- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2015

Federal agencies across the board are continuing to waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on duplicative spending efforts, even after Congress’ official watchdog has made hundreds of recommendations for cutting back.

The spending issues, ranging from Medicare and Medicaid mismanagement to transportation programs to weapon systems acquisitions, cost taxpayers $125 billion in improper payments in 2014 alone, as highlighted in a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Over the last five years, the GAO said it has made 440 recommendations across 180 areas where federal agencies can cut back on fragmented, overlapping and duplicative spending programs, but as of November 2014, only 29 percent of the actions were fully addressed, according to the report.

Private watchdogs say the GAO survey only strengthens their case that government waste and abuse are rife, and that it is taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

“According to GAO, the federal government made about $125 billion in improper payments in 2014 alone. Solving that would give you enough money to kill the death tax, repeal the federal gas tax and airline ticket tax, end all federal excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco and remove all federal taxes on phone and Internet bills,” said Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.

“After that, there would still be enough money left over to give everyone in America a tax cut of $60 just for having a pulse.”

For ignoring watchdog recommendations that could cut duplicative costs and save taxpayers billions, the federal bureaucracy as a whole earns a group award for this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction given by The Washington Times highlighting examples of wasteful federal spending.

“The report just emphasizes for the umpteenth time that wasteful spending is marbled throughout the bureaucracy, and there are hundreds of millions in savings there for the taking, if only Congress would exercise its constitutional mandate to exercise oversight and then act to winnow out the programmatic underbrush and force overdue management changes,” said Leslie Paige, vice president for policy and communications at the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste.

GAO investigators noted in the report that the government can’t continue to sustain its wasteful spending habits, forcing the government to make blunt financial cutbacks, such as sequestration, in order to cope with the losses.

“The federal government faces an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Changing this path will require difficult fiscal policy decisions to alter both long-term federal spending and revenue,” the GAO analysts concluded.

Ms. Paige attributed the irresponsible spending to gridlock in Congress and an unwillingness of bureaucrats to make the necessary budget cuts.

“Politicians love to talk about government waste in general; it is very popular in a stump speech, but they shy away from taking action on the specifics,” she said. “Gridlock has led to an inability and unwillingness to make the necessary judgment calls over which specific programs to cut and which to reform, which to consolidate.”

The sequester, she added, “is a blunt instrument. It cuts across the board, which still leaves programs that should be eliminated or consolidated or reformed almost fully intact.”

Investigators specifically examined instances where federal agencies overlapped in funding, compiling its findings from annual reports over the past five years.

“For example, we reported in 2013 that a total of 31 federal departments and agencies invested billions of dollars to collect, maintain and use geospatial information — information linked to specific geographic locations that support many government functions, such as maintaining roads and responding to natural disasters,” the report reads.

The GAO report targeted both the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services for mismanaging programs that saw rampant wasteful spending.

“For the first time in recent years, the government-wide improper payment estimate increased in fiscal year 2014, primarily due to significant increases in the improper payment estimates for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC),” the report reads. “These programs combined account for over 76 percent of the government-wide estimate. We have made numerous recommendations that if effectively implemented, could help improve program management, reduce improper payments in these programs, and achieve cost savings.”

A spokesperson for HHS could not be reached for comment. In an email statement sent to The Washington Times, the IRS attributed the improper payments cited in the report to a lack of funding and manpower to help oversee the EITC.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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