GAO Promotes More Federal Efforts To Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap

Jerry Ashworth
May 28, 2024 at 07:27:07 ET
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Although Congress and federal agencies over the last decade have taken measures in response to Government Accountability Office (GAO) report recommendations to save the government billions of dollars, more actions are still needed to improve program effectiveness, according to a recent GAO annual report that specifically identified inefficiencies in federal programs, systems and services in 42 new topic areas.

Since 2011, GAO has reported each year on federal programs with fragmented, overlapping or duplicative goals or actions, and has made hundreds of recommendations about ways to address those problems, reduce costs or boost revenue. Its most recent report cites 112 recommendations from GAO to agencies and Congress to address issues related to 42 new topic areas. Of these, 29 topic areas contain recommendations to reduce fragmentation (i.e., when more than one agency is involved in the same broad area of national need), overlap (i.e., when multiple agencies/programs have similar goals or target similar beneficiaries) and duplication (i.e., when two or more programs are engaged in the same activities or provide the same services to beneficiaries). The other 13 are areas where Congress or federal agencies could take action to reduce the cost of government operations or enhance federal revenue collections.

Congress and agencies have addressed many of the 2,018 recommendations that GAO identified in 13 previous annual reports to reduce costs, increase revenues and improve agencies’ operating effectiveness, although work remains to fully address them. GAO noted that as of March, Congress and agencies had fully addressed 1,341 (about 66%) of these recommendations and partially addressed 139 (about 7%). These efforts have cumulatively resulted in about $667 billion in financial benefits, an increase of $71 billion from GAO’s last report on this topic (see “U.S. Agencies Can Take More Steps To Encourage Financial Benefits,” August 2023).

For example, Congress rescinded certain COVID-19 relief funding that GAO identified as unexpired and unobligated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, which saved the federal government $27.1 billion in federal fiscal year 2023, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Agencies and Congress have yet to fully address some 549 recommendations from the previous 13 GAO annual reports. While GAO is no longer tracking 128 of these recommendations “due to changing circumstances,” GAO estimates that fully addressing the remaining 421 open recommendations could result in savings of tens of billions of dollars and improved government services, among other benefits. For example, the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), should each identify and take steps to better manage fragmentation between their respective disaster recovery programs and other federal programs. FEMA should also do so across its own disaster recovery programs, according to GAO.

New Topics to Address

One new topic area of concern in the recent GAO report concerned efforts to combat child trafficking. While the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Trafficking in Persons have several efforts to help combat child trafficking (e.g., administering grant programs that deliver human trafficking prevention education to school staff and students, and assist child survivors by providing residential services, therapy, legal assistance and other services), GAO found in a December 2023 report that, although the two offices have some collaboration efforts, they do not have a collaboration mechanism dedicated to child trafficking to help manage fragmentation in their efforts.

For example, the offices reported cohosting listening sessions on child trafficking in 2020 and 2021, as well as exchanging information with each other and their grantees about their respective antitrafficking programs and resources for children. However, the offices do not have an established, ongoing process to identify the need for and plan to cooperatively carry out these activities. GAO recommended that the two offices establish a mechanism — aligned with leading practices — to guide the offices’ collaboration efforts to combat child trafficking. As of February, the two offices were reviewing a draft memorandum of agreement that formalizes their plans to work together.

Addressing another new area of concern, GAO cited its September 2023 report that found that HHS and the Department of the Interior failed to issue timely management decisions related to Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Republic of Palau single audits that could result in cost savings. GAO reviewed 35 single audit reports for 2015 through 2019, and more than 95% of the identified questioned costs were related to grants awarded by HHS and Interior. As of April 2024, HHS had not yet resolved almost $600,000 in questioned costs, and Interior was unable to provide information showing the resolution of more than $650,000 in questioned costs. HHS has taken steps in recent years to follow up on unresolved questioned costs related to its awards but has done so with varying frequency, GAO added.

“While HHS has standard operating procedures governing such monitoring activities, the procedures do not specify expected time frames,” GAO explained. “More-specific guidance on how frequently monitoring of corrective actions should take place would help HHS resolve outstanding questioned costs in a timelier fashion and reduce the risk that costs will remain unresolved and debts to the federal government uncollected for many years.”

GAO recommended that HHS and Interior take appropriate actions, such as dedicating adequate staffing resources, to ensure that the management decisions for questioned costs identified in these single audits are issued within the required timeframe. Although the agencies agreed with the recommendation, they had not been implemented as of April.

Congressional Matter

GAO also noted certain areas mentioned in previous annual reports that Congress may want to consider reviewing to encourage potential financial benefits. For example, GAO explained that it may want to require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to report on the results of FEMA’s efforts to identify and prevent unnecessary duplication within and across its preparedness grant programs, and consider these results when making future funding decisions for Homeland Security grants.

Further, DHS may want to consider limiting the future use of federal preparedness grant programs to fund only projects to fill identified, validated and documented capability gaps that may (or may not) include maintaining existing capabilities developed.

For More Information

The GAO report, “2024 Annual Report: Additional Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Billions of Dollars in Financial Benefits,” (GAO-24-106915) is available at