Today’s guest post was written by Alliance senior policy analyst Lisa Stand.
It seems that some news media and headline editors took shortcuts when they covered the 345-page government report on overlap and duplication in federal programs. A smattering of headlines: “Too Many Agencies in the Kitchen,” “In GAO report, Congress has proof of waste,” “Room to Cut.”
“Waste” is a good, short word for headlines but it’s a little misleading in this case. We at the Alliance were well aware of what the report supposedly unveiled about federal homeless assistance programs: “there are 20 programs targeted to address the various needs of persons experiencing homelessness.”
Needless to say, the joining of the words “waste” and “homeless programs” caused a stir but before getting riled up, you may want to know more about what the GAO report actually said about homeless assistance programs. To begin: “Some federal programs may offer similar types of services and serve similar populations, potentially leading to overlap or fragmentation.” [Emphasis added]. This is quite a bit more nuanced than “room to cut.”
And the report continues (page 129) with the reminder that the GAO already recommended better coordination of federal agencies in an earlier review – and that the “agencies concurred with these recommendations and to date have taken some actions to address them.” Further, the report gives a hat tip to Opening Doors. Opening Doors is “an important first step,” and the GAO encourages its implementation while acknowledging the challenges in rallying the 17 or so agencies that work together on the plan.
Finally – and maybe most importantly - the GAO report does not recommend eliminating or consolidating homelessness programs, though it does signal a plan to “examine potential benefits” of doing so in the future, along with other options to “address fragmentation and overlap and achieve operational improvement.”
Homelessness is a complicated problem. Most homeless people need some kind of housing subsidy. Some homeless people have mental illness. Some homeless people are veterans, are individuals, are families, are children. There are legitimate reasons to serve homeless people from a variety of different agencies – because different people require different services.
We can – absolutely – do a better job of reducing duplication and refining cooperation in our federal agencies but in a way that acknowledges the complexities and nuances of our most pressing social problems.