Federal Budget:

Opportunities for Oversight and Improved Use of Taxpayer Funds

GAO-03-922T: Published: Jun 18, 2003. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 2003.

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Susan J. Irving
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No government should waste its taxpayers' money, whether we are operating during a period of budget surpluses or deficits. Further, it is important for everyone to recognize that waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement are not victimless activities. Resources are not unlimited, and when they are diverted for inappropriate, illegal, inefficient, or ineffective purposes, both taxpayers and legitimate program beneficiaries are cheated. Both the Administration and the Congress have an obligation to safeguard benefits for those that deserve them and avoid abuse of taxpayer funds by preventing such diversions. Beyond preventing obvious abuse, government also has an obligation to modernize its priorities, practices, and processes so that it can meet the demands and needs of today's changing world. More broadly, the federal government must reexamine the entire range of policies and programs--entitlements, discretionary, and tax incentives--in the context of the 21st century. Periodic reexamination and revaluation of government activities has never been more important than it is today. Our nation faces long-term fiscal challenges. Increased pressure also comes from world events: both from the recognition that we cannot consider ourselves "safe" between two oceans--which has increased demands for spending on homeland security--and from the U.S. role in an increasingly interdependent world. And government faces increased demands from the American public for modern organizations and workforces that are responsive, agile, accountable and responsible.

First, it is important to deal with areas vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. Payments to ineligibles drain resources that could otherwise go to the intended beneficiaries of a program. Everyone should be concerned about the diversion of resources and subsequent undermining of program integrity. Second, and more broadly, policymakers and managers need to look at ways to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and specific tax expenditures. Even where we agree on the goals of programs, numerous opportunities exist to streamline, target and consolidate to improve their delivery. This means looking at program consolidation, at overlap and at fragmentation. For example, it means tackling excess federal real property--whether at home or abroad. It means improved targeting in both spending programs and tax incentives--in some cases, spreading limited funds over a wide population or beneficiary group may not be the best approach. Finally, a fundamental reassessment of government programs, policies, and activities can help weed out programs that are outdated ineffective unsustainable, or simply a lower priority than they used to be. In most federal mission areas--from low-income housing to food safety to higher education assistance--national goals are achieved through the use of a variety of tools and, increasingly, through the participation of many organizations, such as state and local governments and international organizations, that are beyond the direct control of the federal government. Government cannot accept as "givens" all of its existing major programs, policies, and operations. A fundamental review of what the federal government does, how it does it, and in some cases, who does the government's business will be required, particularly given the demographic tidal wave that is starting to show on our fiscal horizon.

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