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Preventing Duplicative and Overlapping Government Programs Resolution

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, about 3 months ago, one of the results of the last time we raised the debt limit was a report by the Government Accountability Office. Ninety-seven Senators in this body voted to put that in the last debt limit extension. What was that? That was a requirement for the Government Accountability Office over the next 3 years to list every program for us in every area so that we knew what we were doing.

The purpose for that amendment was--and that happened to have been my amendment. I went to the CRS and the Government Accountability Office and I said I want to know every program in defense, education, et cetera. They told me: It is impossible; we cannot do it. So collectively, as colleagues, we said that you will do this. It has been a big job. They have done a fantastic job on it thus far. I cannot wait until we get the second and third part.

One of the results in the first report the GAO gave to us showed close to $200 billion worth of duplication. Those are my numbers, not theirs, in terms of looking at it. Let's say I am twice wrong, and say it is $100 billion. The fact is, what we found in just the first third of looking at the Federal Government is that we have multiple duplicative programs that do exactly the same thing; they are just in different agencies or across agencies. In a moment, I will talk about what those are.

The response to that report was the greatest response GAO has ever had to any report they have ever listed. The curious thing about that is that 95 percent of what they reported was a culmination of reports I had asked for over the last 6 years put together, which means we had the information, as Members of Congress; we just would not use it. In other words, it didn't get up to the level of being recognized. When we saw it together, we all of a sudden started seeing the magnitude of the problem of duplication.

The purpose of this amendment--it is very straightforward--is that on average the Senate considers, in a session of Congress, in a Congress over 2 years, about 700 pieces of legislation. The Congressional Research Service now writes a report on each one of those and advises us about the legislation, what it does, what it doesn't do, and what is out there. But the one thing they don't do is tell us where it duplicates.

The purpose of this amendment is that with each of those bills, we would have the knowledge the GAO has put out there, which the CRS will then go and get and say: Here is what is out there, and you need to consider that as you consider, why do we need another program to do something we are already doing? What is wrong with the programs we have now that are not accomplishing this?

This great transparency is not just for us but for the American people. We add duplicative programs every year. It raises the question, where is the oversight?

The motivations here are wonderful. The motivations are to try to solve problems. Too often, we lack the information and the knowledge with which to make a great decision. The reason we lack that is because we fail in our duty to do oversight. So this information which would be provided becomes powerful. More importantly, it creates tremendous transparency for the American public in saying, for example, if we are going to create another job-training program--we have 47 of them right now that are funded by the Federal Government across 9 different government agencies. None of them are coordinated and all but three overlap each other. If we create another job-training program, maybe we ought to know what all these others are and why we need to create another one rather than make the ones we have now work. I would actually question why we have 47 job-training programs. But the problem is big.

Let me spend a moment and put some highlights into the Record. These are just highlights. This represents less than 10 percent of what the findings were of the last GAO report.

We have 101 programs for surface transportation. They are run across four different agencies.

We have 82 teacher quality improvement programs--82 separate programs across 10 different agencies, and they are not in the Department of Education. There are 10 different agencies--9 of which are outside of the Department of Education--that have teacher training programs.

We have 88 economic development programs run by 4 agencies costing $6.5 billion a year--88 separate economic development programs.

We have 80 programs to provide transportation for the disadvantaged, across 8 different agencies. We spend $314 million on it. That is a good cause, and it is something we can do, but 80 different programs?

We don't know what we are doing. So the purpose of this amendment--and it will require a rules change to have it--is to ask CRS to show what we are doing and what is there already, just as they analyze every other aspect of a bill before it comes to the floor. This won't be required on emergency legislation or required on committee reports or required on the filing of bills; it will only be mandated if a bill comes to the floor for consideration by my colleagues.

Let me finish.

We have 56 programs for financial literacy from 21 different agencies. Based on the talk we just heard from the last two Senators, we are the last people who ought to be teaching anybody about financial literacy when we are running the kind of deficit and debt we have and have the kind of duplication we have. Nobody who knows financial literacy would run 88 separate economic development programs and pay for the overhead of all of those through all these different agencies; rather, they would have 2 or 3 and have a concentrated program and direct the emphasis of that economic development program.

We have 21 programs for homeless assistance.

We spend $62 billion on 18 different food and nutrition assistance programs. We only need 2 or 3, not 18. We need to have metrics measuring whether we are effective in helping people with food and nutrition.

We have bureaucracy after bureaucracy, and each of them doesn't know what the other agencies are doing. There is no coordination, and there is no measurement of the effectiveness of what we are doing.

CRS claims they don't have the manpower to do this. They have 350 analysts who do nothing but analyze legislation. This would require one analyst, one time a year, to look at the duplication on a bill coming to the floor--one analyst, over a period of a year, one time, looking at it.

CRS is a great resource for me, and I want them to have the resources they need because the only way we get out of the bigger problems the Senator from Nebraska was talking about is having the knowledge of what we are doing today.

I hope my colleagues will consider this not as a partisan amendment but one to give us the information that gives us the power to make the best decisions for our country. We need to be making better decisions.

The final thing this will do is help us not create duplication again. It will let us know what we need to do; that is, before we pass it into legislation. I am so concerned as I look at bringing forward some options for my colleagues to look at in terms of solving our financial problems because everywhere I go, as we dig deeper into this, we see the duplication and inefficiency, the lack of direction, and the lack of pointed purpose to get an end result in program after program in the Federal Government. Some of those truly aren't our role, but on those that are our role, that we are responsible for constitutionally, it is the responsibility of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Government--we ought to know what we are doing, and we ought to know what is being done out there already. We operate in a vacuum when we don't have this information.

It is my hope that my colleagues will support this in a way to give us information. There is nothing political about it. It is, how do we make better decisions and how do we do this in a way that will cause us not to create more duplication in the future, and it will cause us to ask the smart questions about legislation. You see, those questions don't get asked unless somebody goes and does the digging now.

My hope is that we would all be empowered by having greater knowledge over what we are doing. It is very simple and straightforward. It is my hope that we can accomplish that.

I yield the floor.


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