A Policymaker’s Duplication and Cost Savings Toolkit

Duplication iconOn Tuesday’s WatchBlog, we highlighted our new guide on assessing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication, as identified in our duplication and cost savings reports. We looked at what analysts should do, but congressional decision makers and executive branch leaders are also a major part of the equation.

Today, we’re focusing on the steps that policymakers can take to address analysts’ findings, as shown on the right side of this figure:

Steps for Analysts and Policymakers: Evaluating and Managing Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication

chart1(Excerpted from GAO-15-49SP)

Guidance for Congressional Decision Makers

chartAs we saw on Tuesday, analysts should generally propose specific options to increase program efficiency. It is up to decision makers to review the results of the analysis and the recommendations in order to make decisions.

Some questions they can ask include:

  • Which programs or aspects of programs are the most and least effective at meeting goals?
  • What are the benefits, potential trade-offs, and unintended consequences of the recommendations?
  • What legal restrictions or limitations in agency authorities might prevent implementation of these recommendations?

The guide also can help congressional decision makers determine next steps. Options may include

  • suggesting improvements in coordination and collaboration directly to agencies;
  • revising or explicitly defining roles and responsibilities in program administration; or
  • consolidating, streamlining, or eliminating programs.

chart2Even after reviewing the analysis and options, it may still be unclear which option is best. If further program information could help, decision makers could get it by establishing deadlines for agencies to provide the information, and consequences for noncompliance (such as reducing funding in future appropriations).

Guidance for Executive Branch Leaders

chart3Executive branch leaders have different authorities and tools than congressional leaders when faced with duplicative, fragmented, or overlapping programs. Some steps for executive branch leaders include:

  • engaging in performance management activities,
  • initiating and participating in collaborative efforts both within and among agencies,
  • identifying and implementing (through guidance or rulemaking) efficiencies and other streamlining measures, and
  • identifying and communicating to congressional decision makers opportunities for increasing efficiency that require congressional action to implement.

For more information, check out our report, which features interactive navigation to easily move among the steps and other resources in the guide.

You can also find more duplication and cost savings work on our website, including an Action Tracker that monitors the progress agencies and Congress have made in addressing the actions we identified, and our most recent annual report.

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Effects of IRS Challenges on Taxpayers

taxes thumbnailFor most people, today is the last day to file your taxes. IRS has faced many challenges this filing season, including finding better ways to help taxpayers, combating identity theft refund fraud, and navigating new health insurance tax reporting requirements—while facing a continued decline in resources. What does this mean for taxpayers? We break down these issues for you in today’s WatchBlog.

Telephone Service

If you had a burning question to ask IRS about your tax return or refund, you might have waited a long time to talk to someone. IRS projected an average wait time for this year of nearly 1 hour—more than twice as long compared to last year, as shown below.

GAO-15-420R, Internal Revenue Service: Observations on IRS’s O(Excerpted from GAO-15-420R)

In December 2014, to help improve tax-season telephone service, we recommended that IRS compare its telephone service to the best in business to determine where its actual levels of service fell short. This kind of analysis could also help IRS determine what resources it would need to close the gaps.

Identity Theft (IDT) Refund Fraud

Did you file your taxes this year, only to find a fraudster beat you to it? If so, you may be a victim of IDT refund fraud. Two of our reports included findings on the scope of the problem and potential remedies.

  • In January 2015, we found that IRS paid an estimated $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in 2013, and prevented or recovered $24.2 billion, though the full extent of the problem is unknown.


 (Excerpted from GAO-15-119)

  • In August 2014, we found that matching W-2 data from employers and others to information provided by tax filers before refunds are issued may prevent billions of dollars in estimated ID theft refund fraud.

Earlier matching and other options, such as improving taxpayer authentication to prevent IDT refund fraud, could have significant costs for taxpayers and IRS. Therefore, more information on the costs, benefits, and tradeoffs would help inform IRS and Congress as to what additional actions are needed.

New Reporting Requirements for Health Care Coverage

This is the first filing season where taxpayers must report their health insurance coverage to IRS. Some taxpayers may owe a penalty if they didn’t have coverage for any month in 2014, while some may receive a tax credit for purchasing health coverage from the marketplaces.

As we reported in February, IRS anticipated some challenges processing this new information, potentially delaying some refunds.

Looking for more information? Check out our AskGAOLive web chat from February on tax filing and IDT refund fraud.

  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact: James R. McTigue, Jr. mctiguej@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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An Analyst’s Duplication and Cost Savings Toolkit

thumbnail_duplication_medallionFor 5 years, our annual reports have identified areas of fragmentation, overlap, and duplication in the federal government, as well as opportunities to achieve cost savings or enhance revenue. We also track how agencies and Congress address these proposed actions. This year, we are releasing a step-by-step guide that can help analysts, federal agencies, and policymakers identify and address fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative programs.

The guide includes tools for both analysts and policymakers, but anyone—including federal, state, and local auditors; researchers; and consultants—can use it to conduct a fragmentation, overlap, and duplication review.

Today we’re focusing on the steps for analysts, shown on the left side of this figure:

Steps for Analysts and Policymakers: Evaluating and Managing Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication


(Excerpted from GAO-15-49SP)

4 Steps to Increased Efficiency and Effectiveness

chart1In this step, analysts should answer these questions:

  • Which programs should be evaluated?
  • What is the relevant background information about these programs? (e.g., who are the programs’ customers, or, what are the program goals?)
  • Are the programs
    • fragmented, with functions spread across multiple offices or agencies?
    • overlapping with other programs that have similar goals, beneficiaries, or strategies?
    • duplicative, providing the same activities to serve the same beneficiaries?
  • How are the programs related? (e.g., do programs exchange information, or plan program activities together?)

* * *

chart2Here, analysts should determine whether potential effects in areas such as program implementation, outcomes, and costs are positive or negative. For example,

  • a positive effect we found was in domestic food assistance, where overlap among 18 programs better ensured full coverage of potential beneficiaries, who may have different comfort levels with different types of assistance.
  • a negative effect, also in domestic food assistance programs, was where overlap among programs resulted in staff at both government agencies and local organizations dedicating time and resources to separately managing the programs, even when a number of them provided comparable benefits to similar groups.

* * *

chart3Next, analysts should determine whether the potential effects are actual effects and assess which programs perform best or are most cost-effective by asking questions, like

  • Are agencies implementing programs as intended?
  • Do outcomes differ across programs or aspects of programs?

A great place to start is by reviewing existing, relevant, and reliable evaluations of the programs in question. Evaluations can come from the agency, or from organizations like GAO or OMB. If there are none, analysts should consider conducting new program evaluations.

* * *

chart4Regardless of whether effects of fragmentation, overlap, or duplication are positive or negative, analysts should propose options for improvement. For cases with positive effects, analysts could still recommend strategies to help improve efficiency, such as new processes or technology.

To reduce or better manage negative effects, analysts could recommend options such as improving coordination and collaboration, or consolidating, streamlining, or eliminating programs. For example, we found that the military services used a fragmented approach for acquiring combat uniforms, and had not collaborated on joint criteria for uniforms. To minimize fragmentation and reduce costs, we recommended that the military departments pursue partnerships to jointly develop uniforms.

* * *

For each of these steps, analysts should make sure to confirm information with relevant agencies, associations, and subject-matter experts.

To learn more, check out our duplication and cost savings work on our website. You can also check out this page, which has direct links to the specific steps and Tip Sheets and Tools for Analysts.

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Projecting the Future of Federal Finances: Long-Term Fiscal Simulations

Fiscal Outlook graphicSince 1992, we have prepared long-term fiscal simulations to show federal deficits and debt under different sets of policy assumptions. Our latest update shows that the federal government continues to face a long-term fiscal sustainability challenge.

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Coordinating Programs Serving Those with Serious Mental Illness

Thumbnail Health CareEach year, the first full week of April marks National Public Health Week—a time to highlight issues that are important to improving health across the country. Within the week, each day has a theme, and today’s theme is “Building Broader Communities.” In the spirit of the day, we are sharing our work on coordinating care in the community and elsewhere for adults with serious mental illness.

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Keeping Alcohol Out of the Driver’s Seat—Ignition Interlocks

thumbnail_transportationIn 2012, more than 10,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers. While these types of fatalities have dropped over the last decade, almost a third of all traffic fatalities in that time involved alcohol. As we’ve reported, installing “ignition interlocks” in the cars of those convicted of drunk driving is one tool in the quest for safer roads. For Alcohol Awareness Month, today’s WatchBlog explores these devices.

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3, 2, 1…Liftoff of Our 2015 Assessment of NASA’s Major Space Projects!

thumbnail_spaceEach year, we report on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) major projects. Last week, we issued our latest “Quick Look” report, with updates on projects that are expected to cost at least $250 million. This year, 16 projects met that threshold, and among the 12 with firm budgets, the total expected cost is at almost $19 billion. Read on for our latest findings.

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Halfway to the 2020 Census

census3Today marks the halfway point between the last decennial census and the next one in 2020. The census is a massive undertaking, and its costs have increased by more than 500 percent over the past 50 years. The Census Bureau is considering new approaches to save money. However, mistakes from the last census—specifically the abandoned handheld data collection devices with $3 billion in cost overruns—loom large. Today’s WatchBlog explores the issues.

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Sharing Data to Improve Disaster Response and Recovery Programs

data1Since 2013, our Government Data Sharing Community of Practice has hosted a series of public discussions on challenges and opportunities related to sharing data in government. Read on for the findings of our latest forum on how government can use data to improve responses to natural disasters.

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Surplus DOD Real Estate and Infrastructure

thumbnail_defenseThe Department of Defense (DOD) owns more than 562,000 military support facilities including barracks, commissaries, labs, and office buildings. These facilities are located on more than 5,000 sites covering more than 28 million acres worldwide.


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