- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Like a shopper buying everything on a grocery list twice, the federal government is wasting billions of dollars through duplication and redundant programs, Congress’ chief watchdog warned, releasing its fourth annual list of recommendations on ways to cut down on wasteful spending.

The Government Accountability Office’s 64 new recommendations to pare federal programs join an already extensive list of nearly 400 suggestions ranging from eliminating a loan program that hasn’t been used in three years ($4.2 billion) to refusing to issue passports to people with unpaid tax bills ($5.8 billion) to stopping double payments in unemployment insurance ($1.2 billion).

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa complained at a hearing Tuesday that little seems to be done to save taxpayers money.

“There is low-hanging fruit. Much of it is the same low-hanging fruit we saw a year ago and a year before that,” said Mr. Issa, a California Republican.

Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told the committee his watchdog agency had a long list of overlapping programs and wasteful spending in the government, such as people who are receiving both disability and unemployment insurance.

“Those programs are meant to operate separately, but we found there is a potential loophole where people could receive both incomes at the same time,” Mr. Dodaro said.

Eliminating the double payments could save $1.2 billion during the next decade, the GAO found, but the savings might not stop there.

The various budget cuts and compromises of the last few years have looked to trim $23 billion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, but Mr. Issa said that reforming or eliminating all the programs GAO marked could save far more than that.

“Americans have a right to know the money taken from them is well spent,” he said. “Americans deserve an efficient, effective government that works for them.”

Along with the new recommendations, the investigative office is updating its special website: GAO’s Action Tracker, where users can browse through all the recommendations and whether or not they’re being followed.

Tom Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscal watchdog group, said he supported the suggestions for reducing the overlapping programs.

“Hopefully, such recommendations will spur Washington lawmakers to rein in their wasteful spending habits,” he said. “Reducing and eliminating duplication and overlap throughout federal agencies and departments can only occur with leadership from executive branch officials and continued oversight by Congress.”

Mr. Dodaro said that one of the biggest money savers would be if the federal government simply collected all the taxes it was owed, and stopped providing services to tax scofflaws such as issuing passports.

But one of the biggest aids to reducing redundant spending would be to simply get a big list of every single activity the government is undertaking, Mr. Dodaro said, a process he hopes the various agencies and departments will complete within a year.

“We really do not yet have a complete, comparable inventory of programs across the federal government,” he said. “They’re getting the money to run these programs; they ought to be able to provide a comprehensive inventory.”

Since 2011, the GAO has made 380 specific recommendations for actions that federal agencies can take to address the waste. So far only a third have been completed, and most are only partially done.

The GAO estimates the government is wasting $84 billion each year on redundant purchases of computers and IT support. Rep. John Mica, Florida Republican, noted that the estimate is $20 billion higher than last year.

“Every time I get a report they find more data centers,” he said. “Everybody wants their own. To get them to consolidate, it’s just a bear to get them to do that.”

Mr. Dodaro said the Pentagon was the biggest offender when it came to duplicative programs. The Defense Department could save billions by making the services work together, such as unifying their control of satellites or making all members of the armed forces where the same uniform.

“In any sport, I believe that anybody on the same team ought to have the same uniform,” Mr. Dodaro said.

Mr. Issa, a former Army captain, said military personnel should wear the best camouflage patterns without worrying about markings denoting their branch of service — something that would not only save money, but better protect the troops.

“Uniforms in a combat situation should be as indistinguishable to the enemy as possible,” he said.

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