GAO Duplication Report Should Guide Trump

By Curtis Kalin

Wastewatcher, June 2017

Early in his presidency, Donald Trump has demonstrated through words and deeds a commitment to reforming and reorganizing the federal bureaucracy, including the elimination of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.  A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will make that job a little easier.

On April 26, 2017, GAO released its seventh annual report on “Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication.”  The report’s purpose is to, “identify and report on federal agencies, programs, and initiatives with fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative goals or activities; and ways to reduce costs or enhance revenue.”  Since 2011, GAO has made 645 recommendations for Congress and the executive branch in these annual reports. 

The 2017 report noted that, as of March 2017, 51 percent of those recommendations have been addressed or completed, which amounts to an estimated total savings of $136 billion.  If Congress and the executive branch fully addresses the remaining 49 percent of GAO’s recommendations, “tens of billions of dollars in additional financial benefits could be realized.”  The 2017 report includes “79 new actions that Congress and executive branch agencies could take to improve operations across government.” 

Of particular note to the Trump administration should be the 627 recommended actions (86 percent of the total) directed at executive branch agencies, because 53 percent of them remain incomplete.  This gives the administration the unique opportunity to save billions of taxpayer dollars without needing congressional action.  According to GAO, the majority of the unaddressed action was found at the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense, along with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

The report makes several references to improper payments throughout the federal government.  The issue remains an unaddressed item since GAO began creating its report in 2011.  GAO’s January 12, 2017 financial audit found that government-wide improper payments hit another record high of $144 billion in fiscal year 2016.  Most ominously, GAO found that, “since fiscal year 2003, cumulative improper payment estimates have totaled over $1 trillion.” 

GAO reiterated specific recommendations that would mitigate this festering fiscal wound.  For example, more widespread use of the Do Not Pay Working System, which would allow easy transmission of the Social Security Administration’s death master file to any federal department, would help prevent taxpayer dollars from being paid to the deceased.   But GAO noted that the federal government simply does not have effective tools to comprehensively monitor, prevent, or recover bogus payments.  The conclusion from GAO is stinging: “Until the federal government has implemented effective processes to determine the full extent to which improper payments occur and to reasonably ensure that appropriate actions are taken across entities and programs to effectively recover and reduce improper payments, the federal government will not have reasonable assurance that the use of taxpayer funds is adequately safeguarded.”  President Trump’s FY 2018 budget addresses this issue, in agreement with CAGW’s Prime Cuts report, by calling for improper payments to be cut in half.

There are other ludicrous examples of duplication that remain unresolved.  One of the most obvious is the existence of two programs in two different agencies that are tasked with inspecting the same type of catfish.  There are 14 agencies that do not have procedures to prevent wasteful spending on or usage of mobile devices.  The IRS runs nine different public referral programs to report if someone is not paying taxes, but there is no formalized way for these programs to share information.  The agency could save billions if this lack of coordination is corrected, but GAO’s recommendation in this area has gone unaddressed since last year. 

On February 22, 2017, President Trump told taxpayers, “the finances of our country are a mess, but we’re going to clean them up.  We won’t let your money be wasted anymore. We must do a lot more with less.”  The GAO’s 2017 duplication report is a comprehensive blueprint for President Trump to make good on his pledge. 

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