Budget Issues:

Effective Oversight and Budget Discipline Are Essential--Even in a Time of Surplus

T-AIMD-00-73: Published: Feb 1, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 1, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed selected performance challenges within federal agencies and programs and possible changes to congressional oversight models to help address such problems, focusing on: (1) the federal services that could be better provided by the private sector; (2) the federal subsidies to individuals, business, or states and local governments are no longer needed or are poorly targeted; (3) the overlapping or fragmented programs that could be consolidated or better coordinated; (4) the federal facilities or locations that are outmoded, ineffective, or excess to requirement; and (5) what areas major federal capital investments could be more cost effective in.

GAO noted that: (1) one of the lessons drawn from the history of deficit reduction efforts during the 1990s is that reconsidering federal programs and activities individually is less likely to lead to change than basing reform initiatives on broad policy rationales or themes; (2) a consistent, clear, and complete set of overarching themes can be an effective means to formulate and package oversight and re-examination of federal agencies and programs; (3) Congress originally defines the intended beneficiaries for any federal program or service based on certain perceptions of eligibility and need; (4) periodic oversight can be an effective means to ensure that limited resources are properly targeted in light of changing conditions, current program operations, and overall congressional priorities; (5) virtually all of the results that the federal government strives to achieve require the concerted and coordinated efforts of two or more federal agencies; (6) yet GAO's work has repeatedly shown that mission fragmentation and program overlap are widespread and that crosscutting federal program efforts are not well coordinated; (7) in program area after program area, GAO has found that unfocused and uncoordinated crosscutting programs waste scarce resources, confuse and frustrate taxpayers and program beneficiaries, and limit overall program effectiveness; (8) better information is needed to permit decisionmakers to sort through claims and determine the investments that promise to effectively address critical needs; (9) GAO's recent work discussing how other countries are dealing with current surpluses can be informative about the character of a new fiscal paradigm for the nation; and (10) Congress might consider whether a more structured oversight mechanism is needed to permit a coordinated congressional perspective on governmentwide performance matters.

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