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U.S. National Debt:

Additional Cost-Saving Steps Needed

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its annual report to Congress that identifies potentially redundant government programs and opportunities to save billions of dollars through eliminating government overlap.  The agency also took stock of progress in reducing previously identified duplication, overlap and fragmentation, meaning multiple agencies conducting programs or activities in the same area in the federal government.  GAO provided recommendations of steps that can increase efficiency and save tens of billions of dollars annually in federal spending.

Congress directed GAO to provide these annual reports through an amendment I supported that was offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) to debt limit legislation.  The reports are meant to inform efforts to address fiscal pressures.  GAO found 31 new opportunitiesto provide significant savings.  For example, GAO recommended that Congress repeal a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill that shifted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsibility for inspecting catfish.  I am a long-time proponent of repealing this costly move, and GAO found that eliminating this provision would "avoid duplication of already existing federal programs and could save taxpayers millions of dollars annually without affecting the safety of catfish intended for human consumption." 

The agency found that additional coordination by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and USDA could help three water and wastewater infrastructure programs with combined funding of about $4.3 billion avoid potentially duplicative application requirements, associated costs and time. 

Every effort must be made to reduce duplicative paperwork affecting the ability of communities, especially small communities with less manpower and resources, to address their water and wastewater systems. 

GAO also recommended that the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense should enhance their collaboration to reduce costs, overlap and potential duplication in the delivery of health care services to veterans, service members, military retirees and other beneficiaries.  Duplication of federal services often creates confusion, as people may not know who to go to for needed assistance.  Further, duplication of federal services is an unnecessary expense that is unacceptable in a time of tight budget constraints and fiscal austerity.  

In its 2013 progress report, GAO found that 12 percent of the 131 areas GAO identified in its past two reports were addressed, while 66 percent were partially addressed and nearly 21 percent were not addressed.  Clearly, progress is needed in reducing unnecessary spending.

As the national debt now exceeds an overwhelming $16.8 trillion, or more than $53,000 per American, we must implement common-sense reductions.  Eliminating overlap and better coordinating services provide obvious opportunities to save while improving assistance.  The GAO reports again shed light on the federal program overlap that contributes to overspending and confusion, and must be considered as part of the effort to reduce overspending.  

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