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Count the ways government wastes money

News flash: government is inefficient. In the latest version of its annual report on government efficiency and effectiveness, the Government Accountability Office identified 92 actions, in 37 areas of government, that could be taken to reduce “fragmentation, overlap and duplication” and otherwise make the federal government more efficient and cost-effective.

Corrective actions taken based on recommendations in the GAO’s previous five annual reports have resulted in about $56 billion in financial benefits, and are expected to generate another $69 billion in benefits through 2025, the 2016 report noted. Congress and executive agencies have fully implemented only 41 percent of those recommendations, however, with an additional 34 percent “partially addressed” and 20 percent not addressed at all, leaving tens of billions of dollars in potential savings on the table.

Overpayments from benefits programs was a common theme. Better screening for fraud and applicants’ program eligibility, and more aggressive recovery of overpayment errors, could save billions of dollars for Medicare, billions for Social Security’s Disability Insurance program, billions more from the Internal Revenue Service and hundreds of millions for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Post-9/11 GI Bill program.

The National Park Service could generate millions in additional recreation user fees if parks reviewed their fee structures more often and Congress amended the user fee program. The government could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in ammunition storage and disposal costs simply by transferring unneeded supplies to federal, state and local governments in need of them. Similarly, the Defense Department could save federal civilian agencies millions of dollars by offering them other excess personal property, so that those agencies do not have to purchase it elsewhere.

Though there are some high-profile examples of large amounts of government waste, fraud and abuse, particularly in the largest expenditures like entitlement programs and defense spending, most government waste harms taxpayers in the form of a thousand cuts. Those thousands of examples of waste and inefficiency, spread across the entirety of government, add up.

So while the GAO report is not the sexiest of documents, it serves to remind us of the inefficiency of government services and all the myriad ways our money is frittered away in bureaucratic offices every day.

The Orange County Register, April 25

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Shady Pentagon testimony on sexual assault bill

In war, the confusion generated by fighting and killing is often referred to as “the fog of war” at the Pentagon. According to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group committed to changing how the military handles sexual misconduct allegations, a “fog of lies” has been standard operating procedure at the Pentagon, too.

Protect Our Defenders uncovered an effort by the Pentagon to undercut support for a Senate bill that would strip military commanders of their authority to decide which sexual assault complaints go forward to trial. According to internal government records used to buttress the Pentagon’s argument, civilian authorities are less likely to hold people in the military responsible for sexual assault than military prosecutors are.

Not so. The number of cases brought by local district attorneys and police against those in the military was either dramatically low-balled or omitted completely. This shady data even alleges that military authorities aggressively prosecute sexual assaults where civilian authorities refuse to, which is the opposite of what happens in reality.

The Pentagon’s testimony before Congress was a series of untruths designed to undermine efforts to move jurisdiction for prosecuting sex crimes from the military to civilian authorities. Protect Our Defenders wasn’t able to find one case of sexual assault that was prosecuted over the objections of civilian authorities.

The military stands by its characterization of the data, which is a standard response. Someone in the Pentagon hierarchy should be held responsible. Even if the military wasn’t consciously lying during its testimony, this episode doesn’t bode well for its ability to interpret straightforward data.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 24

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