WASHINGTON — The U.S. government spent $15 billion on 679 renewable energy projects at 23 federal agencies in 2010, according to the latest report on overlap by congressional auditors, who also found three federal offices responsible for inspecting catfish.
The new report by the General Accountability Office — Congress' auditing arm — found 17 more areas where federal government action is fragmented, overlapping or duplicative.
In two previous reports, the auditors found 66 such areas, including job training, food safety and numerous national security programs.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, who authored the legislation requiring the GAO to examine duplication annually, said Tuesday, “Every dollar the government takes from a single mom or low-income family to fund an overlapping catfish inspection program is a dollar taxpayers have to earn back by working longer hours.
“And every dollar we take out of the economy to fund the government's 679th renewable energy initiative is a dollar that isn't available for businesses to renew our economy.”
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the chairman of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the report would help lawmakers look for savings.
“But just because a program is identified by GAO as potentially ‘duplicative' doesn't mean that it is wasteful or unnecessary,” he said.
The latest report says the Department of Defense could save up to $82 million a year just by coordinating the development of combat uniforms among the military branches. The department has gone from two basic camouflage patterns to seven, the GAO reported, and the U.S. Army is developing new patterns and protective gear that will cost an estimated $4 billion over five years.
At the Department of Homeland Security, the GAO examined 50 research and development contracts and found 29 — worth about $66 million — in which the contracts overlapped with activities elsewhere in the department.
The auditors found 76 drug treatment or prevention programs spread across 15 agencies, costing $4.5 billion in the 2012 fiscal year.
On renewable energy, an area that grew significantly after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the GAO found seven separate wind energy initiatives providing duplicative financial support for the same project. In some cases, the auditors found, project developers would use programs from the Treasury Department and combine that aid with loans or grants from the Energy and Agriculture departments.
The report recommends that Congress change a law that mandates the Agriculture Department inspect catfish since it will duplicate the work already conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Since its first report on duplication in 2011, the GAO has been tracking the government's response.
According to Coburn's office, “Washington has made very minimal headway in reducing unnecessary duplication, despite the abundance of information, examples, and recommendations from GAO.”
Coburn said ignoring the problem was immoral.
“While millions of Americans have been doing more with less, the federal government continues to do less with more,” he said.
$300B in overlap
The senator estimated that the GAO had identified $300 billion in overlap in its three reports combined.
“Yet, instead of preventing furloughs, reopening air traffic control towers and restoring public access to White House, Congress and the administration continue to defend billions of dollars in duplicative programs that are little more than monuments to the good intentions of career politicians in Washington,” Coburn said.