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Where can Government Save Money? We’ve Found More than Half a Trillion Dollars in Potential Savings

Posted on May 11, 2022

How, specifically, can the federal government save billions of dollars and also improve the way many programs operate? You’ve come to the right place!

Today, we issued a new report on ways the federal government can potentially save billions of dollars in spending and improve efficiency of its programs and activities. Our new report includes 94 corrective measures in 21 new and nine existing areas.

Over the past decade, we have helped the government improve its operations and save about $552 billion—including $35 billion identified since our last report.

In today’s WatchBlog post, we look at our latest annual report on opportunities to reduce federal spending by addressing inefficiencies and through cost savings we’ve identified.


Bar chart showing the potential savings we've identified over 12 years


Where can efficiencies and cost savings be found?

To help the government be a good steward of taxpayers’ dollars and resources, each year we review various federal programs and activities.

We identify ways the government can be more efficient and save taxpayers’ money by looking for agencies and programs that:

  • work on similar or different parts of the same goal (fragmentation)
  • have similar goals or provide similar services (overlap)
  • work on the same activities or provide the same services (duplication)

In our new report, we identified 94 new actions in 21 new and nine existing areas that Congress or agencies can take to improve government services and achieve further cost savings. For example, we found that:

  • The Department of Energy could save tens of billions of dollars by adopting different ways to manage/contain radioactive waste.
  • Contracting leaders at federal agencies could potentially save billions of dollars annually and improve the performance of their procurement organizations by using tools that measure cost reduction.
  • The Department of Defense could potentially save millions of dollars by better managing fragmentation in its food program and strengthening current initiatives to reduce improper defense travel payments.

Where has progress already been made in achieving cost savings and government efficiencies?

We’ve been reporting on ways to save the government money and address inefficiencies in government services since 2011. As of March 2022, Congress and agencies have addressed many of the nearly 1,300 total actions we’ve identified over the years. Examples of actions that led to significant cost savings include:

  • Congress passed the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, which provided guidance on how DOD develops and acquires weapon systems, resulting in cost savings of approximately $180 billion from 2011 through 2017.
  • The Department of Education took steps to improve its cost estimates for student loan income-driven repayment plans, which resulted in savings of approximately $43 billion through 2020.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) evaluated and used strategic sourcing—leveraging their buy power by using existing contracts for goods and services—which resulted in cost savings of about $10.8 billion from fiscal years 2013 through 2017.

Billions more in cost savings are possible across the federal government.

Our work has also led to non-financial benefits that improved government and addressed fragmentation and coordination issues, such as:

  • The Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) issued a 5-year strategic plan to enhance the effectiveness of STEM education to enhance the nation’s global competitiveness in these fields of study.
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a chemical defense strategy and implementation plan for its chemical defense programs in order to combat domestic chemical threats and incidents.

What more can be done?

Addressing the remaining 469 open actions we have identified since 2011 could save the government tens of billions of dollars in additional costs and improved government services, among other benefits. For example:

  • The U.S. Navy could achieve billions of dollars in cost savings by improving its acquisition practices and ensuring that ships can be efficiently sustained.
  • The Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service should improve their coordination on the oversight of imported seafood, which would help them more consistently protect consumers from unsafe drug residues.

To find out more about actions to save the government money, improve government services and see where actions have been taken, check out our report and Action Tracker.

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About Watchblog

GAO's mission is to provide Congress with fact-based, nonpartisan information that can help improve federal government performance and ensure accountability for the benefit of the American people. GAO launched its WatchBlog in January, 2014, as part of its continuing effort to reach its audiences—Congress and the American people—where they are currently looking for information.

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