By Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Some agencies perform their own security assessments for federally owned buildings, even though they're already paying the Federal Protective Service $236 million a year for the same work.
Thirteen agencies fund 209 different science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs - and 173 of those programs overlap with at least one other program.
And the government has at least 15 major financial literacy programs - including three new ones established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
A report delivered to Congress Tuesday lays out those examples among 32 areas where multiple government programs do similar work. The Government Accountability Office says the government might save tens of billions of dollars simply by eliminating duplicate and overlapping federal programs.
GAO - a non-partisan investigative arm of Congress - has been churning out reports about these kinds of inefficiencies for years. Then in 2010, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., inserted an amendment into a bill to increase the debt limit that required a series of reports focusing on the cost of duplicate government programs that can be consolidated.
Last year's report identified 81 areas to make government more efficient. Congress and the Obama administration have implemented just four of those. There's been some progress on 60 items, and no progress on 17.
"Eliminating duplicative spending should be the easy part," said Coburn, but "Congress has done almost nothing to address problem areas GAO has already identified."
It's a bipartisan issue, said House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who will hold a hearing on the report Tuesday. "I have always said that the enemy isn't the Democrats, the enemy isn't the Republicans - it's the bureaucracy."
President Obama has made streamlining the government a priority, said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget. "Wasteful duplication of programs and overlap of effort has been around for a long time, as programs keep getting added without realizing what is already there."
Baer said he couldn't comment on specific findings because the report hadn't been released. But he said the president has already proposed consolidating some grant programs - like the STEM education funding - in his 2013 budget. And Obama has asked Congress to give him fast-track authority to merge six agencies dealing with business and trade.
It also may take money to save money in the long term, as where offices have to be physically moved or more study needs to be done. "There may be some cost to doing it. Nothing is frictionless. Nothing is not without its effort," Baer said.
A fragmented and overlapping congressional committee system also contributes to the problem, budget hawks say.
"Members of Congress don't get the headlines for fixing something," said Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste. "They get headlines for creating something."
Federal agencies often justify the overlapping programs.
Agencies that do their own security assessments, for example, told GAO they had good reasons: The Internal Revenue Service said its "unique mission" justified additional security studies at 65 offices. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it wasn't happy with the Federal Protective Service's security risk ratings - even though they're both part of the Department of Homeland Security. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it follows security standards set by the military.