3 Different Federal Agencies do Catfish Inspections…and Other Examples of Government Waste

Monday, April 15, 2013
Catfish (photo: Food Safety News)

The federal government could save billions of dollars a year just by reducing fragmentation, overlap and duplication in government programs, according to third annual Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on government efficiency. Released last week, the report identified 31 “areas of concern” where enhanced efficiency could yield budget savings, ranging from fragmented foreign-language support for the Defense Department to duplicative catfish inspections for three separate agencies.


Including recommendations set forth in the first two annual reports, GAO has found 162 such areas, and identified nearly 400 specific actions that the executive or legislative branches of government could take to enhance efficiency and save money. Since GAO’s first report in 2011, the Obama administration has successfully addressed 16 of GAO’s areas of concern, partially addressed 87, and failed to address 27. Of 300 actions recommended in the first two reports, 65 were successfully addressed; 149 were partially addressed; and 85 were not addressed.


To assist the public in following the government's progress—or lack thereof—in implementing greater efficiency, GAO also launched GAO’s Action Tracker, a publicly accessible website setting forth the status of actions suggested in its efficiency reports.


Acknowledging that “it may be appropriate for multiple agencies or entities to be involved in the same programmatic or policy area due to the nature or magnitude of the federal effort,” Comptroller General Gene Dodaro stressed that the 31 new areas of concern (17 for duplication and 14 for potential cost savings) “may be creating inefficiencies.”


Highlights from this year's GAO report include the following:


Eliminating the Department of Agriculture’s planned catfish inspections, which are mandated by the 2008 farm bill, would avoid program duplication and save millions in taxpayer dollars “without affecting the safety of catfish intended for human consumption,” because two other agencies (the Food and Drug Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service) already conduct catfish inspections.


The government could save up to $200 million by reducing the number of contractors providing foreign-language support to the Defense Department, which currently stands at 159 and costs $6.4 billion a year.


The federal government's various efforts to encourage the development of renewable energy are fragmented. In Fiscal Year 2010, 23 agencies with 130 sub-agencies implemented 679 renewable energy initiatives, with four cabinet-level departments—Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and Interior—implementing nearly 60% of the initiatives, and the other 40% run by a wide array of agencies. In Fiscal Year 2011, 82 different programs dealt with wind energy alone.


Research and development contracting at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is riddled with costly overlap and duplication. Because DHS does not have policies defining R&D or directing how to report it, it does not know its total investment in R&D and overlap is widespread. An audit of 50 related R&D contracts found “35 instances among 29 contracts in which the contracts overlapped, with activities conducted elsewhere in the department. Taken together, these 29 contracts were worth about $66 million,” including two DHS agencies that awarded five separate contracts addressing detection of the same chemical, ammonium nitrate.


Of the $79 billion federal agencies budgeted for information technology (IT) in fiscal year 2011, $54 billion (about 69 percent) was reported to have been spent on the operations and maintenance of existing legacy IT systems—commonly referred to as steady state investments. The Office of Management and Budget has issued official guidance recommending that agencies conduct annual “operational analyses” of these steady state investments, but of the five agencies that account for 70% of such investments—the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services (HHS), DHS, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs—only DHS and HHS actually conducted them, and then only partially.


House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California), lauded GAO in an opening statement for a hearing on the report. “At a time of increased budget pressure, American taxpayers cannot afford to keep buying the same service twice,” he said.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Duplicative Programs Wasting Government Funds, Report Says (by Josh Hicks, Washington Post)

Saving More, Duplicating Less: GAO Gets Specific With Agencies (by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive)

2013 Annual Report: Actions Needed to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits (GAO) (pdf)


Leave a comment