Government programs are created and implemented for various reasons. These programs are usually managed by a Federal department or specific agency or by more than one agency in the case of cross agencies programs. These programs usually involve certain activities or strategies and target certain populations or beneficiaries. These programs are also usually funded using designated budgets. At the end of the day, the overall goal of government programs is to fulfill their proposed mission while keeping their integrity and measure progress.

However, even when program design and funding are successfully coordinated within the program leadGAO 2019 Annual Report Coverers and agency, there are still three major issues which are currently present among government programs. These issues are called Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication. While each of these issues are different in terminology, they affect government programs in similar ways and are usually the consequences of the same root cause: lack of effective coordination and communication of goals, target populations, and vision among Federal department and agencies. By definition:

  1. Fragmentation occurs in circumstances in which more than one federal agency or more than one organization are involved in the same area of need and there are opportunities to improve service delivery.
  2. Overlap occurs when multiple agencies or programs have similar goals or strategies, engage in similar activities, or target similar beneficiaries.
  3. Duplication occurs when two or more agencies or programs have same goals, activities, or provide the same services to the same beneficiaries.

Lack of alignment of goals, vision, target populations, and resource allocation result typically in overspending of assigned budgets as well as in frustration and confusion from beneficiaries and other stakeholders who benefit or are affected by these programs.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) annually reviews fragmentation, overlap, and duplication according to a statutory mandate of 2010. GAO releases annual reports in which it identifies actions that Congress and executive branch agencies can take to either mitigate the impact of these issues or enhance coordination and communication to prevent fragmentation, overlap, and duplication to exists among federal programs. In addition, in each annual report, GAO presents the current progress that has been made since 2011 until now, after the first review was conducted. The 2019 GAO report for fragmentation, overlap, and duplication has already been released and can be found online at the GAO website. Major points discussed in this report include:

  • 98 new actions to improve efficiency and effectiveness of government in 28 new areas and 11 existing areas
    • 33 new actions related to 11 existing areas presented in GAO’s 2011 to 2018 annual reports
  • Financial Benefits of $262 Billion, as of March 2019
    • $216 billion accrued benefits (2010 through 2018)
    • $46 billion projected benefits (2019 and later)
  • Examples of areas with Open Actions and potential financial and non-financial Benefits
  • New cost savings and revenue enhancement opportunities identified
    • Examples of addressed and partially addressed actions with associated cost savings and revenue enhancements
  • Additional Open Areas directed to Congress and executive branch agencies with other benefits
  • Number of Partially Addressed and Not Addressed actions since 2011 by agency
  • Fiscal year 2018 outlays and number of Open Actions since 2011 by agency

The most important outcome presented in the 2019 GAO report is the aggregate financial benefit. As stated above, the federal government has generated about $262 billion in financial benefits when it addressed Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication issues by engaging in cost savings actions. Therefore, as proven by the GAO report, it is crucial for agencies to continue to engage in actions that address fragmentation, overlap, and duplication. GAO proposes a recommended four-step process for agencies to follow when managing fragmentation, overlap, and duplication issues:

  1. Defining a focus for review: programs and activities related to a goal
    • Define goals and outcomes.
    • Identify beneficiaries, customers, or target populations.
    • Identify key benefits, services, or products.
    • Administer agencies or agency organizational structure.
    • Determine allocation of resources and budget structure.
  1. Identify Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and identify potential effects
    • Determine if one of these three issues exist among selected programs.
    • Identify relationships between the fragmented, overlapping, and duplicative programs.
    • Identify similarities in areas of service, target populations, and activities of programs.
  1. Validate effects and asses and compare programs
    • Conduct evaluations to validate effects identifies and compare the performance of programs.
    • Confirm findings with relevant agencies and other key stakeholders.
    • Confirm if benefits, products, or services are efficient, complementary, and serve the needs of beneficiaries and stakeholders.
  1. Identify options to increase efficiency and reduce or manager better fragmentation, overlap, and duplication
    • Streamline: restructure or eliminate outmoded government operations and structures.
    • Clarify roles and responsibilities.
    • Improve processes, technology, and policy design.
    • Coordinate across agencies and partners through data and information sharing.

Lastly, there are coordination recommendations that can assist agencies to address fragmentation, overlap, and duplication, including, but not limited to:

  • Establishing mutually joint goals and strategies.
  • Addressing and identifying needs by leveraging resources.
  • Agreeing on roles and responsibilities.
  • Establishing compatible procedures, policies, and other means to operate across agency boundaries.
  • Developing mechanisms to monitor, evaluate, and report on results.
  • Reinforcing individual accountability through performance management systems.
  • Reinforcing agency accountability for collaborative efforts through agency plans and reports.