Agency collaboration key to saving money

Thursday – 4/11/2013, 8:50am  ET

By Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Special to Federal News Radio

I am a third-generation family farmer from north-central Montana. Farmers are traditionally independent-minded. We focus on making a living off the land and supplying the food that feeds our nation.

But just like any other small business owner, government is part of our lives. In 2011 and 2012, Montana producers faced back-to-back years of record-setting flood and drought. Thanks to assistance from FEMA and some Montana hard work, many of our farmers and ranchers are back on their feet.

This experience was an important reminder about the positive role government can play in our society. But we also know that many government services are not as effective as they need to be. Too often, government agencies provide overlapping services or fail to work together.

As the new chairman of the Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce and government efficiency, I will work to improve government services by pushing for better inter-agency collaboration and smarter investments that produce results.

In today’s difficult budget climate, pooling resources and making sure one agency knows what another is doing will go a long way to make sure Americans get the services they need for the best bang for their tax dollars.

In Montana, we had a recent success in improving government efficiency. For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service failed to work together to deliver needed care to Indian veterans. The department and the agency would each direct veterans to seek care at the other’s facility rather than simply treating the veteran.

But early last year, the VA and the IHS signed an agreement with the Blackfeet Reservation to reimburse tribal health providers and provide Native American veterans with the care they need. In December, the VA announced it will implement our Montana model nationwide.

There’s no reason we can’t find more ways to get government agencies to work together better and save taxpayer money.

We also can improve government by eliminating duplicative programs. When it comes to border protection, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Interior Department and Indian reservations all have overlapping jurisdictions. And there are approximately 20 federal government agencies that support the export of U.S. goods and services. With government resources in high demand, we must eliminate wasteful, duplicative programs.

I will also hold hearings into staffing shortages and retention issues at government agencies that provide health care — particularly in rural America. Folks in rural America are often hundreds of miles from the nearest health care provider. Some are seniors covered by Medicare, others are veterans receiving care from the VA. We must make sure they get the care they earned no matter where they live.

The challenges facing government today are immense. Government workers are being asked to do more with less. But with smart strategies and innovative solutions we can stretch taxpayer dollars and meet our pledge to the American people.

Montanans, like all Americans, want government to work well and to work efficiently. I look forward to my new role to ensure that the federal government is ready to meet the needs of the American people.

Jon Tester is the junior Senator from Montana. He is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce. He wrote this column as part of Federal News Radio’s special report, Rise of the Money People.