Virtual Voices

Redundancy the government way

Congress

Most of us have had the experience of viewing an item in a store and thinking, "I don't need another one of those. I already have one at home."

That is not how the federal government thinks. Its refusal to do so is why our deficit and debt are at record levels. If real people behaved like the government, they'd be broke too.

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As The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, there are "15 different agencies overseeing food-safety laws, more than 20 separate programs to help the homeless and 80 programs for economic development." Maybe getting rid of those redundant programs could actually spur economic development.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (a name that often seems oxymoronic) released a report at the urging of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. The GAO didn't attach a cost saving to the report, but Coburn did. In fact, according to the Journal, Coburn identified "between $100 billion and $200 billion in duplicative spending." Now that's real money.

The March 2011 GAO report defines waste. On his blog Federal Eye, The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe writes the GAO found that "The U.S. government has more than 100 programs that deal with surface transportation, 82 monitoring teacher quality [how's that working out with so many kids in public schools who either don't graduate, or when they do, are functional illiterates?] . . . 47 for job training, 20 offices or programs devoted to homelessness and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness." Who will save us from our spending disaster? Is there an app for that?

"Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services," writes O'Keefe. Potentially? As Homer Simpson might say, "Doh!"

Government suffers from a Charlie Sheen addiction. Unlike the actor, who has conducted several outrageous interviews in recent days, the preferred drug of choice for government is not cocaine, but other people's money.

Examples of duplication and waste are legion. "The GAO highlighted 80 different economic development programs at the Department of Commerce, HUD, Department of Agriculture and Small Business Administration, that spent a combined $6.5 billion last year and often overlapped. For example, the four agencies combined to have 52 different programs that fund 'entrepreneurial efforts,' 35 programs for infrastructure, and 26 programs for telecommunications," writes the Journal.

This is beyond ridiculous, except it is regular fare when you are a member of a congressional appropriations committee. In Washington, spending has become a matter of degree, which is why especially the new House freshmen will have a difficult time getting the government to go on the spending wagon.

How can any politician defend, excuse, or explain such behavior?

The title of the GAO report is understated: "Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue."

Opportunities? The report certainly offers them, but will Congress follow through? Potential duplication? Can there be any doubt? And how about just leaving it at save tax dollars and forget about the enhancing revenue part, because what government does not need is more revenue. It needs to cut the duplication, other waste and nonessentials, reform entitlements, rethink the defense budget and America's place in the world, and get back to living within the means of the American taxpayer.

This GAO report should be carried to the House and Senate floors and waved around each time a member wants to spend more money, or refuses to cut what we either don't need, or already have.

There have been other reports, panels, and commissions that have recommended spending cuts (the Grace Commission under President Reagan and President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, among others). Too often their recommendations have later been reversed or overcome with new spending (Grace) or ignored (Obama).

Spending twice on the same thing ought to offend every member of Congress. We need members who will commit to cutting out the doubletalk . . . and the double spending.

© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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