Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Reducing Waste and Unnecessary Spending at the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development

Mr. President, during this time of budget constraints, sequestration, and continuing resolutions, it is crucial that every Federal department and agency identify maximum cost savings and improve efficiencies to minimize the impact of reductions on critical programs and personnel.  It is also the responsibility of Congress to encourage departments and agencies to consistently identify and implement such savings and efficiencies.

We do not have the luxury of allowing the continuation of programs that are no longer relevant, are redundant with other Federal programs, can be done more cheaply, or that perpetuate past mistakes.  Unfortunately it seems that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are not able to identify some potential savings.  It takes outside watchdogs such as the Inspectors General and the Government Accountability Office to review and independently evaluate department or agency programs and operations. 

As Chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and USAID, I and Ranking Member Lindsey Graham have taken steps to avoid wasteful and unnecessary spending.  We have reduced costs based on Inspector General findings, directed the State Department to eliminate unnecessary overseas support staff and administrative expenses, and directed the Department and USAID to improve financial and contract management.  We will continue to look for opportunities to reduce waste, terminate programs that are poorly designed or not meeting their goals, and save taxpayer dollars.

But this is not enough.  The State Department, USAID, and other federal agencies need to act proactively to identify efficiencies and reduce costs.  Unfortunately, some of the Inspector Generals’ findings are so obvious it is surprising, and troubling, that the State Department or USAID did not identify the savings on their own.

Here are just a few examples from fiscal year 2013 reports of the State Department and USAID Inspectors General.

The State Department Inspector General found that the Department has a team based in Frankfurt, Germany, that travels to posts in the former Yugoslavia and the countries of the former Soviet Union to train local staff and provide administrative support to posts.  This might have made sense in the early 1990s, but it makes no sense 24 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The Inspector General determined that 80 percent of the Regional Information Management Center staff in Frankfurt does not need to be assigned overseas.  Their work could be done in Washington, saving millions of dollars each year.  According to the Inspector General, an employee assigned overseas costs $232,000 more each year than an employee based in the United States.

In Iraq, at one of our most over-sized and expensive embassies, the Inspector General found that the Department hired and paid for 513 Baghdad security personnel when only 253 were actually used.  The Department also paid $20.6 million for an unnecessary airport security program that added 84 personnel.

The Inspector General found that the Department had 955 expired grants with a total of $81.9 million in unspent funds.  The Inspector General also found that the Department had not closed out 1,421 expired grants each with a $0 balance, costing $97,069 each year in unnecessary administrative fees.

The USAID Inspector General found that USAID added five overseas food storage warehouses, but had not determined whether delivery times of food prepositioned overseas justifies the additional cost when compared with prepositioning food domestically.  In fact, a cost-benefit analysis conducted in response to a 2007 Government Accountability Office recommendation found that food prepositioned overseas is seven times more costly than food prepositioned domestically, and recommended that USAID consider increasing the amount of domestic prepositioned food.  USAID has now agreed to compare the timeliness and cost of prepositioning food overseas versus domestically.  We cannot afford to make decisions that expand programs or increase costs without some evidence that there is a benefit worth the additional expense.

The USAID Inspector General found that in a three month period, September through November 2012, USAID paid $64,000 for more than 300 mobile devices that had not been used for a least one month during that time period and $48,000 for 267 devices that had not been used at all during those three months, and an average of 127 employees had excessive user charges of $118,000 which USAID could not verify had been reviewed and accepted.  While these are relatively small amounts, they add up.

And the list goes on.

I know that the employees of the State Department and USAID are dedicated, hard-working people.  Most Americans have little if any idea of what they do to protect the interests of the United States around the world.  But it is because their work is so important that we cannot afford to waste the money they need to do their jobs.  Top officials at the State Department and USAID must identify and eliminate outdated, redundant, and ineffective programs and unnecessary operating expenses.  We cannot wait for the Inspectors General to do their job for them.

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