Tax Policy and Administration:
Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue
GAO-11-714T: Published: Jun 1, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 2011.
This testimony discusses our first annual report to Congress responding to the statutory requirement that GAO identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives--either within departments or governmentwide--that have duplicative goals or activities. This work can help inform government policymakers as they address the rapidly building fiscal pressures facing our national government. Our simulations of the federal government's fiscal outlook show continually increasing levels of debt that are unsustainable over time, absent changes in the federal government's current fiscal policies. Since the end of the recent recession, the gross domestic product has grown slowly, and unemployment has remained at a high level. While the economy is still recovering and in need of careful attention, widespread agreement exists on the need to look not only at the near term but also at steps that begin to change the long-term fiscal path as soon as possible without slowing the recovery. With the passage of time, the window to address the fiscal challenge narrows and the magnitude of the required changes grows. This testimony today is based on our March 2011 report, which provided an overview of federal programs or functional areas where unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation exists and where there are other opportunities for potential cost savings or enhanced revenues. In that report, we identified 81 areas for consideration--34 areas of potential duplication, overlap, or fragmentation and 47 additional areas describing other opportunities for agencies or Congress to consider taking action that could either reduce the cost of government operations or enhance revenue collections for the Treasury. The 81 areas we identified span a range of federal government missions such as agriculture, defense, economic development, energy, general government, health, homeland security, international affairs, and social services. Within and across these missions, the report touches on hundreds of federal programs, affecting virtually all major federal departments and agencies. My testimony today highlights some key examples of overlap and duplication from our March report on the federal government's management of programs providing services in the areas of (1) domestic food assistance, (2) employment and training, (3) homelessness, and (4) transportation for disadvantaged populations. For each area, this statement will discuss some of the challenges related to overlap and duplication, as well as examples of how better information about each program could help policymakers in determining how to address this overlap and duplication.
The federal government spent more than $90 billion on domestic food and nutrition assistance programs in fiscal year 2010. This assistance is provided through a decentralized system of primarily 18 different federal programs that help ensure that millions of low-income individuals have consistent, dependable access to enough food for an active, healthy life. The Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Homeland Security as well as multiple state and local government and nonprofit organizations work together to administer a complex network of programs and providers, ranging from agricultural commodities to prepared meals to vouchers or other targeted benefits used in commercial food retail locations. However, some of these programs provide comparable benefits to similar or overlapping populations. For example, individuals eligible for groceries through USDA's Commodity Supplemental Food Program are also generally eligible for groceries through USDA's Emergency Food Assistance Program and for targeted benefits that are redeemed in authorized stores through the largest program, USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Federally funded employment and training programs play an important role in helping job seekers obtain employment. In fiscal year 2009, 47 programs spent about $18 billion to provide services, such as job search and job counseling, to program participants. Most of these programs are administered by the Departments of Labor, Education, and HHS. However, 44 of the 47 federal employment and training programs GAO identified, including those with broader missions such as multipurpose block grants, overlap with at least one other program in that they provide at least one similar service to a similar population. In some cases, these programs may have meaningful differences in their eligibility criteria or objectives, or they may provide similar types of services in different ways. Several federal agencies provide a range of programs that offer not only housing assistance but also supportive services to those experiencing homelessness and to those at risk of becoming homeless, yet coordination of these programs varies by program and agency. We previously reported that in 2009, federal agencies spent about $2.9 billion on over 20 programs targeted to address the various needs of persons experiencing homelessness. A number of federal programs are specifically targeted to address issues related to homelessness while other mainstream programs that are generally designed to help low-income individuals by providing housing assistance and services such as health care, job training, and food assistance may also serve those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. We found the potential for overlap because in some cases, different agencies may be offering similar types of services to similar populations. Federal agencies fund transportation services to millions of Americans who are unable to provide their own transportation--frequently because they are elderly, have disabilities, or have low incomes--through programs that provide similar services to similar client groups. The variety of federal programs providing funding for transportation services to the transportation disadvantaged has resulted in fragmented services that can be difficult for clients to navigate and narrowly focused programs that may result in service gaps. GAO previously identified 80 existing federal programs across eight departments that provided funding for transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged in fiscal year 2010. These programs may provide funding to service providers for bus tokens, transit passes, taxi vouchers, or mileage reimbursement, for example, to transportation-disadvantaged persons for trips to access government services (such as job-training programs), the grocery store, medical appointments, or for other purposes.