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Davis Opening Statement: Hearing on GAO Report on Duplication of Government Programs; Focus on Welfare and Related Programs

April 05, 2011

We have three purposes in today’s hearing.

First, to learn about duplication in programs serving low-income children and families. Second, to ask whether, given that duplication, current programs are spending taxpayer money wisely.  And third, to consider how we can do better to help more of our neighbors in need become self-reliant.

The most recent data on program duplication came in a well-publicized report GAO released in March, which found literally dozens of programs with similar or overlapping objectives and services provided. The report noted that by fixing this problem, “the federal government could potentially save billions of tax dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services.”

Another GAO report released in January focused on a subset of the larger overall problem — how the federal government spends $18 billion on education and training programs across 47 different initiatives in nine different federal agencies. Of these programs, GAO found that only one in 10 had even been evaluated for effectiveness in the last seven years, and almost all of them overlapped with one or more programs.  Since one of the programs in question is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program under our jurisdiction, and that program needs to be reauthorized this year, we should all take note of those facts.

Unfortunately, the redundancy doesn’t stop there.  Depending on how you count, the Ways and Means Committee oversees no less than six income support programs, four child care programs, and nine child welfare programs.  That includes both spending and tax programs, which have mushroomed in number and expense in recent years. One example of that duplication and overlap involves the Social Services Block Grant program, which provides $1.7 billion each year to states. This program has no eligibility criteria and requires no matching funds from states. States use almost a third of this money for services provided by other programs, such as foster care and child care. While states rightly desire flexibility to meet the needs of the people they serve, common sense suggests the Federal government should not operate multiple programs serving the same purpose, each with different eligibility, reporting, and accounting requirements.

Such duplication can create a complex labyrinth that states implementing programs, and more importantly real people in need of help, are forced to navigate.

And helping those in need is the real point of all this, after all.  As President Obama stated in his inaugural address, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works….Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

Our goal today is to review how current programs in our jurisdiction work, and how they can be made to work better. In the current fiscal climate, it is especially important to understand where duplication exists, how we minimize that duplication and achieve savings, and ultimately how we can provide better services for those in need.

We look forward to all of our testimony on those points.