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GAO: Duplication fighting terrorism, tax benefits, treating catfish

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell has the details (after the jump) on the coming Government Accountability Office report, previewed in First Thoughts, that will be out later today outlining government waste due to duplication. The report could provide a road map for other cuts to make as the White House pushes for a 30-day continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown. (The two-week CR would end just as the president is scheduled to make a trip to South America.) Here's some of what was in Thoughts:

NBC’s Ken Strickland reports that as lawmakers scour the administrative landscape looking to cut billions in spending, a nonpartisan report commissioned by Congress will be released today showing that billions worth of savings could be achieved by eliminating duplicative and overlapping government programs. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) told a few reporters yesterday that the report "makes us all look like jackasses." The Oklahoma senator, Strick adds, authored the legislation requiring to the Government Accountability Office to "identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals and activities, to estimate the cost of such duplication, and to make recommendations to Congress for consolidation and elimination of such duplication."

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn estimates the cost is at least $100 billion, but there is no official amount identified.

"Considering the amount of program dollars involved in the issues we have identified, even limited adjustments could result in significant savings," the GAO concluded.

Aides provided a preview of key findings and examples of duplication, mismanagement and waste:

·    Dangerous lack of coordination regarding defenses against biological terror threats.  At least five departments, eight agencies and more than two dozen presidential appointees oversee $6.48 billion related to bioterrorism.  GAO writes: "There is no national plan to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts following a bioterror attack, and the United States lacks the technical and operational capabilities required for an adequate response."

·    $1 trillion for special tax benefits, many of which are redundant.   GAO writes: "For fiscal year 2009, the U.S. Department of the Treasury listed a total of 173 tax expenditures, some of which were the same magnitude or larger than related federal spending for some mission areas."

·    Financial literacy education offered by a government with a $14 trillion debt.  Twenty agencies operate 56 programs dedicated to financial literacy but GAO and agencies can't estimate what they cost.  

·    Economic development programs with little evidence of economic development.  The federal government runs 80 economic development programs across 4 agencies at a cost of $6.5 billion. 

·    Highways programs have not been rebooted since 1956.  The Department of Transportation (DOT) spends $58 billion on 100 separate programs run by five DOT agencies with 6,000 employees.  GAO says the programs have "not evolved to reflect current priorities in transportation planning."

·    Special treatment for catfish.  GAO found that the Farm Bill assigned the United States Department of Agriculture responsibility for monitoring catfish, thus splitting seafood oversight between USDA and FDA.  Fifteen federal agencies administer more than 30 food related laws.

·    Senseless duplication among military branches.  GAO found that the military wastes untold billions on duplication and overlap.  For instance, Army and Air Force transportable base equipment, which includes mobile housing and dining facilities, could be used by both service, but are not.