GAO Report: Government wastes "tens of billions" of dollars on duplication and overlap

Another year, another Government Accountability Office report that shows the federal government still hasn’t gotten its act together when it comes to waste. Last year, the GAO report showed overlap in 81 areas and recommended 176 actions to reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication. This year, the report shows overlap in 51 areas and recommends 130 actions. That’s some improvement, I guess — but still not enough.

The White House says the report doesn’t reflect consolidation proposals in the president’s 2013 budget. But does the president’s budget address the ways in which the government undermines its own efforts to reduce potato chip consumption? Allow Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to explain:

He said government’s duplication in nutritional programs alone — worth $62.5 billion in 2008, according to GAO — have burned taxpayers over items as simple as potato chips.

“While many of these programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allow federal funds to purchase potato chips, dozens of other government-wide initiatives, are aimed at keeping Americans healthy, specifically suggesting food like potato chips should be limited in intake, and perhaps even taken out of public schools all together,” he said.

“At the same time, just this year the Department of Agriculture announced a nearly $50,000 federal grant was being doled out to a private potato chip company in New York. According the proposal, this money would be used to overhaul their media strategy and raise brand awareness and consumer knowledge — essentially encouraging people to buy and consume potato chips,” he said, noting that potato chips sales in the United States exceed $6 billion annually.

Coburn said that sales level “begs the question why the taxpayers are now asked to subsidize promotion and marketing for the industry.”

Michelle Obama must be outraged.

Coburn and Gene Dodaro, comptroller general for the United States, testified today about the GAO report and government waste in general at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Relations Committee. Chairman Darrell Issa took the report as evidence that “the bureaucracy” — not necessarily Democrats or Republicans — is the enemy of taxpayers, but Coburn cast the blame squarely on Congress:

“We set the budget, we pass the appropriations bills and we authorize new activities at the federal agencies. We refuse to apply metrics and standards to the programs we create. We ignore our duty to conduct oversight. And we choose to remain uninformed about existing efforts before creating new ones,” he said.

Coburn’s willingness to accept responsibility — he is, after all, a part of the very Congress he censures — is inspiring. Maybe we the people should look to ourselves to accept responsibility, too. Surely we can do more to encourage accountability. Maybe take a look at the report, find an example of waste that astonishes you and pitch an idea to curb it to your congressman?

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