Segmentation, Overlap, and Duplication

Executive agencies waste $BILLIONS in segmentation, overlap, and duplication. What the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been saying since 2011 is gaining visibility.

Every spring, the GAO releases their report to Congress on the “Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits”. Whew! A mouthful of a report!

So first, let’s talk about credibility. These folks (the GAO people I mean) walk the talk. An international peer review takes place every 3 years, consistently confirming that the GAO executes its mandate according to our Government Auditing Standards, and even mentions practices that set good examples for other auditing institutions to follow. So credible? Yes. Check their website at Easy, clean, thorough.

Now let’s look at their performance. The GAO framework is based on a long-term strategic plan that is revised every 4 years and presents key efforts managed and tracked each fiscal year. The main trends that affect our society and government are also identified. Because credibility and performance go hand-in-hand and performance is anchored in strategy, I looked at how they structured their strategy cascade. They offer the diagram below:

A Performance and Accountability Report is produced each year. Transparency. So that’s how the GAO conducts their business and surely, their solid strategy cascade implementation is a factor in their ability to execute on their own mandate, lead by example, and realize billions of dollars in financial benefits. The strategy cascade for the GAO starts with four strategic goals as follows:

  1. Address Current and Emerging Challenges to the Well-being and Financial Security of the American People
  2. Respond to Changing Security Threats and the Challenges of Global Interdependence
  3. Help Transform the Federal Government to Address National Challenges
  4. Maximize the Value of GAO by Enabling Quality, Timely Service to the Congress and by Being a Leading Practices Federal Agency

Performance against these goals is evaluated in 4 key areas: results, client, people, and internal operations. Wise choices that will probably warrant my researching what keys areas are executive agencies using in their performance assessment. But I am afraid that we haven’t yet reached the transparency that is a prerequisite to do such research. Hmm… that would be a good article.

It is important to note that in fulfilling their role supporting congress by reporting on the state of affairs in the executive branch, the GAO produces a wealth of information. While the information presented in various targeted reports, they operate in a continuous fashion, according to processes that allow them to capture data .  Besides being used to produce reports, that same data is used to populate a well-organized and thorough website and is even made available through spreadsheets; another tribute to transparency that allows any analyst to gain insights into any agency’s performance.

Specifically, the issues and recommendations that support the  “Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits” report are available in a spreadsheet, providing an excellent starting point to address issues. Best practices guidelines are also available to help federal managers correct course.

That brings me back to the essence of what oversight is, and the role that the GAO plays in that function at the highest level of our federal government. They assess the executive branch agencies and report to Congress but with the same stroke, they produce recommendations that any agency leader could embrace and embed in their own agency’s strategy. The incredible benefit would be to leverage knowledge about cross-cutting issues that a single agency may not even be aware of. But even more important is the  subsequent tracking of the implementation of these recommendations, closing the loop on oversight. Isn’t that exactly what each agency should do in their own internal oversight implementations?

Since 2011, the GAO recommended 724 actions in 278 areas to realize cost savings and enhance revenue. As of March 2018, 52% of these actions have been fully implemented and 24 % have been partially implemented resulting in $178B in financial benefits ($125B realized and $53B to come). That’s $128 return on each dollar invested in the GAO! The low-hanging fruits have been picked, leaving ever bigger challenges on the table. Until we address our federal government’s frozen middle, the progress to realize new benefits will be very slow…

Check the Comptroller General’s video testimony to the House on GAO’s 2018 report and you may want to listen to their podcast for more details.