The Government’s A Joker

According the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s recently released “Annual Report 2015: Additional Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication, and Achieve Other Financial Benefits”, the government’s a joker. It’s trying to juggle a million different programs, but it can’t quite keep them all under control.

Nicky Clowers, Director of Financial Markets and Community Investment Issues at the GAO, sat down with Christopher Dorobek for the podcast DorobekINSIDER on the government’s lack of coordination.

According to the report, it’s a big problem that there’s no cohesive structure to organize the plethora of government initiatives, and it sets up an environment in which many things can go wrong. It comes down to three distinct types of inefficiencies, as denoted by the report’s title: fragmentation, overlap, and duplication.

Fragmentation refers to the bad effects stemming from multiple agencies having their foot in a particular project, which can often result in poor communication and missed opportunities. Overlap is when multiple agencies are working on separate programs that target the same population. And finally, duplication refers to when agencies have replicated very similar projects with basically the same end goals and expected benefits. Of these separate classifications, duplication is the greatest cause for concern, according to Clowers.

The inefficiencies arise partially because there is no centralized way of managing all government programs. So, according to Clowers, there is a “lack of visibility in terms of what programs are existing,” she said. “It’s very difficult for Congress or the Executive Branch agencies to see across the government to see what might be existing already, and leverage resources rather than duplicate them.”

As part of the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010, OMB is now required to start developing a centralized system to keep track of all federal programs, but it’s still a work in progress, and is not yet really up and running.

These are important things to look at because fixing these problems has the potential to save the government significant sums of money. “We believe there’s tens of billions of dollars annually to be saved from eliminating these types of issues,” said Clowers. “We’ve also in this year’s report documented that there’s over $20 billion that we have saved as a nation, due to Congress and Executive Branch agencies taking actions on our recommendations that we’ve made over the past 4 years, with another $80 billion to be achieved in the next 8 years or so.”

To make sure that these sums of money are saved from taxpayers’ pockets, the GAO has developed what they call the GAO Action Tracker, which provides the status of implementation on each of their previous recommendations as based on the report. According to Clowers, the Tracker has found that approximately 37% of all recommendations have been fully addressed, and 40% are currently underway.

The results of the GAO Action Tracker are viewable on the GAO website, so they’re available not only to federal employees but also to the general public. According to Clowers, this promotes government transparency.

With all of the government’s endless responsibilities, it’s certainly a juggling act. But will the government learn to balance all of its programs up in the air, or will it be a clown dropping the ball?

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