Congress can't ignore waste identified in new study

Yet, some lawmakers might want to do just that for the benefit of their district. This is why action needs to be taken in public.

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News flash! A new study by a federal watchdog agency finds that overlapping and duplicative federal programs waste billions of taxpayer dollars each year.

While that statement might seem to sum up the obvious, it was nevertheless the subject of an Associated Press news story focusing on billions of dollars in waste discovered by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Waste in government is of interest to all taxpayers as government is now looking at reducing programs and services in an effort to save money.

Ironically - or maybe that's unfortunately - the findings of this study won't be seen as clear evidence that changes must be made to all of the agencies mentioned. Instead, lawmakers of both parties will target for cuts those things that don't benefit their district or state while defending those that seemingly benefit their constituents. Frankly, it's a major reason this kind of waste occurs in the first place.

What the GAO found in its report is troubling. The report, for example, identified 47 job training programs, 80 programs to help poor and disabled people with their transportation needs and 82 distinct programs on teacher quality.

"Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services," the report says.

According to the report, 53 of the 82 teacher quality programs have budgets of less than $50 million, but many of them have separate administrative processes that could be consolidated to squeeze savings from the $4 billion devoted to the programs. And, the report said, about half of 47 job training programs with a budget of $18 billion have had no performance reviews since 2004.

This led the GAO investigators to conclude that "little is known about the effectiveness of most programs."

"We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we are doing," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is credited with being the driving force behind the GAO study. "We could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services ... GAO has identified a mother lode of government waste and duplication that should keep Congress busy for the rest of the year."

Agreed. Then again, how could someone not agree? Waste is never a good thing, right?

While there will be agreement duplication has occurred, few in Congress will agree which of the myriad programs will go and which will remain. The view taken will depend on, as the old saying goes, whose ox is being gored.

But Congress must take action. The agencies named must scrutinize these programs and their worth must debated - all in a public setting. Then action needs to be taken to consolidate programs and eliminate the waste.

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