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Checking Jon Ossoff on $16 billion in government waste
Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate making a strong run in a historically Republican House district, recently aired an ad in which he sought to burnish his credentials as an opponent of unnecessary government spending.
Speaking directly to the camera, Ossoff, a former congressional aide, said in part, "Both parties in Washington waste too much of your money. When I worked there I helped expose waste and abuse by government contractors. We need stricter oversight and tougher penalties. They need to be held accountable. And there’s $16 billion in duplicate programs. That can be cut."
We wondered where that $16 billion figure came from, so we did some due diligence.
When we contacted the Ossoff campaign, they sent us to a report published every year since 2011 by the Government Accountability Office, the respected, nonpartisan, investigative arm of Congress. The report, which is mandated by law, is designed to point out programs, offices and practices in government that could be eliminated or changed because they duplicate other government functions or fail to provide value for the taxpayer.
Ossoff’s campaign said the $16 billion figure came from several line items in the GAO report that the candidate has reviewed and believes can be eliminated in short order and without significant harm. Here’s a list. (For readers who want the full, in-the-weeds description of these programs, you can refer to the GAO report.)
• Consolidate federal data centers: Save $5.4 billion.
• Use "strategic sourcing" at the Defense Department: Save $4 billion.
• Expand joint basing at the Defense Department: Save $2.3 billion.
• Improve "demonstrative spending" at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: Save at least $2 billion.
• Improve management of oil and gas resources on federal lands: Save $1.7 billion.
• Consolidate mobile communications: Save $388 million.
• Improve oversight of state spending under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: Save at least $200 million.
These seven items add up to almost exactly $16 billion.
That said, it’s worth noting that only some, not all, are duplicative in the strictest sense; with some of these recommendations, the GAO is calling for improved oversight or management. Also, the $16 billion figure doesn’t include all recommendations in the GAO report -- or even all of those that stem specifically from programs or efforts that GAO deemed duplicative.
We found at least two recommendations from the report that suggested savings from duplicative programs:
• Prevent individuals from collecting both full disability insurance benefits and unemployment insurance benefits that cover the same period: Save $1.9 billion from 2016 to 2025.
• Terminate the U.S. Family Health Plan and have other DOD health care contractors take over its duties: Save $189 million over fiscal years 2017 to 2022.
Meanwhile, the report includes a wide range of other recommendations that Ossoff has not explicitly said he supports. (We excluded recommendations where GAO was unable to provide a specific dollar figure.) They include:
• Conduct timely children’s disability reviews to ensure that only eligible children receive Supplemental Security Income benefits: Save $3.1 billion over five years
• Obtain better data to better enforce offsets and ensure benefit fairness in Social Security. Save $2.4 billion to $7.9 billion over 10 years.
• Limit the subsidy for crop insurance premiums for individual farmers: Save $2 billion annually
• Permanently rescind the U.S. Enrichment Corp. Fund: Save $1.6 billion
• Market the Energy Department’s excess uranium: Secure $1 billion in additional revenue.
• Modify how Medicare pays certain cancer hospitals: Save $500 million annually.
• Broaden the Internal Revenue Service’s authority to correct simple tax return errors in order to avoid audits: Secure $274 million in additional revenue over fiscal years 2018 to 2026.
• Achieve greater cost efficiencies with checked baggage inspection: Save $234 million in 2015 to 2027.
• Adjust the air passenger immigration inspection user fee to fully recover the cost of inspection activities: Save almost $175 million.
So when Ossoff says "there’s $16 billion in duplicate programs" that can be cut, he’s actually undercounting. GAO found at least $13 billion in additional specified savings that Ossoff did not allude to in the ad, plus even more when savings of unspecified amounts are included. (The campaign told PolitiFact that there "a lot of additional areas for cutting wasteful government spending that he thinks are worth examining as well.")
A final note: $16 billion is real money, but it’s still a fairly small fraction of overall federal spending. Total federal spending is about $4 trillion for fiscal year 2017, and even if you exclude mandatory spending on such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the accumulated debt, the government still spends more than $1 trillion a year on "discretionary" programs.
Ossoff said that in the federal government, "there’s $16 billion in duplicate programs" that can be cut.
There are indeed $16 billion in cuts recommended by a credible study published by a nonpartisan arm of Congress, though not all are examples of duplication. The actual universe of cuts offered by GAO is even higher -- somewhere north of an additional $13 billion.
The statement is accurate but needs clarification, so we rate it Mostly True.
Jon Ossoff, campaign ad, March 30, 2017
Government Accountability Office, "2016 Annual Report: Additional Opportunities to Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Other Financial Benefits," April 2017
Congressional Budget Office, budget home page, accessed April 26, 2017
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