Business Ethos Blog

Government Bloat – Dr. David Mielke, Dean of the EMU College of Business

As Washington looks for ways to cut the federal budget, there are some suggestions to consider.  There was a massive study just completed by the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office (GAO) that compiled a list of redundant, overlapping and duplicative government programs.  There are also questions as to the effectiveness of these programs.  This list will provide a template for government lawmakers in both parties as they move to cut federal spending and consolidate programs to reduce the deficit.  Senator Tom Colburn of Oklahoma estimates the report identifies between $100 and $200 billion in duplicative spending.  The GAO examined numerous federal agencies including the departments of defense, agriculture and housing and urban development.  The problems presented are a mishmash of occasionally arbitrary policies and rules.

Examples of the bloat included:

1. 15 agencies overseeing food safety laws.  For example, the FDA makes sure that eggs are safe, wholesome and properly labeled, while a division of the agriculture is responsible for the safety of eggs processed into egg products.

2. 20 separate programs to help the homeless.

3. 80 programs for economic development in HUD, the Departments of Agriculture and Small Business Administration.  For example there are 52 different programs to fund entrepreneurial efforts.

4. 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality spread across 10 federal agencies–the Departments of Education, Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space agency.

5. 80 programs to help disadvantaged people with transportation.

6. 47 programs for job training.

7. 56 programs to help people understand finances.

8. There are 18 federal programs that spent a total of $62.5 billion in 2008 on food and nutrition but little is known about the effectiveness of 11 of these because they haven’t been well studied.

9. The GAO looked closely at government funding for transportation including road building and other projects.  They found 5 departments in the Department of Transportation that account for 100 different programs that fund highways, rail and safety projects. 

10. The report criticized the government for encouraging federal agencies to purchase plug-in vehicles while there are policies that agencies have to reduce electricity consumption.

What is the “Right Thing to do?”  Obviously, our lawmakers should pursue the elimination of duplication and the consolidation of these programs into single administrative units.  Remember that almost every one of these separate programs has its own administration to run them.  How much of the total cost of the programs go to administration versus actually going to the program recipients?