"Mission Creep" Leads to Costly Duplication and Ineffectiveness

Sometimes, in the name of serving the American public, federal agencies and departments expand their roles without Congressional or executive approval. While this might sound like the government is taking initiative on issues, it more often than not leads to unintended consequences and ineffective governance.

According to a new report by EconoStats, when some government agencies and departments expand past their original missions it leads to significant and costly overlap and duplication. If the government is going to be involved in certain issues, then they must be aware of what each agency is doing, as well as the parameters of their authority and responsibility. This ever growing expansion of agencies and departments is largely due to what is called “mission creep.”  

Mission creep is the process by which an agency gradually expands its defined mission statement to make it more inclusive of new issue areas and activities. According to EconoStats case study, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the largest culprits of mission creep.

The original mission of the CDC was to research, understand, and combat communicable diseases that posed a health risk to society. In 1992, when “and Prevention” was added to the organization’s title, the purview of the CDC began to encompass both communicable diseases and noncommunicable diseases, such as dieting and alcohol consumption. Clearly an expansion from the study of diseases.

After the expansion of the mission, the CDC began to establish programs and research initiatives that were already being pursued by other established government agencies and departments. According to the EconoStats report, the CDC currently duplicates the work of over 19 other government agencies in areas such as occupational safety, global health, birth defects and developmental disabilities, chronic diseases, non-occupational injury prevention, and evidence evaluation and synthesis.

A few examples of overlap and duplication for the EconoStats report include:

  • In dealing with birth defects and developmental disabilities, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development in 1962, with the CDC later establishing the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Both of these Centers perform similar research on blood disorders, optimal child caring techniques, and birth defects.

  • The CDC also established the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion to “plan, direct, and coordinate a national program for the prevention of premature mortality, morbidity, and disability due to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, oral disease, and major chronic....and the prevention of associated risk factors, including tobacco use, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity….” This broad and all encompassing mission statement not only inappropriately expanded the power and influence of the CDC, but its programs also overlap with 10 other previously established government agencies.

  • In order to address non-occupational injury prevention, the CDC created the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), whose mission involves addressing issues like child abuse, elder abuse, motor vehicle safe, and other noncommunicable diseases and secondary medical issues. However, the National Highway Traffic Administration (1970), the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (1949), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1962), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (1972) were already performing much of the work the NCIPC attempts to do.

When multiple agencies and departments are researching and reporting on the same issues, using different standards, evidence, and measurements for success, it could lead to contradictory and inconsistent findings. Regardless of the merits of the programs, duplication and overlap are burdens on taxpayers. Additionally, it should be noted that as the CDC’s mission expanded, so has its budget:

Regardless of how noble the agency's or department’s mission is, this next administration must make a conscious effort to root out mismanagement, mission creep, and duplication in all government agencies. Congress and the President must allocate responsibilities to certain organizations based not on who was there first, but based upon each organization’s comparative advantage. Adopting this approach, coupled with a healthy scrutiny of government involvement on certain issues, will result in less duplication, better management, and clearer roles and responsibilities among government agencies.

Taxpayers should be concerned by both ineffective and duplicative federal programs and initiatives. Eliminate “waste, fraud, and abuse” and reigning in the scope of the federal government includes addressing duplicative spending and mission creep, even if it is based on good intentions.