did find four where Congress and the White House fully addressed the recommendations — though one of those, which involved duplicative programs aimed at increasing U.S. ethanol production, was deemed completed only because Congress let a tax break expire at the end of last year.

The other three involved the Justice Department better monitoring a reduction in overlap of explosives investigations; the State Department reducing overlap in its arms-control operations; and the Internal Revenue Service seeing whether it could automate a system to check whether noncitizens were claiming tax breaks for which they weren’t eligible. In that latter case, the item was deemed closed because the IRS said it wasn’t cost-effective to come up with such an automated system.