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U.S. National Debt:

Still Plenty Of Room For Belt Tightening

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

In March of 2011, I wroteabout a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that highlighted potentially redundant government programs and offered opportunities to save billions of dollars, without reducing services, through eliminating government overlap.  A year later, GAO reportedon the progress made in eliminating potential duplication, overlap and fragmentation in the federal government and identified additional areas and actions that can be taken to further improve program effectiveness and efficiency.  It is clear that eliminating federal government redundancies must be part of a broader effort by Congress and the Administration to get our national deficit and debt under control.

The annual reports, which were ordered by Congress through enactment of an amendment, which I supported, offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) to debt limit legislation, are meant to inform efforts to address fiscal pressures.  In its 2012 progress report, GAO found that only 5 percent of the 81 areas GAO identified in 2011 were fully addressed.  Further, the agency indicated that while some progress had been made, additional steps are needed.    

GAO identified an additional 32 areas of duplication, overlap or fragmentation, meaning there were multiple agencies conducting programs or activities in the same area, and in some cases those programs were not well coordinated, and 19 more cost savings and revenue enhancement opportunities for the federal government including the following: 

  • The federal government spends approximately $170 billion per year for a number of housing programs, tax expenditures, loans and guarantees.  GAO found that more than 160 related programs are administered by 20 entities, and suggested that Congress reexamine the overlapping programs and look for ways to consolidate them.


  • More than 20 federal agencies provide 56 financial literacy programs, and GAO recommended evaluating the effectiveness of these efforts and identifying options for consolidating where appropriate.


  • GAO reported that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) laboratory enterprise includes 37 laboratories that are housed in nearly 170 buildings and facilities located in 30 cities across the nation.  GAO recommended that in the present atmosphere of constrained budgets, the EPA needs to more effectively use its scientific and laboratory resources and integrate these activities to ensure the agency is best positioned to fulfill its core mission. 


  • GAO recognized that the federal government spends billions of dollars on information technology (IT) investments each year.  In Fiscal Year 2011, there were approximately 7,200 investments totaling at least $79 billion.  GAO recommended that potentially duplicative IT investments be addressed to avoid investing in unnecessary systems.


While in some instances the overlaps may be warranted, this report provides further reinforcement of the need to review federal programs and reduce the size of the federal government.  As families and small businesses eliminate wasteful spending to ensure they can provide for necessities, the federal government must also eliminate redundancies as one element of getting our national deficit and debt under control.  Our nation now faces a nearly $16 trillion national debt, which jumped more than $1 trillion since I wrote about the GAO report last year.  As efforts continue to advance comprehensive solutions, this report provides meaningful recommendations to help get our nation's economy back on track through reducing government spending. 

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