By James Kwak
I was trying to read “Path to Prosperity,” the House Budget Committee’s glossy version of its budget resolution, also known as the Ryan Plan. (Don’t ask.) On page 13, I found this:
“An inevitable consequence of the last Congress’s decision to ramp up spending so quickly was that billions of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars were squandered.The Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the non- partisan agency that audits the government’s books – recently found between $100 billion to $200 billion in duplication, overlap, and waste in federal spending.”
I thought, “There probably was some waste, I wonder what the GAO found.” So I looked at the source cited in a footnote: a March 2011 GAO report entitled Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue. You can see where this is heading from the title of that report. It is specifically intended to “identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives, either within departments or governmentwide, which have duplicative goals or activities” (p. 1). The report was required by a statute passed in 2010. The first targeted area, for example, is this: “Fragmented food safety system has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.”
What does this have to do with the supposed spending spree of the last Congress, you may ask? Nothing. Overlapping agencies are a problem that the federal government has suffered from for decades; every administration says it will do something about reducing government waste, but few do anything significant. The existence of both the SEC and the CFTC is the example best known to people who follow financial services.
The 2009 stimulus bill appears in the GAO report exactly four times. Once in the area of surface transportation, where ARRA helped solve the problem (a little bit); once as an illustration of another problem, where the IRS insufficient math error authority; once as a positive example of how a tax credit program could be converted to a grant program; and once in a footnote describing how potential benefits were calculated.
There are probably some good ideas in that report that could save billions or tens of billions of dollars. It would be good if the House leadership could look into what it actually says, instead of claiming it as support for an ideological claim about Democratic policies.