GAO: 'Virtually all' agencies may have overlapping programs

Tuesday - 2/28/2012, 8:00am EST

From food safety to economic development, federal programs are filled with areas of potential duplication, fragmentation and overlap, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The agency plans to release its second annual report on duplicative programs at a congressional hearing later today.

"The 2012 annual report touches on virtually all major federal departments and agencies," Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said in his prepared remarks.

The report could be a powerful tool for lawmakers scrutinizing agencies' fiscal 2013 budget requests. President Barack Obama also will find much to like in the report as he tries to convince Congress to give him the authority to consolidate agencies, starting with those that focus on economic development.

In the report, GAO identified 51 questionable areas, including 32 with potential problems and 19 others that could be done more cheaply or efficiently. GAO issued the first report on duplicative programs in March 2011. Agencies have begun to address many of the concerns raised, but have fixed just 5 percent of them, Dodaro said.

Areas that GAO singles out for improvement include:

Defense: The Defense Department plans to spend $37.5 billion in the next five years on unmanned aircraft systems but lacks a departmentwide strategy, GAO said. For example, the Navy plans to spend more than $3 billion to develop a system modeled on one that the Air Force uses. The department also spends millions of dollars on fragmented language and cultural training programs.

Economic development: The Office of Management and Budget should consider consolidating and restructuring programs to help entrepreneurs. The White House has proposed merging six business-focused agencies, including the Small Business Administration and the Commerce Department.

Education: The vast majority — 83 percent — of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs at 13 different agencies overlap. While there may be reasons for the overlap, GAO noted that most of these programs had never conducted thorough evaluations to find out whether they are achieving their goals. Agencies spent $3.1 billion on STEM programs in fiscal 2010. Both Congress and the president have called for a more strategic approach.

Energy: The Energy Department should reexamine the $5 billion it spends on support at contractor-managed facilities, GAO said.

Federal workforce: Programs focused on building a cybersecurity workforce lack a strong, coordinated framework. In addition, OMB should streamline the personnel background investigation process so agencies stop making duplicative investments.

Food safety: Nine federal agencies need centrally coordinated oversight, GAO said.

Health: The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs need to work together to reduce confusion and frustration among patients. Both agencies often assign case managers or care coordinators to the same patient, GAO said. In some instances, the lack of coordination results in patients receiving contradictory advice.

Homeland security: Agencies are paying the Homeland Security Department $236 million to determine whether their facilities are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. But DHS' Federal Protective Service has completed just four risk assessments since November 2009 because of cost overruns, schedule delays and operational issues, GAO said. Meanwhile, the agencies are conducting their own assessments on the same facilities.

Information technology: GAO estimated that the Departments of Defense and Energy spent $1.2 billion, or five percent of their total IT purchases, on duplicative investments.

Space: "Fragmented leadership has led to program challenges and potential duplication in developing multibillion-dollar space systems," Dodaro said in his remarks. "In some cases, problems with these systems have been so severe that acquisitions were either canceled or the needed capabilities were severely delayed." He said NASA and Defense need to separate "needs from wants."

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