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Government Efficiency and Effectiveness: Opportunities for Improvement and Considerations for Restructuring

GAO-12-454T Published: Mar 21, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 2012.
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What GAO Found

On February 17th, Chairman Lieberman and Senator Warner introduced S. 2129, entitled “Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012”, a bill renewing the Presidential authority to propose government organizational changes and obtain congressional approval through an expedited process. From 1932 to 1984, Congress provided the President with some form of reorganization authority. S. 2129 renews most of the statutory framework as it existed before the authority lapsed in 1984. However, S. 2129 proposes noteworthy changes, both in terms of eliminating restrictions on the scope of a President’s plan and placing additional requirements on such plans.

Unlike the 1984 version of the law, under S. 2129, the President would be permitted to propose the creation of a new department (or renaming of an existing department), the abolishment or transfer of an executive department, or the consolidation of two or more departments. There are currently fifteen departments, including the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, the President would be permitted to propose the creation of a new agency, a restriction which was included by the 1984 amendment of this authority.

The reorganization authority proposed under this bill would permit the President, as in the 1984 version of the law, to prepare and submit to Congress reorganization plans that call for the (1) transfer of an agency or some of its functions to another agency, (2) abolishment of all or some functions of an agency, (3) consolidation of an agency or its functions or parts of an agency or some of its functions with another agency or part of another agency, (4) consolidation of part of an agency or some of its functions with another part of the same agency, or (5) authorization of an officer to delegate his or her functions.

In our 2012 annual report, we identified a total of 51 areas, 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.

In our 2011 annual report, we suggested a wide range of actions for Congress and the executive branch to consider such as developing strategies to better coordinate fragmented efforts, implementing executive initiatives to improve oversight and evaluation of overlapping programs, considering enactment of legislation to facilitate revenue collection and examining opportunities to eliminate potential duplication through streamlining, collocating, or consolidating efforts or administrative services. For 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.

Our assessment of progress made as of February 10, 2012, found that 4 (or 5 percent) of the 81 areas GAO identified were addressed; 60 (or 74 percent) were partially addressed; and 17 (or 21 percent) were not addressed.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the need to reexamine the structures and operations of the federal government. Congress also asked that we address the “Reforming and Consolidating Government Act of 2012” (S. 2129), first proposed by the President and introduced in the Senate by Chairman Lieberman and Senator Warner. The federal government faces an array of challenges and opportunities to enhance performance, ensure accountability, and position the nation for the future. A number of overarching trends, such as fiscal sustainability and debt challenges, demographic and societal changes, developments in science and technology, diffuse security threats, global interdependence, and the rapid expansion of collaborative networks, underscore the need for a fundamental reconsideration of the role, operations, and structure of the federal government for the 21st century. This testimony is based on our work on government reorganization, transformation, and management issues as well as our recently issued reports that identify additional opportunities and progress made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government. Specifically, it addresses:

  • issues related to reexamining the structure of the federal government and its operations, including the President’s request that Congress grant authority to reorganize the executive branch agencies;

  • federal programs or functional areas where unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation exists as well as opportunities for potential cost savings or enhanced revenues identified in our 2012 annual report; and

  • the status of actions taken by Congress and the executive branch to address the issues we identified in 2011.

For further information on this testimony, please contact Janet St. Laurent, Managing Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, who may be reached at (202) 512-4300, or; and Zina Merritt, Director, Defense Capabilities and Management, who may be reached at (202) 512-4300, or

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