Coburn-Udall Bill Targets Redundant Federal Programs

May 10, 2013

A government watchdog found that as much as $95 billion a year is wasted on redundant programs

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Udall would like lawmakers to think twice before saying alright to legislation that might duplicate or overlap with an existing federal program or office.

After backing a package that raised taxes and delayed scheduled reductions in spending in January, the Colorado Democrat has co-sponsored a measure authored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) that would require the Congressional Research Service to conduct an analysis of legislation that creates a federal program or office to examine if it is redundant or similar to an existing entity.

“All too often, Congress focuses on creating new programs and regulations instead of updating existing programs or abolishing those that have outlived their purpose. This bipartisan, commonsense bill will help eliminate duplicative programs and ensure that lawmakers formally analyze possible duplication when they a bill or resolution,” Udall said in a statement.

Last month, the federal government’s internal watchdog found that the government might waste and duplicate as much as $95 billion a year through redundant programs.

The Government Accountability Office report described 31 areas in which federal programs overlap or duplicate or are fragmented with existing federal entities. It noted three federal offices oversee the inspection of catfish and nine federal agencies oversaw 82 wind-related initiatives in 2011.

Senate aides did not respond for comment, but the prospects for passage of the bill are uncertain. Similar versions of the legislation fell a few votes shy of the 67 needed for final passage in June 2011 and February 2012. Most of the Senate Democratic caucus voted no both times, so flipping some of those votes in the Democratic-controlled upper chamber is likely to be a challenge.

Yet supporters of the bill expressed measured optimism that the legislation would pass the senate.

“I think we’ve got a good shot at it,” Udall said in a brief interview Tuesday, noting he plans to attach Senate Resolution 110 as an amendment to an underlying bill. He added that supporters may need to garner no more than 60 votes for final passage.

“(T)he only bad thing I can say about the proposal itself is that it wasn’t suggested 30 years ago. If lawmakers are tuned into reality, I should think an idea like this would sail through the chamber like a Mother’s Day resolution,” a Senate Republican aide said.

Democratic senators who opposed the 2011 version of the bill did not tip their hand as to their intentions if the Senate votes on the bill again.

“I don’t remember,” Dianne Feinstein of California said.

“I don’t think I did vote against it. Let me get back to you,” Mark Warner of Virginia said.

Udall’s alliance with Coburn is consistent with his pledge in January that his “number-one job” in the new Congress was to help get the government out the red, but comes just months after Udall’s vote in favor of a “fiscal-cliff package” that put off scheduled spending cuts and raised payroll taxes.

Udall’s “Senate twin,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) voted against raising taxes and delaying the spending cuts, a contrast that prompted the senior senator to make a round of weekend media appearances on national and Denver outlets to explain his vote.

Udall, who spent a decade in the House of Representatives before his 2008 election to the Senate, is seeking a second term in 2014.

Although a Public Policy Polling survey found that barely more than half of Coloradans approve of Udall’s performance, Republicans have yet to field a candidate to challenge him.

Coburn has emphasized saving government funds one billion dollars at a time, and while the federal government’s total debt is approaching $17 billion, the message has attracted its share of supporters.

“We need to do more with less,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in an interview Tuesday. “When I was governor, we put together a task force that saved $50 million (a year) by consolidating agencies.”

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