Double Trouble

Federal agency overlap


It's double trouble for the federal government-again. In April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest annual report on "fragmentation, overlap, and duplication" within the federal bureaucracy. The report was the fourth in as many years, and once again it found numerous instances in which government agencies were copying efforts already made by other government agencies.

The GAO report examined 11 areas of the government-including defense, health, income safety net programs, and information technology-for actions that could be taken to reduce duplication and fragmentation of federal efforts. For example, the GAO notes, the Defense Department, which spends more than $50 billion a year on health care, doesn't have a single, agency-wide strategy for contracting with health care professionals. Only about 8 percent of the department's health provider contracting is centrally coordinated. The result is expensive fragmentation of the contracting process; in one instance, the GAO found 24 separate task orders for medical assistant contracts at the same facility.

The GAO report also found substantial duplicative payments in the disability and unemployment system, which paid more than $850 million in concurrent cash benefits to more than 117,000 individuals. In those instances, the report explained, "the federal government is replacing a portion of lost earnings not once, but twice."

The list goes on. The Defense Department's POW/MIA mission is spread among eight separate organizations that routinely fight over turf, leading to what the GAO calls "discord and lack of collaboration among the entities that account for missing persons," which ultimately makes the search for missing persons more difficult. The Minority AIDS initiative is spread throughout 10 different agencies and multiple funding streams within the Department of Health and Human Services, many of which provide overlapping services to program grantees. Defense Department satellite control initiatives have fragmented into 10 different individual programs, which "requires more infrastructure and personnel to manage when compared to shared networks."

The GAO report suggests solutions to fix the problems it identifies, but in the past Congress has been slow to go along. Of the 380 cost-saving actions recommended in previous reports, just 124 have been acted upon.