Tuesday, April 5, 2011

GOP budget highlights government waste...in a footnote

Posted By on April 5, 2011, 4:57 PM

The GOP’s 2012 budget proposes $6.2 trillion in cuts. It also highlights wasteful federal programs—not in the proposal so much—but in a link to an exhaustive efficiency report, that’s barely a footnote in the proposal.---

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin introduced the GOP’s “Path to Prosperity” plan for identifying areas of true federal government waste today. In calling for a ritualistic bleeding of the Federal Government’s wasteful programs the proposal deserves props in calling out some areas of concern, like the need to pare back on farm subsidies. The proposal argues that since “net farm income this year is forecast to be the second-highest recorded in the past 35 years,” we could stand to not just automatically dole out fixed payments to farmers that have no bearing on current prices. The report also calls out bailout loopholes in the recent Dodd-Frank financial reform package.

And I say bully on those points.

I also commend the budget drafters for a paragraph they dedicate to the Government Accountability Office’s inaugural report, issued just last month on wasteful and duplicative federal programs. “This year, in their inaugural report, GAO identified dozens of examples of waste and over $100 billion in savings. This budget draws inspiration from the GAO’s recommendations in many areas, one of which is the Highway Trust Fund,” so reads the Path to Prosperity in highlighting how dozens of highway programs that have overlapping functions could easily be consolidated.

It’s just a shame that the proposal decided to only take seriously one area of agency reform out of 34 proposed by the GAO’s report.

Had the budget drawn a little more inspiration from the report, maybe it would have found there were other ways to cut federal spending that don’t involve a block-grant system that would cut Medicare and Medicaid funding away from states. If you want to know why that’s a bad idea, I’ll be honest, the WaPo’s Ezra Klein has got the best explanation on that front right here.

The thing that bothers me is simply why the GAO report isn’t being taken more seriously. One reason may be the number of sacred cows it takes issues with that are usually sheathed in budget-cut proof armor, like the Department of Defense. The GOP’s Path to Prosperity essentially leaves all defense budget calls to proposals outlined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates who identified $178 billion in defense cuts, with $100 billion of those savings to be reinvested in new defense priorities.

But if you compare Gates’ laundry list of defense dollars that fall through the cracks compared to those that actually help defend our country, there is not a lot of overlap with the problem areas identified by the GAO—and that are subsequently ignored by the House GOP. The report found for example that consolidating common functions of the various armed forces medical command bureaucracies could result in savings as high as $460 million annually. Other savings are critical but hard to pin down.

For example the GAO pointed out that the Department of Defense has failed to heed calls to evaluate the cost and efficiency of its “urgent needs” process. This is basically a process that allows troops on the ground to request and receive personnel or equipment based on an “urgent” need or threat. While the process is critical, it’s also burdened by having no central oversight and as many as 31 difference agencies fielding requests.

Since 2005 the program has cost taxpayers $76.9 billion, even though there isn’t department-wide tracking of how to eliminate duplicative requests. That’s not just an issue that effects costs but effects troops ability to quickly and efficiently get resources they need to address imminent threats.

Perhaps what’s most telling from the report is the inefficiency that comes from money allocated to thwarting improvised-explosive devices, the kinds of roadside bombs that have become the bane of our armed forces duties in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the GAO report congress has appropriated $17 billion to an organization called the Joint IED Defeat Organization which funds innovations to fight roadside bombs.

Yet this organization has allowed the separate branches to develop their own anti-IED devices separate from one another, without seeing if the innovations are actually duplicating one another. The GAO report notes the Department of Defense has done little to compare notes to see, for example, if there’s any real difference between an anti-mine roller the Marine’s have created which runs $85,000 per unit compared to a similar gadget developed by the Army that runs between $77,000 and $220,000 a unit. Those are just a few duplicative programs in the Department of Defense, The GAO report goes on to cover everything from overlapping food regulators, doubled-up economic development programs to the 82 government programs with no central oversight that are all trying to judge teacher quality in America—and eating up billions in taxpayer money doing it.

If anything it strikes me that the GAO, being a nonpartisan, auditing agency has comprised an incredible list of areas to consolidate and cut waste. It’s just a shame they have to present their findings to a very partisan government to decide what to do with the recommendations.

That includes representatives and senators from both parties, who likely have many pet projects out there, duplicating efforts and wasting all our tax dollars collectively--even if it wins them votes individually.

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