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More Efficient and Effective Government: Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue

GAO-12-449T Published: Feb 28, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 2012.
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What GAO Found

We identified 51 areas in our 2012 annual report, including 32 areas of potential duplication, overlap, or fragmentation as well as 19 opportunities for agencies or Congress to consider taking action that could either reduce the cost of government operations or enhance revenue collections for the Treasury. These areas involve a wide range of government missions including agriculture, defense, economic development, education, energy, general government, health, homeland security, international affairs, science and the environment, and social services. Within and across these missions, the 2012 annual report touches on virtually all major federal departments and agencies. We expanded the scope of our work for this year’s report to focus on areas where a mix of federal approaches is used, such as tax expenditures, direct spending, and federal grant or loan programs.

In our 2011 follow-up report, we assessed the extent to which Congress and the executive branch addressed the 81 areas—including a total of 176 actions—to reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation or achieve other potential financial benefits. As of February 10, 2012, Congress and the executive branch have made some progress in addressing the majority of the 81 areas we identified; however, additional steps are needed to fully implement the remaining actions. Specifically, our assessment found that all actions had been addressed in 4 areas, partially addressed in 60 areas, and not addressed in 17 areas. In addition, OMB has instructed agencies to consider areas of duplication or overlap identified in our 2011 report and by others in their fiscal year 2013 budget submissions and management plans. The OMB guidance also advised agencies to take a number of other steps to enhance efficiency, such as identifying and including in their budget submissions cost-saving efforts that will improve operational efficiency and taxpayers’ rate of return, including program integration, reorganizations within and between agency components, and resource realignment to improve public services.

Under requirements established by the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (the Act). OMB is also required to coordinate with agencies to establish outcome-oriented goals covering a limited number of crosscutting policy areas as well as goals to improve management across the federal government, and develop a governmentwide performance plan for making progress toward achieving those goals. The President’s budget for 2013 includes 14 such crosscutting policy goals. Aspects of several of these goals—including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education, Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses, Job Training, Cybersecurity, Information Technology Management, Procurement and Acquisition Management, and Real Property Management—are discussed in our March 2011 and February 2012 reports. The Act’s requirements provide a much needed basis for more fully integrating a wide array of potentially duplicative, overlapping, or fragmented federal activities as well as a cohesive perspective on the long-term goals of the federal government focused on priority policy areas.

Opportunities exist for the Congress and federal agencies to continue to address the needed actions identified in our March 2011 and February 2012 reports. Collectively, these reports show that, if the actions are implemented, the government could potentially save tens of billions of dollars annually. Cost savings related to reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, and fragmentation can be difficult to estimate because the portion of agency budgets devoted to certain programs or activities is often unclear, or needed information on program performance or costs is not readily available. In some cases, there is sufficient information to estimate potential savings or other benefits if actions are taken to address individual issues. In other cases, estimates of cost savings or other benefits would depend upon what congressional and executive branch decisions were made, including how certain of our recommendations are implemented. Nevertheless, considering the amount of program dollars involved in the issues we have identified, even limited adjustments could result in significant savings. Additionally, we have found that agencies can often realize other kinds of benefits, such as improved customer service and decreased administrative burdens.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses our 2012 annual report, which presents 51 areas where programs may be able to achieve greater efficiencies or become more effective in providing government services by reducing potential duplication, overlap, or fragmentation in federal programs and activities. We have also continued to monitor developments in the 81 areas that we identified a year ago in the first report we issued in this series. Our 2011 follow-up report released today describes the extent to which progress has been made to address these areas.
This testimony is based on our 2012 annual and 2011 follow-up reports. Specifically, it addresses: (1) federal programs or functional areas where unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation exists, as well as other opportunities for potential cost savings or enhanced revenues; (2) status of actions taken by Congress and the executive branch to address the areas we identified in our 2011 report; (3) aspects of the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 that may contribute to addressing and preventing duplication, overlap and fragmentation among federal programs; and (4) our approach to identifying duplication or cost savings in federal programs and activities. We conducted our work in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards or with our quality assurance framework, as appropriate. For issues where information is being reported on for the first time in this report, we sought comments from the agencies involved, and incorporated those comments as appropriate. In updating the actions we identified in the 2011 annual report, we asked the agencies involved and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for their review and incorporated comments as appropriate.
For more information, contact Janet St. Laurent, at (202) 512-4300, or; and Zina Merritt, at (202) 512-4300, or

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