The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

And More Costly Duplication

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


As part of a continuing series, CAGW will be providing you examples of duplication and overlap within the federal government that has been researched by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In the 2013 GAO annual report, “Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Benefits," some 31 areas within in the federal government were reviewed that resulted in 81 actions that can be taken that would reduce duplication and provide savings to taxpayers.  Here are three examples.

DOD Language Support Programs

Page 45 – The GAO took a look at the Department of Defense’s (DOD) language support programs.  During fiscal years 2008 to 2012, the DOD obligated over $6.8 billion on contracts for foreign language support.  Over the years, the GAO has found the department lacked an integrated approach and there was overlap or duplication in foreign and culture training courses.  It found that 159 contracting organizations in ten DOD components contracted for foreign language services outside of the executive agent [the Army.]  For example, 30 organizations obligated approximately $955 million on contracts for foreign language and culture-enabled role players and 93 organizations obligated approximately $25.4 million on contracts for foreign language interpretation or translation services for missions and activities other than contingency services.

While the DOD has taken some steps to centralize its foreign language training programs, the GAO told the Secretary of Defense in February 2013 that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness should conduct a total assessment of its current approach for managing foreign language support contracts.  At minimum, the GAO called for, “1) an analysis of spending for other types of foreign language support services and products that have been acquired by the DOD components outside of the executive agent, and (2) based on the results of this analysis, a reevaluation of the scope of the executive agent’s efforts to manage foreign language support contracts to determine if any adjustments are needed.”

The DOD said they would begin work on evaluating their foreign language procurement in 2015 but GAO said because of budget constraints, it would be better to start sooner.

Unfortunately, because the number of foreign language training contracts that were independently obtained, it was difficult for the GAO to determine what kind of savings could be achieved.  In the past when agencies have better coordinated their acquisitions, there has been a savings between 5 to 20 percent.  Based on these figures, there could be a potential savings of anywhere from $340 million to $1.36 billion when it comes to foreign language support programs.

Drug Prevention and Treatment Programs

Page 128 – The GAO reported in March that federal drug abuse prevention and treatment programs are extremely fragmented across 15 federal agencies.  Within these 15 agencies, some 76 drug prevention and treatment programs are administered.  In fiscal year 2012, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) the government spent approximate $10.1 billion on all these programs.  Specifically the GAO found 22 programs that were for drug abuse prevention that provided services, allocated funding, or allowed for activities that focus on discouraging the first-time use of illicit drugs.  They found 21 programs that were for drug abuse treatment and 13 programs that provide drug abuse prevention and treatment.  Furthermore, 59 of the 76 programs were found to have overlapping missions of drug prevention and treatment such as providing services to youth or helping those involved in criminal activities.  While many of the programs do coordinate with each other, many do not.

GAO said the ONDCP is “uniquely situated to conduct an assessment across the 76 drug abuse prevention and treatment program” of which 40 percent (29 programs) “reported not having coordinated with other agencies on drug abuse prevention or treatment programs over the past year.”

GAO provided a draft of this report to the agencies involved with drug treatment: Health and Human Services, Justice, Education, Defense, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs.

While ONDCP acknowledged that it would be good to find increased opportunities for coordination, they also pushed back a bit, saying that many of the programs served different populations such as youth and even sub-populations such as different age groups within the youth cohort.  While GAO recognized that different populations are being served, it also stated “that this is why it is important to systematically review the extent of overlap among prevention and treatment programs, taking into account targeted subgroups and allowable services, to help ensure that they efficiently use limited resources to deliver these important services.”

Clearly, there seems to be a turf war going on between different agencies, each believing only they understand their populations and what they need with regard to drug prevention and treatment.  But surely the GAO is correct in that there is always room for improvement to better coordinate these programs between agencies and to save valuable tax dollars.

Again, based on potential savings of anywhere from 5 to 20 percent when better coordination is used that results in more efficiency, taxpayers could see the costs of drug prevention and treatment programs reduced by $505 million to $2.02 billion.

Veterans Employment and Training

Page 145 – According to the GAO, the federal government spent approximately $1.2 billion on six veteran’s employment and training programs and served approximately 880,000 participants. The Department of Labor (DOL) administrates five of these programs while the Veterans Administration (VA) administers one.  In addition, DOD has expanded their employment assistance that it provides to the National Guard and Reserve members.  These military services face unique challenges because they go in and out of the civilian workforce several times while still participating in the armed services.

In spite of these programs, veterans that have recently left the service still have a higher unemployment rate than found with other veterans or non-veterans.  The GAO said since these multiple programs are spread across multiple agencies it is important for the government to understand the services the programs provide, to whom the services are provided to, the steps agencies take to coordinate the services, and finally, that they know what the employment outcomes are for the participants.

The GAO found that the six programs provide similar services but serve different populations.  The DOL’s Transition Assistance Program focuses on transitioning service members and their spouses while their Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program serves homeless vets.  The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program serves veterans with service-connected disabilities.  The remaining three serve a broader population of veterans. They are the Labor’s Veterans’ Workforce Program, the Local Veteran’s Employment Representative Program, and the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program.

The DOL is asking the Congress defund the Labor’s Veterans’ Workforce Program and the GAO believes the other two programs can serve all eligible veterans and that in particular the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program has the most potential for overlap with other veterans’ employment programs.

The GAO notes that federal law prioritizes certain populations of veterans, such as disabled vets, for services that are provided by the Disable Veterans’ Outreach Program.  But according to the GAO, the DOL does not provide states with the information they need to help in prioritizing disabled vets.

In addition, the GAO states that while the DOL and the VA compiled a handbook to guide the states in their roles for coordinating services to disabled vets, the book has not been updated since 2008.  Nor have they included information about employment initiatives for certain segments of the veteran population such as the National Guard and Reserves. Plus, while the handbook says DOL and the VA are suppose to coordinate with each other to find “suitable employment” for participants – a job that does not aggravate the disability, the guide book doesn’t provide guidance on how staff should guide a participant through the process, especially when a veteran’s financial need may not align up with a job that would be better suited for the disability.

Clearly, it appears the various agencies are not working together to make sure the programs are providing what the veterans need.  The GAO recommended that the Secretary of Labor consistently report both performance goals and associated outcomes for each of the agency’s veteran employment and training programs.  The GAO also recommended better coordination between DOL and the VA, make sure their interagency guidelines are up to date, and where possible, to determine if employment outcomes are a result of their programs or other factors.

It would be a shame that the billions of tax dollars that are being spent to help our veterans are not providing the results that are needed or expected.  Veterans have served our country with honor and many return from their service with life-long disabilities.  It is only proper that government programs provide efficient and effective service for our vets.  And it is important for the taxpayers, as well.

Again, based on the 5 to 20 percent savings generally obtained after better coordination, taxpayers could expect a savings of $60 million to $240 million in our veterans’ employment programs.

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