In the movie
Multiplicity, we learned that a copy of a copy is
sometimes not as sharp as the original. When it comes to
government, the original isn’t usually that sharp to begin with.
But officials sometimes insist on duplicating their efforts anyway,
according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The result
is about as unimpressive as you’d expect, when federal agencies
persist in stepping on each other’s feet at enormous expense to
In the fourth
report in a series that has already identified hundreds of
instances of federal agencies providing the same or similar
services to the same or similar beneficiaries, the GAO “presents
new areas in which we found evidence that fragmentation, overlap,
or duplication exists among federal programs or activities.”
Why does this matter?
Because, as the GAO points out, “the federal government faces an
unsustainable fiscal path,” and getting out of its own way is one
of the easier means of cutting costs.
Among the problems identified in the latest report is the lack
of any consolidated system at the Department of Defense to contract
for health care professionals. “For example, we identified 24
separate task orders for contracted medical assistants at the same
military treatment facility.” Now, multiply that across the entire
And the creeping police state around us may be intrusive and
presumptuous—but it sucks at cooperation. The Departments of
Justice, Homeland Security, and the Treasury are independently
modernizing their wireless communications systems. “As a result,
their communications systems, which represent hundreds of millions
of dollars in investment, may not be interoperable and may not
enable the most effective response to natural disasters, criminal
activities, and domestic terrorism.”
That’s hundreds of millions of dollars just on radios that may
not talk to each other.
The federal government is equally efficient about monitoring
double-dipping from disability and unemployment benefits. In 2010
alone, the GAO found more than $850 million in duplicated payments
from the Disability Insurance and Unemployment Insurance programs.
In each case, “the federal government is replacing a portion of
lost earnings not once, but twice.”
Even when it comes to targeted programs and specific
communities, government officials can’t resist cloning—badly—their
efforts. The GAO found 10 different agencies and offices in the
Department of Health and Human Services offering overlapping
programs with regard to HIV and AIDS among racial and ethnic
After taking a grand tour of federal government multiplicity,
the GAO recommends 45 actions for cutting costs. Don’t get your
hopes too high, though. Of the 380 reforms previously recommended,
only 124 have been fully addressed.
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