The federal government could save tens of billions of dollars by coming up with better ways to treat radioactive waste — one “big-ticket item” in a Government Accountability Office report Thursday that urged Congress to be more aggressive in overseeing federal spending.
GAO investigators also said the government could save millions of dollars by consolidating the staggering 163 programs it runs to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education — nearly all of which overlapped with one another.
The report once again singled out the government’s dual inspection programs for fish imports — the Agriculture Department is supposed to inspect catfish, while the Food and Drug Administration oversees all other seafood — as a prime area where the government can cut down on duplication.
The recommendations were part of the GAO’s annual duplication report, first ordered in 2011 by then-Sen. Tom Coburn.
Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told lawmakers that past GAO recommendations have resulted in more than $100 billion in savings but said there is plenty of room for more improvement.
“Quite frankly, we’re leaving tens of billions of dollars on the table in savings that could be made,” Mr. Dodaro told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “I think the Congress could be more aggressive in their oversight of the agencies to ensure effective implementation of our recommendations, and I would encourage that, and GAO will support you.”
Lawmakers salivated over the tens of billions of dollars that the Energy Department could save if it labeled radioactive waste at a disposal site in Washington state as a lower risk to public health, and subsequently treated and disposed of it more quickly.
The Energy Department said it is examining the feasibility.
“This is really the big-ticket item,” said Rep. Steve Russell, Oklahoma Republican. “If this committee were to do nothing else other than save $40 billion in the course of this term, we would be doing great service to the republic.”
Previous versions of the duplication report have made big dents.
Mr. Dodaro figures that the reports have spurred $125 billion in savings since 2011, with an additional $53 billion projected in future years.
But the government has ignored or only partially addressed hundreds of other recommendations over the years, the GAO said.
Being the largest pot of discretionary spending, the Pentagon is a consistent target for the waste and duplication report. This year’s edition dinged the Defense Department four times, saying more efficient storage of basic goods such as food and clothes could save over a half-billion dollars.
“The Department of Defense wastes a phenomenal amount of money,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s representative in Congress.
The Pentagon said it is trying to consolidate its distribution storage centers and that agents will look at three sites by next year to see where they can save money.
GAO said 74 of the 176 recommended actions it has directed to the Pentagon over the years are still unresolved.
The IRS, a frequent target of congressional Republicans, was another agency in focus Thursday. Mr. Dodaro said the IRS has taken steps to crack down on identity theft but could be more aggressive in trying to prevent fraudulent payments.
In 2017, the IRS estimated that it improperly paid out $16.2 billion in earned income tax credits, out of a total of $68 billion.
A 2015 law requires the IRS to withhold taxpayer refunds until Feb. 15 if someone claims the earned income or child tax credit — a move the agency estimated saves about $65 million.
But those savings jumped to an estimated $895 million if the agency moved the refund hold date to March 1 and expanded the scope to include all taxpayers, the report said.