Examiner Editorial: A 'staggering level of duplication' in federal spending 

Nobody with even minimal knowledge of how public bureaucracies work should be surprised by the Government Accountability Office's conclusion that there is a "staggering level of duplication" in the federal government. Duplication is inevitable when professional politicians in both major parties go for decades using tax dollars to buy votes among favored constituencies, and reward friends, former staffers, family members and campaign contributors with heaping helpings from the pork barrel. With the inevitable program duplication also comes an endless supply of official duplicity as presidents, senators and representatives rationalize spending billions of tax dollars on programs they know either don't work as promised, or that perform the same or similar functions as existing efforts and are therefore redundant.

"This report will make us look like jackasses," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., predicted Monday when he read an advance copy of the GAO report. No stranger to uncovering wasteful federal spending (Senate colleagues didn't dub him "Dr. No" for nothing), Coburn said the GAO identified as much as $200 billion that could be saved if only Congress and President Obama would truly get serious about cutting the fat out of the federal budget. The GAO conducted its review as a result of a Coburn-sponsored amendment adopted by the Senate on a unanimous vote in January 2010. Since he was first elected to the Senate in 2004, Coburn has been a one-senator wrecking crew targeting government waste, including most recently his discovery that federal officials have sent nearly $1 billion to an estimated 250,000 dead people since 2000.

What the GAO found is indeed eye-opening. Here are just some of the many examples of duplicative spending cited by the congressional watchdog agency:

» More than $58 billion spent annually by the Department of Transportation on at least 100 duplicative surface transportation programs.

» More than $49 billion spent annually by the Department of Defense on duplicative programs providing health services to active and retired members of the military.

» More than $62 billion spent on 18 domestic food assistance programs run by multiple federal agencies.

» More than $6.5 billion spent by four federal departments and agencies on 80 programs dedicated to encouraging economic development.

» At least $6.4 billion spent by five federal departments overseen by 24 presidential appointees on multiple programs on combating bioterrorism.

» An unknown amount of tax dollars spent by at least 15 federal departments and agencies on 30 programs devoted to food safety.

» More than $1 trillion in 173 special tax benefits, many of which are duplicative.

Keep those examples in mind in the days ahead as Obama and congressional Democrats resist at every turn efforts by the House Republican majority to cut federal spending and the budget deficit. The phrase "crying crocodile tears" may come to mind as you hear the stale claims about protecting "essential" spending programs and services.

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