In treating addiction, experts say admitting there is a problem is the first step to recovery. Steps Two through 12 require stopping the drug of choice and taking action not to start again. When it comes to a spending and legislating addiction, Congress can’t get past Step One. In order to tackle the nation’s $15.4 trillion debt, Washington must stop creating new programs and start eliminating the excess.
On Tuesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa held a hearing on the second annual report to Congress from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on duplicative and overlapping government programs. It lists specific areas across federal agencies that should be consolidated or eliminated, saving tens of billions.
For example, there are 14 grant and loan programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation Department and Energy Department all for the purpose of reducing diesel emissions. There are 94 different programs to promote “green building” initiatives at 11 agencies. It takes 50 programs across nine agencies to find employment for people with disabilities.
The government has seven entities training foreign officials to identify fraudulent travel documents. There are a whopping 209 science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs at 13 different agencies that cost a total of $3 billion a year.
To bring this mess under control, Sen. Tom Coburn initiated the requirement that GAO produce this report every year. He places the blame for overlapping programs on career politicians who think short-term. The Oklahoma Republican testified before Mr. Issa’s committee that, “We created 82 teacher training programs. The administration didn’t. We created 47 different job training programs. We created 56 different financial literacy programs.” As the senator put it, “We’ve well earned our 15 percent approval rating.”
Dr. Coburn has several suggestions to ensure “we don’t keep digging the hole deeper.” He is pushing for a vote this week in the Senate that would require all proposed legislation be reviewed by the Congressional Research Service to determine whether an existing federal program already does the same thing.
The Sooner State senator also wants every program to have an expiration date, so when it comes up for reauthorization, there would be a hearing to evaluate its efficacy. This would help make up for the drastic decrease in oversight hearings in Congress, which are held less than half as often as they were 30 years ago.
Finally, Dr. Coburn held up his own book, “Back in Black,” which gives specific cost-cutting measures that would save $9 trillion over 10 years, and asked that both sides of the aisle come together to agree to at least a third of his ideas.
Last year’s report offered 81 suggestions to cut $100 billion, most of which can be handled administratively. Washington has only fully implemented four of the ideas. In anticipation of Tuesday’s hearing, the White House released a memo listing what it has done in the past to cut waste, looking to deflect blame from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In the end, who’s to blame is less important than who will do something about the nation’s debt. What’s needed are politicians willing to go cold turkey on spending.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.