UNITED STATES GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON, D C 20548 GENERAL GOVERNMENT JAN 1 ‘2 1977 DlVISION The Honorable H Guyford Stever Chairman, Federal Coordrnatrng Council -7gq \ for Science, Englneerlng and Technology Dear Dr. Stever: We have revrewed the procedures followed by the CommIttee on Water Resources Research (COWRR) in carrying out the functions assrgned to the Executive Branch under Sectron 305 of the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-379). These asslgned functions are deslgned to coordrnate and rncrease the effectrveness of the Natron's water research activities! Although our review focused on COWRR's activltres, we also obtained &formation from other Federal agencres regarding water resources research actrvrtres, rncludlng the basis for data submrtted to COWRRfor Its research classlfrcation system. Durrng our review we interviewed offlcrals at the followrng Federal agencies which have representatrves on COWRR. the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Transportation, the Energy Research and Development Admrn- istration, the Envrronmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundatron, the Smlth- sonian Instltutlon, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Also, COWRR meetrngs are attended by observers from the Water Resources Council, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Offlce of Management and Budget. We believe that improvements are needed In the procedures followed by COWRRIn carryrng out the requrrements of sectlon 305 of the 1964 act. We were told that your offlce 1s revrewlng the structure and functions of COWRRrn an effort to make it more effective. We are bringing our observatrons to your attention for conslderatron during u your review. INTRODUCTION I COWRRwas established In 1963 in order to assist the Office of Scrence and Technology and the Federal Council for Science and Techno- logy in fulfilling their responslbrllty for interagency coordlnatron of water resources research. COWRR's role was to coordsnate the Natlon's many and diverse water research actxvltxes conducted at the various departments and agencies wlthln the Federal Government Involved In water resources research. Wrthln these departments and agencies, 23 drstlnct organlzatlons either conduct or sponsor water resources research. The Federal water research budget for these organlzatlons has Increased from $64.7 mrlllon In fiscal year 1964 to an estimated $214 mrlllon for fiscal year 1976 (as reported to GAO by the indrvldual COWRRmembers). Sxnce current Federal spending for water research and development 1s so large, the Interagency coordlnatlon of Federal water resources research funds and assxgnments 1s essential. In the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 the Congress stipulated that the President should clarify agency responslbllltres for Federal water resources research and make arrangements for lmplementlng the Interagency coordlnatlon of such research. In addltron, the law stated that such coordlnatlon should include --Identlfrcatlon of technical needs rn various water resources research categories, --A continuing revrew of the adequacy of the Government-wade water resources research program, --Actions to facilitate the interagency communrcatlons at management levels; --Identrflcatlon and ellmlnatlon of dupllcatron and overlaps between two or more agency programs; --Recommendatxons with respect to allocation of technrcal effort among Federal agencies, --Review of technical manpower needs and flndlngs concerning the technrcal manpower base of the program, and; / --Recommendations concerning management policies to improve the quality of Government-wide research efforts, These functions are restatements of the seven functions assLgned to COWRRwhen It was established. Until recently, COWRRcarried out Its responslbllltles under the dlrection of the Federal Councrl for Science and Technology. On May 11, 1976, the Congress enacted the National Scxence and Technology Policy, -2- Organlzatlon, and Prlorltles Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-282). This law establzshed the Federal Coordlnatlng Council for Science, Englneerlng, and Technology (FCCSET) to replace the Federal Council for Science and Technology. The 1976 act did not amend sectlon 305 of the 1964 act and that section 1s still In effect. COWRRwill now be dlscharglng Its functions under the dlrectlon of FCCSET. We found that COWRRhad addressed the first four functions, mentioned above, while dlrectrng very little attention toward fulfllllng the other three. COWRRhad not prepared guldellnes or deslgned an actlon plan for carrying out its assrgned functions, The Chairman of COWRRtold us that little attention had been given to the last three functions because of staff and fundlng lrmltatlons The methods used by COWRRto carry out the other four functions are discussed below CONTINUING REVIEW OF THE ADEQUACY OF THE GOVERNMENT-WIDEWATER RESOURCES RESEARCH PROGRAM The COWRRChalnan told us that sznce 1964 COWRRhas been using lnformatlon obtalned for Its annual reports as its basis for revrewlng the adequacy of the Government-wide water resources research program. The frrst six reports covered fiscal years 1965 through 1970. The rnformatlon obtalned for these reports were Issue-oriented and attempted to address multiagency research efforts and, in a general way, future research needs. These reports also Included some analysis of the water resources research expenditures. In 1971, COWRRbegan preparing Its annual reports on a calendar-year rather than fiscal-year basis and changed Its reportzng format. Since that trme the reports have been primarily a compllatlon of agency program descrlptlons and budgeted amounts submitted by agency representatives We found no evidence that the information obtained by COWRRwas used to evaluate the adequacy of research programs and none of the annual reports included an evaluation of the adequacy of the research conducted to date. Also, the reports have not been issued In a timely manner. For example, the 1971 report was issued rn January 1974 and the 1972 report about three months later. If the reports are to serve as useful documents for obtalnrng improvements In water research actrvltles of the various Federal agencies they should be timely and should include an analysis of the adequacy of the research being conducted. -3- IDENTIFICATION AND ELIMINATION OF DUPLICATION AND OVERLAPS BETWEEN TWO OR MOREAGENCY PROGRAMS COWRRuses a research classrficatron system as its primary means of rdentlfyrng duplrcatlon and overlaps. Our review rndrcated that the system 1s not adequate to serve its Intended purpose For each annual report, COWRRmembers use ten maJor categories and 60 subcate- gories to classrfy their research proJect expenditures (lndlvldual proJects are not listed). The categorized lists are then submrtted to COWRRwhich revrews them for any rndlcatrons of duplrcatron or overlap. COWRR's class%flcatron categorres do not adequately reflect all water research performed by its members. For example, an offrclal from the U.S. Forest Servrce told us that not all of the Forest Servrce's water research 1s reported because the categories are not adequately defined. Other agency offlclals told us that srnce their research generally fits rnto more than one COWRRcategory, they arbr- trarrly allocate therr research to several categorres. Since the classrflcatron system is COWRR's prrmary means of rdentlfymg dupllca- tlon and overlap, the classrflcatron system should be sufflcrently comprehenslve and the categories defined clearly enough to serve therr Intended purpose. More recently, COWRRhas been developing a two-dlmenslonal matrix classrfication system, but has suspended Its work temporarrly because It permits widely different classlfrcatlons of similar data. COWRR's matrix is based on one used by the Office of Water Research and Tech- nology, Department of the Interior which the Interior's Offlce of Audrt and Investrgatron determined to be unreliable because of slmllar problems. If COWRRdecides to implement the matrix, it should resolve the classlflcatron problems COWRRmembers also told us that they have used therr monthly meetrngs as a means of ldentrfyrng possible duplrcatlon Untrl four years ago, COWRRheld oral reviewsof each agency's research activities at regularly monthly meetings. About four meetings were required to review the research actlvltres of all agencies. This review process was performed every 2-3 years but the practice was drscontrnued about 4 years ago although monthly meetings were continued. We believe that COWRRshould consider rernstrtutmg the oral reviews of each agency's research actrvrtres as they would make members more aware of all research actlvrtres currently being conducted and provide a better understanding of the exact nature of the actlvrtles. -4- IDENTIFICATION OF TECHNICAL NEEDS IN VARIOUS WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH CATEGORIES In 1966, COWRRissued a report entltled "A Ten-year Program of Federal Water Resources Research." This report presented a basis for long-range planning of a research program; a dlscusslon of 14 maJor water research problem areas and recommendations for research 1n each area; a summarlzatron of then current programs, dlvlded into none maJor research categories and 44 research subcategories, as well as recommendations for the size and scope of research work for each sub- Lategory and for Increased expenditure levels for the five-year period 1967 to 1971 mcluslve. The ten-year program did not contarn specific recommendations as to which agency should be responsrble for performIng speclflc research assignments or as to lndlvldual agency expenditure levels. COWRR's 1970 annual report discussed the need for revlslon of the ten-year program because new problems were emerging, exlstlng research requirements had been satisfied to some extent, the recommended govern- ment-wide budget amount in the ten-year program did not go beyond 1971, and shortcomrngs had been ldentlfled In the ten-year program. The 1970 report ldentrfled ten problem areas and five speclfzc problems which COWRRidentified as warrantlng lmmedrate research support. COWRR1s presently supporting the development of a five-year water resources research plan. The program, to be Implemented over a flve- year period (1976-1980, rnclusrve), will rdentlfy those areas In which research should be done and recommend expenditure levels for research effort. The COWRRChairman said the new plan may be published In early 1977. COWRRhad not designed a monitoring system for ascertalnlng the extent to which its program was being implemented In the budget process. We believe that such a system should be Implemented and should provide a means for obtarnlng current lnformatlon needed to aid in clarrfylng which agencies areconducting research In a specrflc problem area, identifying those areas needing more research, provldlng a means to assess the impact of research actrvrtres, and keeping the program up-to-date. ACTIONS TO FACILITATE INTERAGENCY COMMUNICATION AT MANAGEmNT LEVELS I COWRRfacllltates its interagency conununlcatron primarily through monthly meetings. These meetings provide a forum for dlscusslon among the members. At these meetings agency offlclals are informed of new -5- developments In their fields and In other interdlsclpllnary areas relating to water resources research as well as notlficatron of new publlcatlons, upcomlng semrnars, or agency annual meetings which the members can attend. Minutes of the meetings are sent to all members. For those who do not attend a meetrng, the COWRRChairman said that the minutes are one way of learnrng what transprred at the meeting and of keepzng abreast of current developments In the water area. However, our review lndrcated that the minutes contalned comments mainly on reorganlzatlons, reassignments, and recent publrcatlons. For example, in the perrod from September 1974 to January 1976, agencies' research proJects or programs were mentioned In only seven instances. Also, the minutes contalned very Little detalled lnformatson of what transpired at the meetings. Occasionally, the COWRRCharrman also establishes ad hoc work groups as part of the effort to facllltate interagency communlcatlon. The work groups study specrflc, relevant problem areas and write a report which 1s dlstrlbuted to COWRRmembers for comment and drscussron. The COWRRChairman told us that he felt the completed ad hoc studies have contributed to interagency communlcatlon. We believe COWRRcould better facilitate Interagency communrcatlon by encouragrng Increased drscussron of research proJects at monthly meetings and by preparing more detailed minutes of rts meetings. BECOMMXNDATIONS Because of the large number of Federal departments and agencies Involved, and the large increase during recent years In Federal funding of water resources research actlvltles, we believe it 1s Important that improvements be made m the procedures followed by COWRRto ensure ----- -r;TT r cthe coordrnatlonand effectiveness -of such actrvltles. Therefore, we =- --- recommend that COWRR --Prepare formal guldellnes and actron plans for carrying out each of the seven functions set forth in Section 305 of the Water Resources Research Act of 1964. --Issue Its annual reports in a more timely manner and Lnclude In such reports the results of the contrnulng analysis of the adequacy of research berng conducted by the various Federal agencies. -6- --Improve its research classlflcation system so that It 1s sufflclently comprehensrve, and define the categories clearly enough to provide rnformatlon needed to assrst In ldentrfyrng and elrmlnatlng duplrcatlon and overlap In addltron, rein- statute the oral review process during the monthly meetings at which each member agency's research activltres are reviewed. --Design and Implement a monrtorlng system for ascertainrng the extent to which Its recommended program for water resources research 1s Implemented in the budget process. Such system should provide for obtarnlng current lnformatlon needed to aid m clarlfylng which agencres are conducting research rn speclfrc problem areas, Identifying those areas needing more research, providing a means to assess the Impact of research actzvltles, and keeping its program up-to-date. 2, I L - ---Encourage increased drscussion of research proJects at monthly meetings and prepare more detailed minutes of such meetings. We are sending copres of this report to those Federal agencies which have representatives or observers on COWRR - - - We apprecrate the cooperation received during our review and would like to be informed of any actson taken on our recommendations. We would be glad to drscuss this report with you or your staff. If you have any questions please contact Mr. Carl Bannerman on 693-8287. Srncerely yours, Charles P. McAuley Assistant DIrector ' -7-
Effectiveness of the Nation's Water Research Activities
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-01-17.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)