March 07, 2011

Plenty Of Room For Belt Tightening

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Americans recognize that our inflated federal government currently spends far too much, as confirmed by our more than $14 trillion national debt.  Just as families eliminate wasteful spending to ensure they can put food on the table and provide necessities, the federal government must also eliminate redundancies to get our national deficit and debt under control.  A just-released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report sheds additional light on potentially redundant government programs and offers opportunities to save billions of dollars, without reducing services, through eliminating government overlap.

The GAO report, directed by Congress through enactment of an amendment I supported and offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) last year to debt limit legislation, is meant to inform efforts to address fiscal pressures.  GAO found multiple areas where significant savings could be realized through small adjustments:

• Throughout four federal agencies, GAO examined 80 economic development programs that received $6.5 billion in total funding in 2010, found overlap of each program and recommended collaboration to reduce redundancies.

• GAO identified at least 25 information technology systems for public health awareness, costing $40 million in 2009 alone.  Yet, an absence of more effective planning is risking the establishment of an electronic network for national public health emergencies.

• GAO identified 82 programs to improve teacher quality, an effort for which the federal government spent more than $4 billion in 2009 on our nation's three million teachers, and recommended better coordination.

• More than two dozen presidential appointees and 12 federal agencies have responsibility for biodefense, an effort that costs $6.48 billion and lacks accountability.

• Ironically, more than 20 different federal agencies provide approximately 56 financial literacy programs, and there is no estimate of overall federal spending for financial literacy education.

The report made clear that, in some instances, we don't even know how much is being spent.  The full report can be accessed through my website: http://crapo.senate.gov/.

The report highlights the need to take a hard look at overlapping federal programs and reverse the trend of growing the federal government.  This urgent need to get our country back to fiscal health was brought to vivid focus by the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, on which I served.  The commission produced a blueprint for Congress that would shrink our debt by $4 trillion.  This proposal generated strong, bipartisan support, and continues to be the basis for ongoing discussions in Congress to address our fiscal crisis in a meaningful way.

Our debt burden has reached such dangerous proportions that maintaining the status quo would ultimately result in more harmful consequences for the American people and our economy than would be felt through the tough steps that need to be taken now to reduce our unsustainable levels of spending.  This GAO report sheds needed light on the overlap of federal programs that are contributing to overspending; the inflation of the federal government; confusion by the public about the myriad of programs; and the layering of services that in many cases may be more effectively handled by the private sector. As we work to get our nation's economy back on track, I welcome this needed look at government inefficiency, duplication and expansion.  As stated in the report, "Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of tax dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services."

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