U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) and Mark Udall (D-CO) have introduced legislation to change the Senate rules to ensure lawmakers have necessary information available to identify all similar existing federal programs before creating new initiatives. This legislation would require an analysis be completed by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to identify if a new bill creates any federal program, office, or initiative that would duplicate or overlap an existing federal entity. This reform would require CRS to issue a “duplication score,” which would explain if the considered legislation creates new programs duplicative of existing programs.
Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its third annual duplication report identifying potential savings of $95 billion among 17 areas of government duplication and 14 areas of potential cost savings. Despite three years of uncovering duplicative programs, the GAO has yet to identify all overlapping programs in the federal government. The Senators believe that Congress continues to reduce its oversight duties and instead continues to introduce policies and legislation that add more to federal government duplication and overlap. With a national debt soon to top $17 trillion, Congress must use all tools available to make smart policy decisions that ensure taxpayer funds are not spent on creating new programs that replicate existing programs.
“Across America, families continue to make hard choices to make ends meet. We need to be doing the same in Washington. One easy choice for members of Congress is to avoid spending money on programs that duplicate existing programs. Over the past three years, the GAO has found nearly $300 billion in overlap in their annual duplication reports. If individual members of the Senate fail to do the research to determine if their proposals are duplicative, this bill will ensure they receive that information. No family would handle their finances in such a haphazard way, and I’m pleased many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree,” said Dr. Coburn
“All too often, Congress focuses on creating new programs and regulations instead of updating existing programs or abolishing those that have outlived their purpose,” Udall said. “This bipartisan, common-sense bill will help eliminate duplicative programs and ensure that lawmakers formally analyze possible duplication when they draft a bill or resolution. The process this bill creates will force the federal government to be more efficient and give the taxpayers a better return on their dollar.”
Since release of GAO’s first report on duplication, the Senate has twice rejected bipartisan legislation aimed at preventing future duplication.
First, on June 29, 2011, the Senate rejected identical legislation offered to S. Res. 116. The vote result was 63 – 34 (Yea –Nay), however, the measure failed to achieve the two-thirds vote threshold needed to pass.
On February 2, 2012, the Senate voted on the measure a second time. The vote result was 60-39 (Yea-Nay) but it again failed to garner the votes necessary for passage.
Key GAO findings and examples of duplication, mismanagement, and waste from the 2013 report include:
- 679 renewable energy initiatives at 23 federal agencies and their 130 sub-agencies cost taxpayers $15 billion in FY 2010.
- 76 programs to prevent or treat drug abuse are spread across 15 agencies, costing $4.5 billion in FY 2012.
- Three federal offices are involved in overseeing catfish inspections.
- 159 contracting organizations in 10 different Defense Department components provide defense foreign language support. GAO estimates $50 to $200 million in potential savings by eliminating this duplication.
- The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) offers 69 different language services. GAO found 23 instances of overlap involving 43 of these services, accounting for $149 million, or nearly 20 percent, of the BBG’s FY 2011 annual appropriations.
- 21 programs, including eight tax expenditures, are in place to help students save for, pay, and repay the cost of higher education, annually costing $45 billion, $104 billion in financial loans, and $25 billion in lost revenue from tax spending.