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.