Every time a member of Congress sees a news story or is annoyed by something, he thinks, “There ought to be a law.” Such laws go on to become programs that continue indefinitely, even after they have outlived whatever usefulness they might have once had. Given the limited creativity of politicians, these eternal programs frequently overlap one another, resulting in a duplication of effort that costs us at least $100 billion a year, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued Tuesday.
One of the exceptions to the rule, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, thought it might be a good idea to undo the work of his colleagues and bring an end to overlapping and redundant federal efforts. The first step was to have GAO audit Uncle Sam.
GAO found that there are 18 programs that provide food and nutrition assistance administered by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services. Those who get freebie groceries from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program can also obtain goods from the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps).
Children get food from the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Special Milk Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. With administrative overhead accounting for up to $1 out of every $4 spent, it makes financial sense to reduce the bureaucratic layers by consolidating the efforts.
Twenty agencies run 56 programs promoting financial literacy. As Mr. Coburn notes, it’s not clear what business an entity $14.2 trillion in debt has lecturing others on financial literacy. Four agencies run 80 economic development programs at a cost of $6.5 billion. Government could save $5.7 billion annually just by eliminating “potentially duplicative policies designed to boost domestic ethanol production.” In 47 job training initiatives across nine federal agencies, 44 overlap with at least one other project.
Mr. Coburn has pledged to offer discrete savings amendments every chance he gets to delete unneeded programs and streamline the bureaucracy. To enlist the public in the effort, he has teamed up with Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, in creating “Wastebook,” a Facebook page that lets Americans vote on projects most in need of reform. It’s a target-rich environment.