Redundant federal programs are leading to billions in waste. Even worse, the Government Accountability Office says in their new report that the government is slow to adopt reforms to fix the problem.
What is Fragmentation?
"Fragmentation refers to a situation when you have multiple agencies providing services in the same broad area. If there is a big issue facing the nation you can imagine there are a wide number of agencies that might be involved but what we find is fragmentation can be a harbinger for overlap and duplication which is a more serious issue. Issues of fragmentation= are causing problems with efficiency or effectiveness of programs," said Clowers.
"Not only does fragmentation represent a potential for overlap and duplication. This creates a gap because one agency assumes the other agency is handling a particular issue," said Clowers.
Difference Between Overlap and Duplication
- Duplication is when you have the same agencies in the same broad area provide the same services to the same beneficiaries.
- Overlap is a slightly lower bar in that you could have multiple agencies in the same area with similar activities but the beneficiaries might be a little different. We more often see instances of overlap.
"GAO has been looking at the issue of overlap for years and we've highlighted the potential for overlap and duplication going back several decades with some programs. So we are able to drawl on our institutional knowledge. We took a systematic approach over the past couple of years in identifying these instances," said Clowers.
How GAO Finds Duplication
"We start with the budget and looking at different functions at the highest level, you can see where there could be a potential for overlap. From there we drill down to the strategic plan and other agency documents. We go out an interview officials, we go on-site to see the services and activities being performed," said Clowers.
Does Congress Mandate Duplication?
"Yes, in some cases. For example there is the regulation of catfish. In 2008 the Farm Bill gave the responsibility for inspecting catfish to the USDA, but there were already two other agencies performing that function. We we (the GAO) have recommended that the Congress take those responsibilities away. It is costing the USDA $14 million annually to regulate the catfish," said Clowers.
How Much Money Is Wasted?
"We are looking in the tens of billions of dollars. In some cases we are able to give very specific information, but in some cases we are not able to estimate a very precise number because there is a lack of data," said Clowers.
Missing Data because:
- There is a lack of budgetary information. Agencies are unable to break down the costs of a particular program from the agency's overall budget.
- There is a lack of performance data. For example if 6 programs exist to help Veterans find a job and training we need to know which one is the most effective. In a lot of cases we don't have the performance metrics.
Can Redundancy Be Useful?
"In some cases redundancy is appropriate. For example in DHS and law enforcement. But with fragmentation issues the key is coordination because if it is not properly coordinated that is where we will get confusion and gaps," said Clowers.
"Multiple agencies are involved in providing different forms of assistance to students and their families, but because of the number of agencies involved and the different types of assistance from tax benefits to grants we find that citizens don't get the best buck because they don't know what resource is best," said Clowers.
Progress Is Being Made?
"We've issued three reports since 2011 where we've brought together past work and new work. From 2011-2012 there were 130 areas where we found evidence of fragmentation or opportunities for cost savings. 80% of those issues have been addressed or partially addressed. It takes time for these webs to develop and it will take time to untangle them," said Clowers.
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