When is a Federal Program Actually a 'Program'?

June 12, 2013

There is more than one way to define what constitutes a federal “program,” and it is not unlike trying to define molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles.

Several years ago, Congress asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to prepare an annual series of reports on the extent of duplication and overlap among federal programs.  GAO has dutifully complied and it has delivered reports over the past three years that it believes covers the waterfront.  In its latest testimony, GAO says there are 83 areas where it identified duplicative, fragmented, or overlapping programs.  But GAO’s definition of what constitutes a “program” leaves the definition in the eyes of the beholder:

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