If you're like me and wrote a healthy check last week to pay your dues to Uncle Sam, you probably don't want to hear more about the government wasting your hard-earned dough.
But I'm going to stoke your ire anyway, because our president and Congress are preparing to debate a budget that includes proposed tax increases. Before Washington demands more, it must do more with what it already reaps.
A report this month from the Government Accountability Office shows our federal government has grown far too big, apparently even too big to list, which is leading to waste. Auditors couldn't even find a comprehensive list of programs, making it hard to determine whether programs were duplicated and spending money unnecessarily.
Still, auditors found plenty of examples of bureaucrats' treating your tax bucks like Monopoly money and said tens of billions potentially could be saved. You probably won't be surprised at some of the waste cited, such as the military blowing a bundle on uniforms.
But auditors fished deep and found fat that might choke even the most patriotic American. A new program is planned to ensure catfish are safe to eat, but it will duplicate already existing inspections. The potential waste — $14 million a year. Holy mackerel.
And even when auditors brought that to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's attention, it said it intends to proceed with the program. It might not have a choice. It's on the hook because the program is required by federal legislation. So it's up to Congress to cut bait.
Congress was put on notice about that and other waste and inefficiencies when Comptroller General Gene Dodaro presented the cost-saving recommendations April 9 to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"As the fiscal pressures facing the nation continue, so too does the need for executive branch agencies and Congress to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and activities," Dodaro wrote in the report.
One of the Lehigh Valley area's representatives, Democrat Matt Cartwright, is on the Oversight and Government Reform committee. I asked for his thoughts on the findings, but his spokesman never got back to me. I guess there are more important things to be concerned about in Washington than blowing taxpayers' money.
This month's report is the Government Accountability Office's third annual review of government spending. It suggests 81 ways for Uncle Sam to raise more money or save money. The report follows others in each of the previous two years that made 299 similar recommendations.
As of early last month, 65 of those previous recommendations had been addressed, 149 had been partially addressed and 85 weren't acted on at all. That means more than a quarter of the recommendations weren't deemed worthy, or were too tangled to be dealt with immediately.
Among the new recommendations made this month were:
• The military possibly could save up to $82 million if the services would collaborate when developing and buying camouflage uniforms.
• The Department of Homeland Security could save money by not paying for the same research and development multiple times. There were 35 instances of overlap found in 29 contracts. Together, those contracts are worth about $66 million. Two divisions within the department awarded five separate contracts to detect the same chemical.
• Fifteen federal agencies could save money by streamlining drug abuse and treatment programs. Together they spent $4.5 billion last fiscal year on 76 programs, 59 of which overlap with other programs.
Medicaid waste has been well documented. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services estimates $19 billion in federal funds were spent improperly last fiscal year. That included payments for treatments or services that were not covered by the program; payments for treatments or services that were not medically necessary; and payments for treatments or services that were billed for but never provided.
Interestingly, this month's report uncovered even more waste — in Medicaid's auditing of waste.
Medicaid hired two auditors for each state. One was responsible for reviewing claims to identify problems, while another investigated those problems. Their work not only overlapped, the GAO said, but the process was set up so that the two auditors couldn't easily communicate with each other.
Medicaid said it agreed with the recommendation to merge the auditing functions and would evaluate options for doing so. The GAO did not estimate how much potentially was lost through that inefficient process but said the total cost of the auditing was about $34 million in fiscal year 2011.
Many of the GAO's findings did not estimate the financial loss and that's a shortcoming, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a statement.
But Issa, a Republican from California, said that's not the GAO's fault.
"This is because federal agencies often cannot tell us how much money is spent on a particular program," he said.
That's not surprising, either. Just as with the lack of a list of federal programs, the lack of information makes it harder for any nosy watchdogs to ask questions.
More information, including a website where you can track government waste and efforts to stop it, is on my blog at http://blogs.mcall.com/watchdog.
The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me by email at email@example.com, by phone at 610-841-2364 (ADOG), by fax at 610-820-6693, or by mail at The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101. Follow me on Twitter at mcwatchdog and on Facebook at Morning Call Watchdog.