How to Save (A Lot More Than) A Billion—Reducing Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication in Government Programs

Duplication iconToday we released our latest report on fragmentation, overlap, and duplication among federal programs. Since 2011, we’ve been reporting on ways the government can be more efficient and save taxpayer money by looking for programs that

  • work on different parts of the same goal or are broken out across different parts of the same agency (fragmentation)
  • have similar goals or provide similar services (overlap)
  • work on the same activities or provide the same services (duplication)

These are programs that are fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative. By addressing actions we’ve proposed to fix such programs, the federal government has saved an estimated $136 billion so far.

And each year we find more ways to save. In this 7th annual report we’ve added 79 new actions in 29 new areas across the government, such as health, defense, homeland security, and international affairs. If Congress or executive branch agencies take these actions, it could save the federal government tens of billions more.

Check out the infographic below for key actions in this year’s report or listen to Jessica Lucas-Judy, a director in our Strategic Issues team, talk about 2017’s updates:

We also keep tabs on agencies to track the status of past actions we’ve recommended—and there’s a lot they could still do. For example:

  • Federal agencies could save billions by using strategic sourcing to procure goods and services—for example, leveraging the government’s buying power to get better deals on everything from office supplies to laptops
  • The Internal Revenue Service could save billions of dollars by helping to prevent identity theft refund fraud

Curious what remains to be done? You can download our complete Action Tracker and sort by agency or area to see for yourself.

Infographic on duplication, overlap and fragmentation in the federal government

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Housing with Supportive Services for Veterans

The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that nearly 40,000 veterans were homeless as of January 2016—making up about 10 percent of all people experiencing homelessness.

To help, the government is converting unneeded federal property into supportive housing for some of these vets. Today’s WatchBlog takes you inside some of these properties and shares what the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do to improve its supportive housing program.

: Iowa Avenue—Building 412, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dayton, Ohio

(Photos of supportive housing in Dayton, Ohio. Excerpted from GAO-17-101)

Supportive housing

Three major health risks contribute to veteran homelessness: mental health problems, substance abuse, and chronic illnesses.

Supportive housing is widely recognized as a key solution for persistent veteran homelessness since it can provide services that address many of these problems.

Figure 3: Examples of Services Offered to Improve Veterans’ Health and Well-being at Supportive-Housing Enhanced-Use Leases

(Excerpted from GAO-17-101)

VA and HUD teamed up with private and not-for-profit partners to convert surplus federal property into supportive housing. This housing was created using “enhanced-use leases.” This type of housing provides vulnerable vets with a place to live on a VA medical campus—where they can access an array of community and medical services.

What does living on a VA medical center campus look like?

Here’s one in New Jersey:

Valley Brook Village Phase I, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Lyons, New Jersey

Another in Illinois:

Freedom’s Path I, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Hines, Illinois

And one in Minnesota:

Al Loehr Veterans and Community Studio Apartments, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, St. Cloud, Minnesota

(Photos excerpted from GAO-17-101)

Our interactive graphics show the location and status of these units, as well as each state’s population of homeless veterans, as illustrated below.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' 70 Enhanced-Use Leases, as of September 2016(Excerpted from GAO-17-101)

Future housing

VA plans to develop additional supportive-housing using enhanced-use leases. But we found that VA officials did not completely document their decision-making process for selecting properties to convert. This means that VA can’t build on lessons learned when identifying and developing future properties.

We also found that VA has some outdated policies. For example, it doesn’t specifically provide guidance on how to determine whether a proposed project meets the needs of homeless vets. We made recommendations to address both of these issues.

To learn more, check out our full report.


  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact David Wise at wised@gao.gov.
  • Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact blog@gao.gov.
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Taking a Big Bite in GAO’s New Podcasts

GAO's Watchdog Report Big Bite!The concept behind GAO’s original Watchdog Report podcast was to take a long report and distill it to a 5-minute conversation about the bottom line. We think it’s been pretty well received—we have over 400,000 downloads of our episodes and our ratings average 4.5 stars on iTunes. As one reviewer put it, our podcasts are a “Great peek into the checks and balances the government is trying to employ.”

When we started podcasting in 2010, podcasts were still a relatively new medium. Now, however, they’re an established part of the mainstream media landscape. We don’t want to mess with a formula that works—so we’ll still be making regular Watchdog Report podcasts. However, we’re also experimenting with expanding the Watchdog Report to dig a little deeper into the issues.

That’s why we’re introducing The Watchdog Report: Big Bite Edition. In these longer podcasts, we’ll really sink our teeth into GAO’s nonpartisan reports on federal spending and ways to make the government work better.

The first Big Bite is on financial technologies. Collectively known as “FinTech,” these technological innovations are being used to provide financial services directly to consumers. FinTech has the potential to shake up the traditional financial services industry—and the federal financial regulations that are supposed to protect people.

2017 Lawrance Evans FINTECH-8

You can listen to our chat with Lawrance Evans, Jr., a director in our Financial Markets and Community Investment team, on what you need to know about FinTech:

 

Be sure you don’t miss an episode by subscribing to us on iTunes or our RSS feed. Let us know what you think about the Watchdog Report: Big Bite Edition—you can e-mail us about it at podcasts@gao.gov. Thanks for listening!


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Helping Youth with Autism

image of family in a homeAbout half a million youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder will leave high school over the next decade—and will face unique challenges as they transition to adulthood.

We looked at the services and supports that these youth (ages 14-24) need to attain their goals for adulthood, which may include advanced education, employment, living independently, health and safety, and integrating into a community.

For April’s Autism Awareness Month, we’re sharing what we learned. Read on for results from a 2016 roundtable discussion held with adults with autism, service providers, employers, researchers, and parents of youth with autism. Continue reading

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Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria and Food Animals (podcast)

GAO Podcast IconAntibiotic-resistant bacteria are a growing global health threat, sickening an estimated 2 million people each year in the United States alone. Evidence suggests that antibiotic use in food animals (cattle, poultry, and swine) causes some of this antibiotic resistance. Although federal agencies have taken steps to manage the use of antibiotics in food animals, we found gaps in their oversight. For example, agencies have not been conducting on-farm investigations to get to the source of foodborne illness outbreaks.

John Neuman, a director in our Natural Resources and Environment team, recently discussed what we found about federal oversight of antibiotic use in food animals: Continue reading

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How Useful Are Identity Theft Services?

thumbnail retirement securityMany people purchase identity theft services—or receive them free when their information is compromised in an organization’s data breach. These services typically include four components: credit monitoring, identity monitoring, identity restoration, and identity theft insurance.

For April’s Financial Literacy Month, read about the benefits and limitations of identity theft services, and how federal agencies are using them, and listen to Lawrance Evans, a director in our Financial Markets and Community Investment team, discuss the issue: Continue reading

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Updating Government Auditing Standards – The 2017 Yellow Book Exposure Draft

Yellow Book icon Today we issued an exposure draft containing proposed updates to Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards, also known as the “Yellow Book.” We invite your comments on the proposed changes, which reflect developments in the accounting and auditing profession. Continue reading

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Will the United States have enough workers to help an aging population?

photo of an aging person's handsMore than 12 million Americans need assistance with routine daily activities, such as eating, dressing, bathing, and making meals. Direct care workers—home health aides, psychiatric aides, nursing assistants, and personal care aides—are the primary paid providers of the long-term care they need.

As the baby boomers age, there are concerns that there may not be enough long-term care workers to meet their needs. Today’s WatchBlog looks at what the Department of Health and Human Services could do to measure the severity of the problem. Continue reading

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Prepping for the 2020 Census

A Census Worker Using a Mobile Device to Collect Data from a Household Member during Nonresponse Follow-upThe Census Bureau gets just one chance each decade to count the country’s population—and this week marks 3 years until the next one. The Bureau has planned a number of innovations for the 2020 census that are intended to cut costs, but they also introduce new risks.

To highlight these issues, we added the 2020 Decennial Census to our 2017 High Risk List earlier this year. Today’s WatchBlog explores some of the innovations and risks we are monitoring. Continue reading

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Who’s Watching What You Eat?

photo of fruit and meantAlthough the U.S. food supply is generally considered safe, foodborne illness remains a costly, common public health problem. The safety and quality of the food supply is governed by a highly-complex system—involving 16 federal agencies administering over 30 federal laws. Is there a coordinated strategy behind agencies’ management of myriad food program responsibilities?

Today’s WatchBlog looks at fragmentation in the federal food safety oversight system. Continue reading

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