The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Implement GAO Reforms: Culberson-Coburn or a Commission?

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.


While February 2nd has long been recognized as Ground Hog Day, perhaps February 5th – at least for this year – should be coined Government Waste Elimination Day. On February 5, 2013, CAGW President Tom Schatz testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR).  The topic?  “Government Spending:  How Can We Best Address the Billions of Dollars Wasted Every Year?”  In his remarks, Schatz touched on various areas of government waste, but he pointed out something that Congress itself has known for years, based on its own watchdog’s reporting – that the Federal government has numerous programs that are duplicative and arguably ineffectual.  Specifically, the CAGW often references the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and its two recent reports (published in 2011 and 2012) on this topic. Coincidentally, on the very same day – and involving no prior coordination with CAGW – U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a 7-term Republican from Houston, Texas, introduced H.R. 504, a bill “to save at least $10,000,000,000 by consolidating some duplicative and overlapping Government programs.”  In reality, this bill is a re-introduction of H.R. 6729, legislation that Culberson had introduced in the waning days of the last Congress – indeed just 35 days earlier, on New Year’s Day, while the members of the 112th were careening to avoid the fiscal cliff.  The Culberson bills are essentially the House companions to Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) own version (S. 945), with the only significant difference being the minimum threshold of $5 billion, rather than the $10 billion stated in Culberson’s bills.  While S. 945 died with the last Congress, an updated version is expected this spring. Culberson’s initiative is timely – and not just because it mirrors CAGW’s own recommendations.   For one thing, the sequester is looming large over budget deliberations ahead of its March 1st effective date.  Perhaps more embarrassingly, the GAO is on the verge of publishing a third such report on duplication and overlap – also sometime in March. In his February 5 testimony, Schatz bemoaned the fact these areas of waste have been known to the Congress for some time.  Indeed, many of the GAO’s most recent recommendations were part of the original Grace Commission report, which led to CAGW’s founding 28 years ago.  That said, with only minor efforts to resolve these costly redundancies over the years, Schatz suggested that perhaps a BRAC-style commission – one that would recommend a raft of reductions to be approved (or not) by an up-or-down vote – might be the only way that a timid Congress would muster the gumption to harvest these relatively low-hanging fruit, particularly at a time when they are scrambling to avoid much harsher cuts. But maybe there is hope for real congressional leadership to start “eating the elephant” that is our massive deficits and debt – that is, one bite at a time.  And given the skepticism often associated with establishing yet another commission, the Culberson and Coburn proposals should easily be considered the first course in devouring this unwieldy beast.

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