Government Waste

Why Have One Government Program When 10 Can Do the Same Thing? GAO Report Reveals Duplicated Efforts, Wasted Money.

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Multiplicity
Multiplicity/Columbia Pictures

In the movie Multiplicity, we learned that a copy of a copy is sometimes not as sharp as the original. When it comes to government, the original isn't usually that sharp to begin with. But officials sometimes insist on duplicating their efforts anyway, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The result is about as unimpressive as you'd expect, when federal agencies persist in stepping on each other's feet at enormous expense to taxpayers.

In the fourth report in a series that has already identified hundreds of instances of federal agencies providing the same or similar services to the same or similar beneficiaries, the GAO "presents new areas in which we found evidence that fragmentation, overlap, or duplication exists among federal programs or activities."

Why does this matter?

Because, as the GAO points out, "the federal government faces an unsustainable fiscal path," and getting out of its own way is one of the easier means of cutting costs.

Among the problems identified in the latest report is the lack of any consolidated system at the Department of Defense to contract for health care professionals. "For example, we identified 24 separate task orders for contracted medical assistants at the same military treatment facility." Now, multiply that across the entire military establishment.

And the creeping police state around us may be intrusive and presumptuous—but it sucks at cooperation. The Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Treasury are independently modernizing their wireless communications systems. "As a result, their communications systems, which represent hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, may not be interoperable and may not enable the most effective response to natural disasters, criminal activities, and domestic terrorism."

That's hundreds of millions of dollars just on radios that may not talk to each other.

The federal government is equally efficient about monitoring double-dipping from disability and unemployment benefits. In 2010 alone, the GAO found more than $850 million in duplicated payments from the Disability Insurance and Unemployment Insurance programs. In each case, "the federal government is replacing a portion of lost earnings not once, but twice."

Even when it comes to targeted programs and specific communities, government officials can't resist cloning—badly—their efforts. The GAO found 10 different agencies and offices in the Department of Health and Human Services offering overlapping programs with regard to HIV and AIDS among racial and ethnic minorities.

After taking a grand tour of federal government multiplicity, the GAO recommends 45 actions for cutting costs. Don't get your hopes too high, though. Of the 380 reforms previously recommended, only 124 have been fully addressed.

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  1. Of the 380 reforms previously recommended, only 124 have been fully addressed.

    “Let’s see, Reform 1: Cut spending by cutting out…blah,blah. How about no? OK, that’s 1 reform addressed. Hey this is pretty easy.”

  2. If you understood how the government works, you wouldn’t be surprised by this. Also, it is not as simple as “just centralize everything”.

    Take this example; The Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Treasury are independently modernizing their wireless communications systems.. If they all bought one system, the “idiot government central planners adopt a one size fits all communications system” story would pretty much write itself.

    The other issue is of course Congress. A lot of those duplicate programs are created and mandated by Congress. Good luck getting congress to be any smarter.

    The lesson of this story is not “this government is bad”. The lesson is all government is wasteful by its nature. It is frankly surprising that they found so few redundancies. By making it a scandal you imply that it is out of the ordinary rather than inherent in the system and can somehow be fixed. No, it can’t be fixed because governments are inherently wasteful. And that is the one of the big reasons why you only use government to do as few things as possible.

    1. OK, so use the dozen or more federal teen pregnancy prevention programs as an example instead. If the twelfth program was justified, then I would assume it’s because the first eleven weren’t working.

      Government is fat and bloated because it never eliminates anything, it only adds more and more like a termite mound that will eventually collapse under its own weight.

      1. The solution to those 12 programs isn’t some new top man scheme to create one program. The solution is to stop using the government to try and stop teen pregnancy.

  3. Because, as the GAO points out, “the federal government faces an unsustainable fiscal path,” and getting out of its own way is one of the easier means of cutting costs.

    Weren’t we just assured by top economic thinkers that there is no such thing as an unsustainable fiscal path?

  4. So we got wind of a govt system that has about 700 users that crashed over the weekend. You know how many users noticed and sent a trouble ticket? One. And that person is a staff member of the team that runs the system. Also come to find out the “system” is an email that is sent with a txt attachment (yes, txt. As in Notepad) with every piece of content that was published to a particular web site that day. Not links to the content – all of the actual content.

    So there’s a government organization out there that supports and pays for a system that a) apparently is only used by one person and b) emails a txt file.

    Man, I love payin’ me some taxes.

    1. My job is to maintain software that stores documents electronically for the government, in part to save paper.
      What is the first thing these idiots do when assigned a task for a document?
      You guessed it. They print it.
      Then when it gets tasked to the next person, they print it.
      The result of storing the document electronically to save paper is every person who touches it prints a fresh copy.

      1. When I first got my badge here at work, I had to fill out and submit an electronic form. After doing so, I went up to the badge office with my ID and contract paperwork. They told me I needed a printout of the application I had filled out electronically. I’m sure I looked like I swallowed a toad when I heard that, having never worked in govt before.

      2. That is pretty much the entire world sarcasmic. Most people can’t edit a document electronically and have to print it out. Don’t ask me why. But they are just like that.

        1. That is pretty much the entire world sarcasmic.

          Only if your entire world is government. That was new to me, and I’m not new to the world.

        2. Most people can’t edit a document electronically

          In the world outside of government, if you are told to edit the document electronically, you fucking learn or you are replaced.

    2. Nothing to cut. NOTHING TO CUT.

      1. “The cupboard is bare. People need to know this.” – Nancy Pelosi

    3. It makes you wonder, just how bad would the fallout be if the federal government just disappeared one day? I can see some of its functions being gone as being temporary disasters, but how long would it take before we’d be back (using that word liberally) to a smoothly functioning society?

      1. People would just make more.

        There would be an outcry and a new system would appear, almost overnight I imagine.

  5. “For example, we identified 24 separate task orders for contracted medical assistants at the same military treatment facility.” Now, multiply that across the entire military establishment.

    Ah, you begin to see how you could cut 30% of the DoD and not be one whit less capable. And just think if procurement was rationalized and the flag ranks reduced too.

  6. This is impossible. We have been assured that there is nothing left to cut. The government is running on a skeleton crew, full of the evils of AUSTERITY.

  7. No kidding. And did they stop at federal agencies? What about all those “public private partnerships” where things are duplicated all over again in private sector money laundering deals?

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