Taxpayers Deserve a More Efficient Government | Citizens Against Government Waste

Taxpayers Deserve a More Efficient Government

The WasteWatcher

At the end of September 2020, the federal government will have spent more in a single fiscal year than at any time in history.  This would have been true even without the trillions of dollars added to the deficit to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which turned a projected $1 trillion deficit into a $3.3 trillion deficit.

There is no better time to step back and reflect how taxpayers deserve a more efficient and effective government that maximizes their resources to the greatest extent possible.  Unfortunately, this is not what they find happens with the taxes they send to the federal government, whether there is a record deficit or an extremely rare surplus.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has been fighting for more fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency in spending by the federal government since the organization’s founding in 1984 by the late businessman J. Peter Grace and late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jack Anderson following the issuance of the President Ronald Reagan’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, also known as the Grace Commission. 

Efforts to transform and streamline the government over the years have met with mixed success.  Among the latest efforts by Congress to reform government accountability and transparency are several bills to improve government operations. 

On February 12, 2020, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) introduced S. 3287, the CFO Vision Act of 2020, which builds on the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act).  This legislation would improve federal financial management by strengthening the roles of the Chief Financial Officer and Deputy Chief Financial Officer at each federal agency and ensure through regular audits consistency and continuity in agency financial operations.  In addition, the bill would require long-range financial planning and audited financial statements from each agency.  On July 22, 2020, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved the legislation, and it is now awaiting floor consideration.

An August 6, 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailed the improvements made since the enactment of the (CFO Act) and subsequent financial management legislation, which included reforms in federal financial management, leadership efforts, and advances in technology.  GAO made several recommendations for refinement of the CFO Act, several of which had been included in S. 3287, like providing agency CFOs and deputy CFOs with the necessary responsibilities to carry out federal financial management activities; requiring each agency to prepare an agency-level four-year financial management plan; developing performance-based metrics for reporting on external controls; conducting annual assessments and reporting; and, identifying and developing key financial management information necessary for effective financial management and decision making. 

One of the most commonsense proposals to streamline processes in the federal government is H.R. 6128, the Eliminate Agency Access Space Act, introduced by Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.).  The bill would allow federal agencies to sell or lease unused or under-used office space.  According to the General Services Administration (GSA), the government currently “owns or leases over 376.9 million square feet of space in 9,600 buildings in more than 2,200 communities nationwide.” 

In 2016, the GAO reported that in “fiscal year 2015, federal agencies reported over 7,000 excess or underutilized real property assets.”  Federal real property was included in GAO’s 2019 High-Risk Report, like it has in every similar report since 2003

The most significant obstacle to reducing the number of unused and under-used office space is the requirement that before selling or relinquishing an office space, GSA must first determine whether another agency may have use for the space.  H.R. 6128 seeks to help eliminate barriers to reducing the federal footprint by removing this GSA review process.

Another way to make commonsense changes in federal procedures is to improve the management of the federal government’s $90 billion information technology budget. 

In 2014, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) supported efforts to modernize federal information technology management through the enactment of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act or FITARA, which was included as part of the final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.  H.R. 7949, the SMART Government Act, introduced by Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) on August 7, 2020, picks up where FITARA left off.  The bill would implement a three-prong approach to establishing a more efficient government oversight process for federal technology practices with respect to continuing the thousands of data centers across the federal government, improving software asset management, and ensuring that information sent to the National Archives is accomplished through digital services using information technology. 

According to GAO, the federal government had a total of 2,747 reported data centers in fiscal year 2019, and had closed 102 of those data centers with plans to close an additional 184.  The GAO also noted a disparity occurring in the number of data centers agencies reported over the years, and there is no clear consensus as to how many data centers the federal government operates.  According to GAO, OMB reported that federal agencies operated 432 data centers in 1998; 2,094 in July 2010, 5,607 in August 2016, and 5,916 in August 2018.  Operating such a large number of data centers will continue to be a significant cost to the federal government.  By requiring the continued consolidation and elimination of unnecessary data centers, H.R. 7949 will enable federal agencies to achieve cost savings that can be repurposed for other uses. 

On January 20, 2016, CAGW President Tom Schatz noted in comments submitted to OMB that the inventory of software assets across the federal government has been problematic.  He strongly encouraged OMB to require agencies to report the number of existing software licenses at the agency; the number of software licenses used; the amount of funding expended each year for software licensing agreements; and a plan of action for bringing the number of software licenses into balance with the agency’s needs.  Tools and applications are readily available in the private sector to help manage software assets, yet the federal government is failing miserably to know where and how software that has been purchased is being deployed.  H.R. 7949 will encourage federal agencies to manage their software assets more effectively and generate savings for taxpayers.

While Congress is nearing the end of the current session and a new Congress will be sworn in on January 4, 2021, these commonsense initiatives should be considered prior to adjournment.  If not, saving taxpayer dollars through the implementation of these government reform initiatives should be a top priority for the 117th Congress.

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