Audit hits agencies for uncoordinated, inefficient programs

Despite U.S. EPA and six other federal agencies spending more than $1.4 billion to provide clean drinking water in the U.S.-Mexico border region, the effort remains ineffective.

That is just one finding in a new report today from the Government Accountability Office, which released the first of what will be an annual list of duplicative government programs.

The report, which GAO said is not meant to be a comprehensive list, identifies 34 areas where federal agencies have overlapping objectives or provide similar services to the same populations. It identifies another 47 areas beyond those directly related to overlap where agencies and Congress could reduce the cost of operations or enhance revenue collection.

GAO did not put a price tag on all the savings it identified in the new report, but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- who included language in last year's debt limit measure requiring GAO to conduct the study -- estimated that at least $100 billion in savings has been identified.

"This report confirms what most Americans assume about their government. We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we are doing. The executive branch doesn't know. The Congressional branch doesn't know. Nobody knows," Coburn said in a statement.


The savings and recommendations identified in the report should keep Congress busy for the rest of the year, Coburn added.

"This report also shows we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year without cutting services. And, in many cases, smart consolidations will improve service," he said.

The largest number of duplicative areas identified fall under defense, homeland security and law enforcement spending. But two wasteful and overlapping areas were highlighted in the realm of energy spending, including efforts to increase domestic ethanol production and set fuel standards for federal vehicles.

"The ethanol tax credit and the renewable fuel standard can be duplicative in stimulating domestic production and use of ethanol, and can result in substantial loss of revenue to the Treasury," the report states.

GAO found that the ethanol tax credit, which will cost about $5.7 billion in 2011, is largely unneeded to ensure demand for domestic ethanol production. The agency recommends that Congress consider the necessity of the tax credit given the effectiveness of the renewable fuel standard, which is administered by EPA.

Meanwhile, GAO noted that five different federal statutes and executive orders have been issued in recent years setting fuel and energy requirements for the federal vehicle fleet. But those statutes and orders "were enacted and issued in a piecemeal fashion and represent a fragmented rather than integrated approach to meeting key national goals," the report states.

GAO believes that changes in existing laws could streamline the requirements and provide fleet managers with more flexibility in meeting fleet energy goals.

Today's GAO report will be the key topic of conversation at a Thursday hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Click here to read the report.

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