Why fund a wasteful government program once when you can fund it twice—or, for that matter, 82 times? According to a report on duplication and overlap in the federal government released by the Government Accountability Office today, the U.S. government has 82 distinct programs to improve teacher quality (which, judging from our schools, is clearly working quite well). Many of those programs "share similar goals," according to the report, yet "there is no governmentwide strategy to minimize fragmentation, overlap, or duplication among these many programs." Which probably helps explain how we got so many programs designed to do the same damn thing in the first place.
Teacher quality programs were just one area in which the GAO found significant duplication at the federal level. Indeed, the whole thing reads like a nightmare version of a Pete and Repeat joke. According to The Wall Street Journal's summary of the report, the U.S. government has "15 different agencies overseeing food-safety laws, more than 20 separate programs to help the homeless, and 80 programs for economic development." Eggs are given double scrutiny:
The Food and Drug Administration makes sure that chicken eggs are "safe, wholesome, and properly labeled" while a division of the Department of Agriculture "is responsible for the safety of eggs processed into egg products."
Sounds unequally yolked to me.
Some of the duplication is apparently harder to count: The GAO isn't even entirely sure how many programs the federal government has set up related to financial literacy—only that there are "more than 20 federal agencies providing about 56 programs" involved. That's a ballpark figure, I take it.
All that duplication wastes effort and makes finding and emulating effective programs more difficult, according to the GAO. It also costs a lot of money. The GAO didn't tally it all up, but Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, who lobbied for the report to be created, estimated that all told, the GAO found between $100 and $200 billion in spending on duplicate programs. A billion here, a billion there…eventually it really does start to add up.