GAO Annual Report Provides Opportunities to Cut Wasteful Spending | Citizens Against Government Waste

GAO Annual Report Provides Opportunities to Cut Wasteful Spending

The WasteWatcher

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released its annual report documenting opportunities for Congress and the executive branch to reduce overlapping, duplicative, and inefficient spending programs.  The 2024 edition was released on May 15, 2024.  Since the first report was published in 2011, 1,480 recommendations implemented by Congress and the executive branch have resulted in $667.5 billion in savings to taxpayers.  Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has publicized this annual report constantly since it was first released and again calls on Congress and federal agencies to act on the recommendations.

The 2024 report recommends 112 new actions across 42 new topic areas where Congress and various executive agencies can “improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government.”  If these new suggestions for reform and the 437 unimplemented recommendations from past editions of the GAO’s annual report are implemented, tens of billions of dollars more in wasteful spending could be saved and the size and scope of the bloated federal government could be reduced. 

The 2024 report made two key recommendations to reduce the cost of the federal government’s real estate footprint.  Expected maintenance costs for public buildings managed by the Departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, the Interior, and the General Services Administration, rose 83 percent from 2017 to 2022, from $26.6 billion to $48.7 billion, due to poor prioritization of maintenance resources.  “Agencies could save one hundred million dollars or more,” the GAO noted, “by using predictive models to make investment decisions on deferred maintenance and repair for federal buildings and structures.”  While efficiently timing maintenance will reduce costs for these agencies, they should also consider reducing their real property holdings. 

“Federal agencies need building utilization benchmarks to help them identify and reduce underutilized office space,” the report declares, “which could save ten million dollars or more over 5 years.”  An investigation by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) released in December 2023 disclosed that, “not a single government agency is occupying even half their office space … despite the fact that the same federal buildings are still being heated, cooled, and otherwise maintained directly on the taxpayer’s dime.”  As this low occupancy rate resulted largely from remote and hybrid work policies instituted during the pandemic, Sen. Ernst suggests that the administration either bring executive branch employees “back to the office or sell off unused facilities.”

Deciding how much real estate is necessary and properly maintaining the properties that are used is generally an easy process in the private sector.  Businesses cannot afford to pay for unnecessary space or overpay for the space they have.  But this has unfortunately been an ongoing problem in Washington, D.C., and more attention needs to be paid to getting it resolved.

The report also noted that the Department of Education (DoED) could prevent more than $2 billion from being fraudulently distributed as student loan forgiveness over a 10-year period by using “data to verify income information for borrowers reporting zero income on Income-Driven Repayment applications.”  A June 25, 2019, GAO report found that student borrowers can take unfair advantage of the DoED’s income-driven repayment plans by fraudulently misreporting their income to qualify for increased debt forgiveness.  Income-driven repayment only makes sense when the DoED has accurate data about borrowers’ income to prevent them from further milking the system.  As 4.3 million borrowers have already received more than $153 billion in student loan forgiveness, the department must close this enforcement loophole.  Meanwhile, the GAO suggests that “Congress should consider strengthening schools’ accountability for student loan defaults” by enacting language similar to Title II of the Acting on the Annual Duplication Report Act of 2021, which would amend the federal student loan insurance program to prohibit lenders from excluding delinquent borrowers from their default rate calculation by placing them in temporary forbearance.

The report also takes aim at corporate welfare, suggesting that Congress could save billions of dollars by reconsidering whether private facilities, including hotels, golf courses, and professional sports stadiums “should be financed with tax-exempt governmental bonds.”  In 2008, the GAO wrote that “because the interest earned by investors who purchase tax bonds is generally excluded from federal income taxes, the federal revenue losses amount to billions of dollars annually.”  The bipartisan No Tax Subsidies for Stadiums Act, introduced as H.R. 993 by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and its Senate companion, S.392 introduced by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to ensure bonds used to finance private athletic stadiums are not given the same tax exemption as municipal bonds meant to fund public infrastructure.

With $2 trillion average deficits projected annually over the next 10 years, Congress should act promptly to bring the recommendations before the committees of jurisdiction for their consideration and adoption prior to a floor vote.  Congress should also conduct stricter oversight of federal agencies and require them to adopt the pertinent GAO proposals to streamline agency operations and eliminate duplicative spending.


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