The federal government doesn't maintain a single list of all of its programs, one reason the bureaucracy wasted more than $100 billion on bogus payments last year, Congress' chief watchdog said Wednesday.
Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, who runs the Government Accountability Office, said his agency already has uncovered $107.7 billion in inappropriate and excessive payments in 2012, and that total is not yet complete.
Testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Mr. Dodaro also said only 37 percent of federal managers knew if one or more of their programs had been evaluated in the past five years, and 40 percent were uncertain whether any review had been performed.
"Imagine beginning every month not knowing what money you have and not being able to track how much you've spent," said committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican. "Yet year after year, that's where the federal government operates."
Mr. Dodaro said the only way to get the federal bureaucracy's spending under control would be to have the Obama administration show more leadership and to have Congress do greater oversight.
He said the problem is particularly acute in the Defense Department: His agency has been unable to audit the Pentagon for 20 years because the military is so decentralized that there is no one source in charge of preparing documents for financial review.
And the GAO believes the Army is so disorganized that it does not know how many people it's paying or whether soldiers and other personnel are getting the correct salaries.
An estimated two-thirds of the government budget is taken up by mandatory spending programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Of the remaining third — called discretionary spending — the Defense Department receives slightly more than half.
But the GAO's $107.7 billion waste estimate doesn't include the Defense Department, Mr. Dodaro said.
The lack of fiscal transparency from the agency has created critics on both sides of the aisle who wonder whether the government should use its own tracking methods on itself.
"It bothers me the [National Security Agency] can tell how many times Aunt Margaret called Aunt Matilda, but I can't get an audit from the Defense Department," said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Massachusetts Democrat, referring to recent revelations of the spy agency's program to collate phone call data from Americans.
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican, said every agency must be accountable.
"We need to make sure every penny, regardless of where it is in government, is well spent," he said.
The hearing came just two days after President Obama held a Cabinet meeting to push his administration to practice "smarter" government, even in the face of "sequester" budget cuts.
Mr. Dodaro said his own office is being hit by budget cuts, too, and now has the lowest staffing level since 1935.
"We're just not having enough staff to get to all the requests in a timely manner," he said.
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