Building a 21st Century Government by Cutting Duplication, Fragmentation, and Waste

Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a progress report on the work Congress and the Administration have done over the last year to tackle duplication and fragmentation and take advantage of cost-saving opportunities in the Federal government. In addition, it released a second report suggesting areas for future action. We appreciate GAO’s work in these important areas. Big problems require all of us – the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch– to come together around big solutions.

We have examined the GAO report, and our analysis of it is here. The key findings are:

  • Nearly 80 percent of the issue areas for which GAO recommended action last year, and more than three-quarters of the recommendations for Executive Branch actions associated with those areas (76 percent) were addressed in some way.
  • Congress addressed less than 40 percent of the GAO recommendations that required congressional action (39 percent) in some way.

GAO found progress over the last year reducing duplication in areas as diverse as data center consolidation, food safety, interagency contracting, and arms control. It found cost-saving progress in areas as diverse as the management of DOD spare parts, government wide improper payments, strategic sourcing, and electronic filing of tax returns. 

Because the GAO analysis is a snapshot in time that was completed in early February, it is not comprehensive. In 21 areas highlighted by the GAO report – more than one-quarter of the total – significant reforms were proposed in the 2013 Budget that were not taken into account by GAO because its analysis was completed before the Budget’s release. Also, the report does not take into account the President’s call for the reinstatement of consolidation authority, which he announced he would use to take on significant government reforms starting with his proposal to merge six business and trade agencies into one.

Two things that Congress can do right now to reduce duplication and waste are to pass the proposals in the President’s FY 2013 Budget and to pass the Reforming and Consolidating Government Act the Administration sent to the Hill earlier this year which will set up an expedited process to review government consolidation proposals.

Yet, the Administration will not wait for congressional action. Where we can, we are taking aggressive action to eliminate overlap and reduce fragmentation administratively across government. We also continue our aggressive efforts to reform and save money in contracting, IT use and procurement, improper payments, administrative overhead, and Federal real estate – all as part of the President’s and Vice President’s Campaign to Cut Waste. These efforts include consolidating 1,200 data centers by the end of 2015 – over 100 of which have already been shuttered and 500 of which will closed by the end of this year. We are also moving fast to cut excess real estate costs across civilian agencies over $3 billion by the end of this year, as we await Congressional action on the President’s legislative proposal to shrink the government’s profusion of excess real estate even more dramatically.

Other Administration actions include breaking down the long existing silos in government through greater inter-agency coordination of the sort GAO recommends in both its 2011 status report and its new 2012 report, creating working groups in cross-cutting areas such as food safety and supporting our military families, and cross-agency priority goals in areas such as job training, energy efficiency, and entrepreneurship. We are doing all we can administratively to reduce wasteful overlap and fragmentation while improving services for the American people.

Of course, more work must be done; as GAO states, “a number of the issues are difficult to address and implementing many of the actions identified will take time and sustained leadership.” No matter how difficult it may be to cut this waste, the Administration is committed to getting the job done.

As the President has said, to support an economy that’s built to last, we need a government that’s built for the 21st Century. We’ve made real progress toward that end and we look forward to working with Congress to enact the reforms proposed by the President to make our government work more effectively and efficiently for the American people. 

Danny Werfel is Controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management 

Your Federal Tax Receipt