GAO: Savings from reform program overstated

GAO: Savings from reform program overstated

The National Partnership for Reinventing Government has improved efficiency and cut costs, OMB's Deidre A. Lee says.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

The Clinton administration has inflated the savings estimates coming from National Partnership for Reinventing Government efforts, the General Accounting Office has reported.

GAO did not attempt to calculate the correct figure, but the often-quoted assertion that NPR has saved taxpayers $137 million is based on questionable accounting practices, a new report said.

"NPR claimed savings from agency-specific recommendations that could not be fully attributed to its efforts," said the report, NPR's Savings: Claimed Agency Savings Cannot All Be Attributed to NPR. GAO said it found that some savings were overstated because the Office of Management and Budget counted the savings twice.

Administration officials suggested that the GAO report misses the big picture, which is that the administration has helped federal agencies become more efficient.

"Six years later we have a government that works better and costs less significantly less," said Deidre A. Lee, acting deputy director of management for OMB.

In the study, GAO reviewed the claimed savings from NPR at the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and NASA. Combined, the programs in those agencies represent 22 percent of the claimed $137 billion in savings.

Misplaced credit?

GAO said that some of the savings credited to NPR from agency-specific recommendations could not be fully attributed to NPR efforts. "OMB generally did not distinguish NPR's contributions from other initiatives or factors that influenced budget reductions," the report said. "Therefore, the relationship between the recommended action and the savings claimed from the recommendations we reviewed was not clear."

OMB often relied on analytic techniques used in developing the administration's budget. These techniques are designed to support point-in-time budget estimates based on policies and economic forecasts in effect at a given time, GAO said. It is often difficult, however, to reconstruct the specific instructions and to track savings for estimates produced several years ago, the report said.

Furthermore, multiple factors often make it impossible to isolate the impact of particular proposals or recommendations on actual savings achieved, GAO said.

OMB, for example, attributed all $8.5 billion of expected reductions to NASA's budget for fiscal 1996 through 2000 to NPR recommendations. That overlooks other actions taken in that time, such as NASA management reform efforts and budgetary spending caps, both of which were outside NPR's recommendations, GAO said.

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