oversight

Federal Advisory Groups: DOT and DOE Can Take Steps to Better Assess Duplication Risk and Enhance Usefulness

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-03-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States Government Accountability Office

GAO          Report to Agency Officials




March 2012
             FEDERAL ADVISORY
             GROUPS
             DOT and DOE Can
             Take Steps to Better
             Assess Duplication
             Risk and Enhance
             Usefulness




GAO-12-472
                                               March 2012

                                               FEDERAL ADVISORY GROUPS
                                               DOT and DOE Can Take Steps to Better Assess
                                               Duplication Risk and Enhance Usefulness
Highlights of GAO-12-472, a report to agency
officials




Why GAO Did This Study                         What GAO Found
Advisory groups—those established              Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and Department of Transportation
under the Federal Advisory Committee
Act (FACA) and other groups not                (DOT) and Department of Energy (DOE) guidance require officials to check for
subject to the act—can play an                 duplication prior to filing a charter to establish a new or renew an existing FACA
important role in the development of           advisory group. However, GAO found that DOT and DOE’s processes for
policy and government regulations.             assessing duplication are often informal, and neither agency has specific steps
There are more than 1,000 FACA                 identified for making such an assessment. Using an informal approach without
advisory groups and an unknown                 specific steps makes it more likely that agency assessments for duplication will
number of non-FACA advisory groups             be inconsistent or incomplete. In addition, while basic information about the 15
governmentwide. Non-FACA groups
include intergovernmental groups.              DOT and 21 DOE fiscal year 2010 FACA advisory groups is publicly available in
Section 21 of Pub. L. No. 111-139              the FACA database, including designated points of contact and the objectives of
requires GAO to conduct routine                the groups, no such information is readily available for non-FACA advisory
investigations to identify programs,           groups. This limits the agencies’ ability to fully assess the universe of advisory
agencies, offices, and initiatives with        groups for particular topic areas. DOT and DOE officials faced some challenges
duplicative goals and activities. In that      identifying and collecting information for the 19 DOT and 33 DOE non-FACA
context, GAO reviewed (1) the extent
to which the Department of
                                               advisory groups GAO reviewed, relying on various sources and Internet searches
Transportation’s (DOT) and                     to gather basic information, since neither agency maintains an inventory of its
Department of Energy’s (DOE)                   non-FACA advisory groups and their activities. In addition, advisory groups often
assessment process helps ensure                address complex and highly technical issues that span across agencies. For
advisory group efforts are not                 example, one advisory group GAO identified focused on experimental and
duplicative and what challenges, if any,       theoretical research in nuclear physics. Agency officials familiar with these types
exist in assessing potential duplication,      of technical topic areas and other potential stakeholders covering these same
and (2) to what extent DOT and DOE
advisory groups are useful in assisting        topics are best positioned to assess the potential for unnecessary duplication and
their respective agencies in carrying          would be even better positioned to do so if the departments develop specific
out their missions and how the groups’         assessment steps and enhance the visibility of non-FACA advisory groups.
usefulness could be enhanced. GAO
selected DOT and DOE for review                DOT and DOE advisory groups can be effective tools for agencies to gather input
based on knowledge of these                    on topics of interest by informing agency leaders about issues of importance to
agencies’ advisory groups. GAO                 the agencies’ missions, consolidating input from multiple sources, and providing
interviewed agency officials; reviewed         input at a relatively low cost. To further review the usefulness of advisory groups,
advisory group documentation; and              GAO conducted case studies on five DOT and DOE FACA and non-FACA
conducted case studies of five advisory        advisory groups and identified several practices that could enhance the
groups.
                                               usefulness of these advisory groups and, in some cases, also help avoid
What GAO Recommends                            duplication. These practices include the following:

GAO recommends that DOT and DOE                    •   securing clear agency commitment,
document specific steps to assess
                                                   •   finding a balance between responsiveness to the agency and
potential duplication among FACA and
non-FACA advisory groups and
                                                       independence,
develop and make public basic                      •   leveraging resources through collaboration with similar groups, and
information identifying non-FACA
advisory groups to further inform                  •   evaluating the group’s usefulness to identify future directions for the
periodic assessments. DOT and DOE                      group or actions to improve its usefulness.
agreed to consider the
                                               The practices identified can help agencies leverage the advice produced by
recommendations.
                                               advisory groups to more efficiently and effectively address topics of importance
                                               to the agencies. For example, DOE officials from a FACA advisory group stated
View GAO-12-472. For more information,         that coordination with officials involved in related groups helps to ensure sharing
contact Linda Calbom at (206) 287-4809 or      of useful information and that efforts are complementary rather than duplicative.
calboml@gao.gov.

                                                                                        United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                   1
               Background                                                                4
               The Absence of Specific Assessment Steps and Readily Available
                 Information on Non-FACA Groups Hinders Efforts to Assess
                 Duplication Risk                                                        7
               Certain Practices Have Helped Enhance the Usefulness of Some
                 Advisory Groups                                                       13
               Conclusions                                                             19
               Recommendations for Executive Action                                    20
               Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                      20

Appendix I     Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                      22



Appendix II    DOT and DOE Fiscal Year 2010 Advisory Groups                            28



Appendix III   Additional Information on 36 Actively Chartered FACA Advisory
               Groups                                                                  32



Appendix IV    Comments from the Department of Energy                                  34



Appendix V     GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                   35



Tables
               Table 1: Advisory Group Case Studies                                    14
               Table 2: Advisory Groups Active in Fiscal Year 2010                     23
               Table 3: Advisory Group Case Studies                                    26
               Table 4: Fiscal Year 2010 Advisory Groups                               28
               Table 5: Fiscal Year 2010 DOT FACA Advisory Groups                      28
               Table 6: Fiscal Year 2010 DOT Non-FACA Advisory Groups                  29
               Table 7: Fiscal Year 2010 DOE FACA Advisory Groups                      30
               Table 8: Fiscal Year 2010 DOE Non-FACA Advisory Groups                  30
               Table 9: Alignment with Agency Mission, Actively Chartered DOT
                        and DOE FACA Advisory Groups in Fiscal Year 2010               32


               Page i                                    GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Table 10: Select Activities, Actively Chartered DOT and DOE FACA
        Advisory Groups in Fiscal Year 2010                                               33




Abbreviations

ATPAC             Air Traffic Procedures Advisory Committee
DFO               Designated Federal Official
DOE               Department of Energy
DOT               Department of Transportation
EAC               Electricity Advisory Committee
FAA               Federal Aviation Administration
FACA              Federal Advisory Committee Act
FICEMS            Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical
                  Services
GSA               General Services Administration
MTSNAC            Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council
NSAC              Nuclear Science Advisory Committee
SGTF              Smart Grid Task Force
UAS               Unmanned Aircraft Systems



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Page ii                                               GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   March 29, 2012

                                   The Honorable Ray LaHood
                                   Secretary of Transportation

                                   The Honorable Steven Chu
                                   Secretary of Energy

                                   Advisory groups can play an important role in the development of policy
                                   and government regulations by providing advice to federal agency
                                   policymakers. There are more than 1,000 advisory groups established
                                   under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA advisory groups) 1 and
                                   an unknown number of other advisory groups not subject to FACA (non-
                                   FACA advisory groups) among the miscellaneous bodies that agencies
                                   routinely use to obtain input and recommendations from diverse
                                   perspectives on a wide range of issues. 2 Congress mandated that GAO
                                   conduct routine investigations to identify programs, agencies, offices, and
                                   initiatives with duplicative goals and activities. 3 Such duplication can
                                   waste scarce federal resources and result in less efficient and effective
                                   federal efforts. In fiscal year 2010, there were 1,046 FACA advisory
                                   groups governmentwide, with agency-reported, annual, direct costs of
                                   approximately $387 million. 4 While the full costs of FACA and non-FACA
                                   advisory group activities are unknown and may not be large compared
                                   with other agency expenditures, the wide use of these advisory groups—
                                   which may examine related topics—raises the potential for duplication



                                   1
                                    Pub. L. No. 92-463, 86 Stat. 770 (Oct. 6, 1972), codified, as amended, at 5 U.S.C. app.
                                   2. FACA was enacted in 1972 in part in response to concerns that federal advisory groups
                                   were proliferating without adequate review, oversight, or accountability.
                                   2
                                    “Advisory groups” refers to both those groups established under FACA, as well as those
                                   that are not subject to FACA. When discussed individually, we refer to them as “FACA
                                   advisory groups” and “non-FACA advisory groups.”
                                   3
                                    Section 21 of Pub. L. No. 111-139, 124 Stat. 8, 29-30 (Feb. 12, 2010). See also GAO,
                                   Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax
                                   Dollars, and Enhance Revenue, GAO-11-318SP (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 1, 2011).
                                   4
                                    Agencies self-report cost information into the FACA database each fiscal year. Only
                                   discrete costs directly related to the committee’s scope and duties, such as the cost for
                                   reimbursed travel and all federal members, are reported. As a general rule, certain indirect
                                   expenses, such as administrative support provided by other federal nonmembers and
                                   costs that are part of ongoing agency program activities, are not included.




                                   Page 1                                                GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
among these groups’ efforts. Agency officials devote time and resources
to manage, participate in, and respond to advisory group activities and
recommendations, and it is important that advisory groups are used
efficiently and effectively, particularly given continuing fiscal pressures.

In light of these issues, we examined (1) the extent to which the
Department of Transportation’s (DOT) and Department of Energy’s (DOE)
assessment process helps ensure advisory group efforts are not
duplicative and what challenges, if any, exist in assessing potential
duplication, and (2) to what extent DOT and DOE advisory groups are
useful in assisting their respective agencies in carrying out their missions
and how the groups’ usefulness could be enhanced.

To address our objectives, we selected two agencies—DOT and DOE—
and developed and applied a methodology to better understand how their
advisory groups function. We selected DOT and DOE based on
knowledge of these agencies’ advisory groups and because they
represented two federal agencies working on a range of issues and topics
with a similar number of FACA advisory groups. To identify DOT and
DOE FACA advisory groups, agency officials verified the active fiscal year
2010 FACA advisory groups identified in the FACA database. 5 To assess
the reliability of the FACA database, we reviewed existing documentation
and database use protocols and interviewed knowledgeable agency
officials about the data. FACA groups are any advisory groups, with
limited exceptions, that are established or utilized by a federal agency
and that have at least one member who is not a federal employee.
Because there is no single uniform definition of non-FACA advisory
groups, we developed a definition to identify these groups and relied on
DOT and DOE officials to identify groups that met the definition. For our
work, non-FACA advisory groups are defined as: “groups active in fiscal
year 2010 that serve primarily an advisory function and provide input to
the agency and/or component agency offices on areas related to the
agency or office’s mission. These groups may have a mix of federal and
non-federal members, and are established to provide advice or
recommendations on issues or policies pertaining to the agency or its
components.” Non-FACA advisory groups are not subject to FACA for a
variety of reasons, including statutory language that excludes a group or
membership consisting entirely of federal government employees. To



5
The FACA database is available to the public at www.fido.gov/facadatabase.




Page 2                                             GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
assess the extent to which DOT’s and DOE’s assessment process helps
ensure advisory group efforts are not duplicative, and to determine what
challenges may exist in assessing potential duplication, we identified and
gathered information for the 88 DOT and DOE advisory groups active in
fiscal year 2010 and reviewed 47 for potential duplication, overlap, and
fragmentation. 6 Specifically, we selected these 47 groups by focusing on
the most common advisory group issue areas for DOT and DOE, which
were aviation and energy, respectively. For these groups, we reviewed
charters and other agency-provided documentation to help determine with
more specificity the types of issues or topics the groups cover. We then
selected those groups that focus on common issues or topic areas for
further analysis and interviewed agency officials involved in the selected
groups with potential overlap or fragmentation in these broad areas to
better understand whether in fact the groups’ efforts were potentially
duplicative. In addition, we collected information from DOT and DOE to
determine any internal agency processes used to determine duplication,
overlap, or fragmentation and the extent to which there was an
awareness of other FACA or non-FACA advisory groups within the
agency or governmentwide that focused on the same issues as their
groups. To review the usefulness of DOT and DOE advisory groups in
assisting their respective agencies in carrying out their mission, and to
identify practices to enhance their usefulness or help avoid duplication,
we conducted case studies on three FACA and two non-FACA advisory
groups. 7 We judgmentally selected these advisory groups to obtain a mix
of characteristics, including the agency they advise, how the group was
established, and whether they generated reports or recommendations.
For each case study, we reviewed relevant documentation and
interviewed agency officials, advisory group members, and third party or
industry stakeholders to obtain perspectives on the group’s usefulness.
For example, we asked about how helpful the group was at assisting the


6
 We reviewed 17 of 34 DOT and 30 of 54 DOE advisory groups for a total of 47 of 88
advisory groups. For the purposes of our analysis, duplication or overlap exists when
advisory groups have the same or similar objectives and scope and/or duties, and engage
in the same or similar activities or strategies to achieve them. Fragmentation is present
where more than one advisory group is involved in the same interest area, focused on the
same topic, and provides advice to different recipients. The presence of fragmentation and
overlap can suggest the need to look closer at the potential for unnecessary duplication,
which exists where some degree of duplication, overlap, or fragmentation is not
warranted.
7
 The case study selections were not limited to the issue areas of aviation and energy used
in the assessment of potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation.




Page 3                                               GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
             agency in carrying out its mission, the impact the group or its products
             had on the agency, and the value added by the group. To understand the
             extent to which advisory groups provided input on topics of importance to
             their respective agencies’ missions, we developed criteria and gathered
             information on a selection of FACA and non-FACA advisory groups by
             reviewing information from the FACA database for the 36 actively
             chartered DOT and DOE FACA advisory groups and interviewing agency
             officials for both FACA and non-FACA advisory groups.

             We conducted this performance audit from January 2011 to March 2012
             in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
             Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
             sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
             findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe the
             evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
             conclusions based on our audit objectives. For a more detailed
             description of our objectives, scope, and methodology, see appendix I.


             Advisory groups—both FACA and non-FACA—exist throughout the
Background   executive branch of the federal government, providing input and advice to
             agencies in a variety of ways, such as preparing reports and developing
             recommendations. Agencies are not required to implement the advice or
             recommendations of advisory groups because they are by design
             advisory. While an advisory group’s input or recommendations may form
             the basis for a federal agency’s decisions or policies, other factors may
             play a role in determining what action an agency ultimately takes.
             However, both types of advisory groups serve as a mechanism for federal
             agencies to obtain input from internal and external stakeholders such as
             academics, industry associations, or other agencies.

             FACA was enacted in 1972 in response to concerns that federal advisory
             groups were proliferating without adequate review, oversight, or
             accountability. The General Services Administration (GSA) Committee
             Management Secretariat oversees each federal agency’s management of
             FACA advisory groups, develops guidelines and regulations, and
             conducts an annual review of FACA advisory groups governmentwide.
             For example, GSA provides guidance to federal agencies sponsoring
             FACA advisory groups and is involved in the process to establish new
             and oversee the management of existing FACA advisory groups. GSA
             collects and makes available governmentwide FACA advisory group
             information that agencies—including DOT and DOE—are required to
             provide through a publicly accessible database each fiscal year. In


             Page 4                                     GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
addition, each agency also develops its own policies and procedures for
following FACA requirements. For example, DOT and DOE each have
policy manuals governing the management of their FACA advisory
groups. Each agency sponsoring FACA advisory groups appoints a
Committee Management Officer responsible for overseeing compliance
with FACA requirements, and appoints to each FACA advisory group a
Designated Federal Official (DFO) responsible for attending meetings,
approving agendas, and maintaining records on costs and membership,
among other duties. Decisions regarding the establishment of new FACA
advisory groups and recommendations to terminate or continue existing
groups are made by the head of each agency based on
recommendations made by the Committee Management Officer, the DFO
assigned to each group, or other agency officials.

FACA sets forth requirements for FACA advisory groups’ formation, their
operations, and how they provide advice and recommendations to the
federal government. To help avoid duplication of resources, FACA
regulations require that the process to establish, renew, or reestablish
discretionary FACA advisory groups—those established under agency
authority or authorized by statute—must include an explanation stating
why the group’s functions cannot be performed by the agency, another
existing group, or other means. 8 FACA also articulates broad
requirements for balance, transparency, and independence. For example,
for transparency, a range of information is to be reported in the FACA
database, and meeting minutes and reports are to be made available to
the public. The act also requires that all FACA advisory groups have a
charter containing specific information, including the group’s scope and
objectives, a description of duties, and the period of time necessary to
carry out its purposes. Charters—and thus the FACA advisory groups—
generally expire at the end of 2 years unless renewed by the agency, the
Congress, or executive order. This requirement was intended to
encourage agencies to periodically reexamine their need for FACA
advisory groups.

As previously noted, not every advisory group that provides advice or
recommendations to an agency is subject to the FACA requirements. An
advisory group may not be subject to FACA for a variety of reasons,
including statutory language that may exempt a group from FACA.



8
41 C.F.R. §102-3.60.




Page 5                                     GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Further, certain types of groups are also exempt from FACA, including
groups not managed or controlled by the executive branch, groups with
membership consisting entirely of federal government officials, or
intergovernmental groups. 9 Non-FACA advisory groups are generally less
formal than those established under and subject to the requirements of
FACA. Because they are not subject to FACA, non-FACA advisory
groups are not required to follow FACA requirements to hold public
meetings or to make meeting minutes and reports publicly available.
Similarly, agencies are not required to collect or report information
identifying non-FACA advisory groups, and GSA does not have any
oversight responsibilities pertaining to non-FACA advisory groups. While
there is no specific entity or office that oversees non-FACA advisory
groups, general guidance for the management of some of these groups—
such as federal interagency groups—may be included within the agency’s
committee management policy manuals. For example, DOT’s committee
management policy covers FACA advisory groups, as well as interagency
groups—one type of non-FACA advisory group—while DOE’s policy is
focused exclusively on FACA advisory groups.

Agency-reported fiscal year 2010 costs for DOT and DOE FACA advisory
groups were approximately $4 and $13.6 million, respectively. 10 As noted
above, agencies self-report cost information, such as travel and per diem
costs incurred by FACA advisory group activity or payments to members
or consultants. Agencies sponsoring FACA advisory groups determine
the level of financial and administrative support for their groups.
Variations in costs are common given factors such as the number of
meetings held or compensation rates for groups’ members. For fiscal year
2010, the FACA database identified the 15 DOT and 21 DOE actively
chartered FACA advisory groups covering various topics and issues
related to their respective agency’s mission.




9
 Further, advisory groups created by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal
Reserve System are exempt from FACA. Advisory groups created by the National
Academy of Sciences or National Academy of Public Administration are excluded from
FACA’s definition of advisory committee, but are subject to public disclosure requirements
under section 15 of FACA.
10
    Fiscal year 2010 was the most recent and complete data available for this review.




Page 6                                                 GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
The Absence of
Specific Assessment
Steps and Readily
Available Information
on Non-FACA Groups
Hinders Efforts to
Assess Duplication
Risk
DOT and DOE Informally   The approach used by DOT and DOE to assess duplication amongst
Assess Advisory Groups   advisory groups is often informal, and agency officials are not always
for Duplication          clear about what steps should be taken to ensure the assessment of
                         existing advisory groups is consistently made. GSA relies on federal
                         agencies to follow the FACA requirement to check for duplication prior to
                         filing a charter to establish a new, or renew an existing, FACA advisory
                         group under agency authority. Furthermore, guidance for our two selected
                         agencies requires officials to determine whether the objectives or duties
                         of a proposed FACA advisory group could be achieved by an existing
                         entity, committee, or organization within the agency or governmentwide.
                         Some DOT and DOE officials told us they use the FACA database to
                         check for potentially duplicative advisory groups. This may be a good first
                         step to identifying FACA groups working on similar issues; however, it
                         does not necessarily provide an adequate assessment for duplication.
                         While the FACA database contains information on advisory group issue
                         areas, it is limited in its ability to directly identify related groups. For
                         example, a search of the FACA database in the issue area of “surface
                         and vehicular transportation” yielded approximately 60 FACA advisory
                         groups working across 10 federal agencies. Further, issue areas are self-
                         identified by agency officials and may not be consistently defined across
                         agencies.

                         We found that several agency officials were not aware of a process to
                         determine whether the objectives or duties of an advisory group could be
                         achieved by an existing entity, committee, or organization. 11 In cases



                         11
                          For more information on the questionnaire, see appendix I.




                         Page 7                                              GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
where officials indicated they were aware of a process, when asked to
describe the process, a number described informal approaches for
checking for duplication and did not articulate consistent steps taken to
make these determinations. Several DOE officials reported that the
agency’s Committee Management Office is involved and engages each
FACA advisory group’s DFO to be aware of any existing entity or
committee that could achieve the objectives being proposed, but they did
not provide additional detail outlining formal steps taken to identify these
groups. DOT and DOE officials also indicated that agency officials
working in a program or issue area are generally able to identify groups
that may be addressing similar topics using their existing knowledge of
agency offices and programs. For example, some DOT officials noted that
high-level program officials are likely to be aware of other groups dealing
with an area of possible duplication and that this approach can serve as
an informal mechanism to help identify relevant advisory groups working
on related issues. However, without a process with specific steps to
check for duplication (such as reaching out to key contacts of relevant
advisory groups) assessment results may be inconsistent or incomplete.

In contrast, one of the DOT agency offices we reviewed, the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Rulemaking, has a policy that
outlines specific steps agency officials should take prior to establishing a
new advisory group. This policy is specific to aviation rulemaking advisory
groups, covers both FACA and non-FACA advisory groups, and clearly
lays out the process used to determine the need for and how to establish
a new group. For instance, when an FAA office identifies an issue on
which it would be helpful to obtain advice from industry, officials decide
whether to request the standing Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee
to accept the task or to charter a new aviation rulemaking committee
based on the best fit given the specific topic or activity. The Aviation
Rulemaking Advisory Committee is a formal, standing FACA advisory
group; aviation rulemaking committees are non-FACA advisory groups
formed on an ad hoc basis, for a specific purpose, and are typically of
limited duration. One FAA official involved in these rulemaking advisory
groups noted that this guidance offers those offices establishing advisory
groups a process they can use to establish and manage their advisory
groups, a useful tool because Congress often directs FAA to use these
types of advisory groups to conduct rulemakings.




Page 8                                       GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Information on DOT and   While readily available information on FACA advisory groups—such as a
DOE Non-FACA Advisory    designated point of contact and description of objectives—is accessible
Groups Is Not Readily    through a centralized database managed by GSA, similar information is
                         not available for non-FACA advisory groups. Information on all FACA
Available                advisory groups—including DOT’s and DOE’s fiscal year 2010 groups—is
                         readily available through the public FACA database, providing agency
                         officials and interested parties with a basic level of transparency. This
                         includes basic information such as contact information and descriptions of
                         activities. In contrast, federal agencies are not required to, and may or
                         may not track their non-FACA advisory groups, 12 and neither of our two
                         selected agencies had an existing inventory of all non-FACA advisory
                         groups that provide advice or input to the agency. Using an agreed-upon
                         definition for non-FACA advisory groups, DOT identified 19 and DOE
                         identified 33 fiscal year 2010 non-FACA advisory groups. However, we
                         could not confirm whether the groups identified include all of the non-
                         FACA advisory groups for each agency, and DOT and DOE officials
                         noted they do not necessarily consider their various groups as falling
                         under a single definition of non-FACA advisory groups.

                         Both DOT and DOE agency officials faced some challenges identifying
                         and collecting basic information for non-FACA advisory groups—including
                         agency points of contact and brief group descriptions—and the process
                         was, at points, time consuming or cumbersome for them. DOT and DOE
                         officials used different approaches to identify non-FACA advisory groups
                         but encountered the following similar challenges in collecting basic
                         information on these groups:

                         •    DOT generally relied on officials at the program level to identify the
                              agency’s non-FACA advisory groups, and in most cases, agency
                              liaisons served as a conduit to identify the groups by providing
                              officials working on various programs with the non-FACA definition.
                              According to DOT officials, challenges in compiling the requested
                              information included identifying the agency point of contact and
                              locating additional descriptive information pertaining to non-FACA
                              advisory group activities. For example, one agency official we spoke
                              with relied on an Internet search engine to locate relevant information
                              about some of the non-FACA advisory groups. Another DOT official
                              was able to identify a few advisory groups based on indirect


                         12
                          For example, during the course of our review, we found the Federal Communications
                         Commission lists both FACA and non-FACA advisory groups on its website.




                         Page 9                                            GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
    involvement and knowledge of agency activities and programs. Of the
    four DOT agency components that identified non-FACA advisory
    groups for this review, only one identified these groups based on a
    readily available roster. In this case, Maritime Administration officials
    identified five non-FACA advisory groups using a committee roster the
    agency maintains for internal purposes. This roster identifies the
    names of both FACA and non-FACA groups, any subcommittees, and
    primary and secondary points of contact.

•   DOE officials coordinated with each of their program offices to identify
    their non-FACA advisory groups based on the agreed-upon definition.
    The officials told us there was some difficulty in trying to identify the
    non-FACA advisory groups because basic information pertaining to
    these groups is not readily available as it is for FACA advisory groups.
    DOE officials told us that they had to coordinate the efforts of multiple
    program offices to compile the information and noted the process was
    time-consuming because there is no existing source for non-FACA
    advisory group information. As a result, the program officers had to
    cull much of the information for these groups from various Internet
    websites.

Because there is no way to readily identify non-FACA advisory groups
providing advice to the agencies, there is no formal source of information
enabling agency officials to conduct a comprehensive check for
potentially duplicative groups. For example, DOT officials told us that,
because they are only able to check whether a FACA advisory group
overlaps or duplicates the work of existing FACA advisory groups, they
would not necessarily be aware of potential overlap with advisory groups
not subject to FACA. DOT officials also pointed out that, given the time
and resources required to establish and manage an advisory group, there
is no incentive to maintain a FACA advisory group that duplicates the
activities of another group. However, with limited visibility over the
universe of non-FACA advisory groups, there is no assurance that
agency officials checking for duplication would know where to look or
whom to contact for additional information necessary to assess
duplication vis-à-vis those groups. This raises the risk that new advisory
groups may be created or existing groups retained that are unnecessarily
duplicative and therefore not an efficient use of agency resources.
Further, this absence of readily available information may hinder other
federal agencies from coordinating with or ensuring that their advisory
groups are not unnecessarily duplicative with DOT or DOE non-FACA
advisory groups.




Page 10                                      GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Assessing Advisory Groups   Because many of the advisory groups identified by DOT and DOE cover
Requires Familiarity with   highly technical subjects—including some that span a number of federal
Complex Subject Areas,      agencies—agency officials with broad knowledge and familiarity with the
                            topics, other potential stakeholders, and the agency’s organization and
the Agency, and Potential   program officials are typically best positioned to formally assess the
Stakeholders                potential for unnecessary duplication. Identifying agency officials with
                            whom to coordinate can also help those involved in advisory groups
                            better leverage existing knowledge and expertise. In some cases,
                            advisory groups may be created to help share information pertaining to a
                            specific topic across several agencies. For example, several of the non-
                            FACA advisory groups identified by DOT and DOE are interagency
                            coordination groups established to facilitate information sharing for a
                            given topic involving multiple federal agencies. While we identified some
                            instances of potential duplication for selected advisory groups covering
                            broad topics, the technical nature of advisory group subject areas,
                            instances where topics span multiple agencies, and the evolving roles
                            and activities of advisory groups make determining whether, in fact,
                            unnecessary duplication exists challenging. Additional familiarity with the
                            subject areas or the agency’s specific programs covering these topics is
                            often necessary to ultimately determine the extent of potential duplication,
                            overlap, and fragmentation.

                            •   Technical nature of topics: A number of advisory groups included in
                                our review were involved in highly technical and complex subject
                                areas, which highlighted challenges to fully assessing the potential for
                                unnecessary duplication. For example, DOE’s Nuclear Science
                                Advisory Committee (NSAC) is a FACA advisory group focused on
                                experimental and theoretical research in nuclear physics. Basic
                                nuclear research encompasses a variety of subfields of experimental
                                and theoretical investigations involving the fundamental interactions,
                                properties, and structures of atomic nuclei. While multiple DOE
                                advisory groups may focus on nuclear issues and appeared
                                potentially duplicative, NSAC officials told us that they do not believe
                                any duplication, overlap, or fragmentation exists with other groups
                                identified as covering nuclear issues. Officials noted that nuclear
                                issues cover a broad, highly technical subject-matter area and include
                                a wide range of activities. The advice solicited from NSAC, for
                                example, is specific to the needs of DOE’s Office of Nuclear Physics
                                and is largely focused on basic nuclear science research, which
                                examines how matter is formed and identifies the internal structure of
                                matter. According to agency officials, other advisory group activities
                                related to nuclear issues—such as those covered by the DOE Nuclear
                                Energy Advisory Committee FACA advisory group or its



                            Page 11                                      GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
     subcommittees—focus on the production of energy through nuclear
     power and would not be addressed by NSAC. FACA advisory groups
     are not required to report on subcommittee activities, 13 thus
     attempting to identify unnecessary duplication amongst activities
     dealing with highly technical topics is further complicated by the
     limited visibility over advisory group subcommittee efforts.

•    Topics may span multiple federal agencies: Because several federal
     agencies may have ongoing efforts in a particular subject area, it can
     be challenging to assess advisory groups for unnecessary duplication
     given that similar FACA and non-FACA advisory groups may be
     located in different federal agencies and involve multiple stakeholders.
     Some FAA officials we met with indicated overlap or fragmentation
     may exist among advisory groups covering Unmanned Aircraft
     Systems (UAS) because numerous federal agencies are involved in
     the subject area. For example, in addition to FAA, the Department of
     Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the
     Department of Homeland Security have multiple UAS efforts under
     way. As we have previously reported, while government and private
     sector interest in UAS is growing, these aircraft pose technological,
     regulatory, and coordination challenges that affect their ability to
     operate safely and routinely in the national airspace system. 14 An
     official we met with said it is difficult to be aware of all advisory groups
     involved in UAS, in part, due to the fact that it is a new and emerging
     field that covers complex aspects of UAS topics—including both
     technical systems engineering issues and safety issues related to
     integration with existing airspace operations—and a variety of federal
     agencies are currently involved in UAS efforts. According to this
     official, current UAS efforts are spread among numerous advisory
     groups governmentwide that have a stake and interest in the topic.

•    Advisory group roles may evolve over time: Advisory group activities
     may change in response to agency needs and priorities. For example,
     some FAA officials believe that numerous agency organizations,


13
  While subcommittees of FACA advisory groups are generally not subject to FACA, and
their activities may or may not be reported, the creation and operation of subcommittees
must be approved by the agency establishing the parent FACA advisory group. Further,
subcommittees report to the parent FACA advisory group.
14
  GAO, Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Safety and
Expand Their Potential Uses within the National Airspace System, GAO-08-511
(Washington, D.C.: May 15, 2008).




Page 12                                              GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
                           offices, and advisory groups have emerged over time and serve a
                           similar role as the Air Traffic Procedures Advisory Committee
                           (ATPAC), a DOT FACA advisory group. Based on their review,
                           agency officials involved in ATPAC identified potential duplication with
                           ATPAC and other DOT advisory groups covering aviation topics
                           including aviation charts, publications, or procedures. In this case,
                           extensive knowledge of the organization, its history, and awareness of
                           current advisory groups agencywide enabled these officials to perform
                           this assessment, which raised questions about the ongoing need for
                           ATPAC. According to FAA officials, ATPAC was the only mechanism
                           of its kind for industry input to the FAA when it was created in 1976
                           but, over time, has essentially become a conduit to pass issues
                           identified by members on to the appropriate FAA office or group.
                           However, these officials noted this was the first step in the
                           assessment process that will ultimately require internal agency
                           concurrence to consider whether to retain or terminate ATPAC. Other
                           agency officials we spoke with had differing perspectives regarding
                           whether unnecessary duplication with ATPAC and other DOT aviation
                           advisory groups exists.

                      While advisory groups are not the sole source of information or input for
Certain Practices     agencies such as DOT and DOE, they can be a relatively effective and
Have Helped Enhance   efficient way to gather input on topics of interest. Specifically, advisory
                      groups can inform agencies about topics of importance to the agency’s
the Usefulness of     mission, consolidate input from multiple sources, and provide input at a
Some Advisory         relatively low cost. We reviewed information on 36 DOE and DOT FACA
Groups                advisory groups and found that these groups all provided some form of
                      input to agencies about topics related to the agency’s mission. 15 For
                      example, each of the 36 FACA advisory groups had goals and topics that
                      were aligned with their respective agency’s missions or strategic goals,
                      and each was engaged in activities that could help it produce advice,
                      such as producing reports and making formal recommendations.

                      To further review the usefulness of advisory groups, we conducted case
                      studies on five DOT and DOE FACA and non-FACA advisory groups and
                      identified several practices that helped enhance the usefulness of some
                      of these advisory groups and, in some cases, also helped avoid


                      15
                        We reviewed the 15 DOT and 21 DOE FACA advisory groups that were actively
                      chartered in fiscal year 2010 using information from the FACA database and other
                      sources. For additional information, see appendix III.




                      Page 13                                             GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
duplication (see table 1 below). The five case studies provided examples
of how agencies may address issues that could impact an advisory
group’s usefulness. 16 According to some members, stakeholders, and
agency officials involved in these five advisory groups, certain practices
or circumstances positively affected the group’s usefulness, while in other
cases, the absence of those practices or circumstances may have limited
the group’s usefulness. Practices identified as influencing the usefulness
of some advisory groups include (1) securing clear agency commitment,
(2) finding a balance between responsiveness to the agency and
independence, (3) leveraging resources through collaboration with similar
groups, and (4) evaluating the group’s usefulness to identify future
directions for the group or actions to improve its usefulness.

Table 1: Advisory Group Case Studies

 Advisory group                                       Agency       Advisory group type
 Air Traffic Procedures Advisory Committee            DOT          FACA
 Electricity Advisory Committee                       DOE          FACA
 Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency           DOT          Non-FACA
 Medical Services
 Smart Grid Task Force                                DOE          Non-FACA
 U.S. Marine Transportation System National           DOT          FACA
 Advisory Council
Source: GAO.


Securing agency commitment: Clear agency commitment to an advisory
group can help enhance the group’s usefulness. As we have noted
before, perhaps the single most important element in successfully
implementing organizational change is the demonstrated, sustained
commitment of top leaders. 17 Agency commitment to advisory groups can
be demonstrated by active participation in meetings, open communication
with group members, and allocation of resources to the group. Some
agency officials, members, and third party stakeholders explained that the
level of agency commitment can positively or negatively impact the



16
  Interviews that were conducted as part of our case study review included discussions to
identify potential duplication with other advisory groups.
17
  GAO, Government Performance: Lessons Learned for the Next Administration on Using
Performance Information to Improve Results, GAO-08-1026T (Washington, D.C.: July 24,
2008).




Page 14                                              GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
usefulness of advisory groups. For example, high-level agency
participation can help the advisory group consider the agency’s needs
when developing recommendations and may impact the likelihood that
recommendations are implemented. In contrast, an absence of agency
commitment to an advisory group can hinder the group’s usefulness by
limiting resources or information that may help the group to be useful to
the agency.

According to DOT officials, involvement of high level decision makers
enhanced the usefulness of the Federal Interagency Committee on
Emergency Medical Services (FICEMS). FICEMS is a statutorily
mandated body not subject to FACA whose members primarily are
federal agency officials. 18 The group shares information and discusses
methods to improve emergency medical services and produces formal
recommendations and reports. The Administrator of DOT’s National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a FICEMS member, which
officials believe enhances the group’s usefulness. Because DOT has
committed high-level involvement to FICEMS, the items discussed during
meetings directly involve the agency’s decisionmakers with the authority
to make changes based on the advice.

In contrast, some members of DOT’s Marine Transportation System
National Advisory Council (MTSNAC) and a third party stakeholder
believed that reduced agency commitment may have limited the group’s
usefulness. DOT chartered MTSNAC, a FACA advisory group, to provide
advice on the marine transportation system for the Secretary of
Transportation through the group’s sponsor, the Maritime
Administration. 19 According to members, DOT was actively involved in
MTSNAC from the group’s inception in 1999 until about 2006, when the
agency reduced requests for input and limited its support of the group’s
meetings. With reduced agency support, the advisory group continued to
meet but developed its own agendas and identified topics to cover.
Agency officials stated that MTSNAC’s recommendations could have
been more useful, and in 2010 the group’s charter lapsed. After the
group’s last meeting in 2009, the agency rechartered MTSNAC to focus
on a more specific segment of the marine transportation system: marine


18
 Section 10202 of Pub. L. No. 109-59, 119 Stat. 1144, 1932 (Aug. 10, 2005).
19
  The marine transportation system encompasses numerous modes of transportation
overseen by multiple agencies, one of which is the Maritime Administration.




Page 15                                            GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
highways. 20 According to members and a stakeholder, the Maritime
Administration may have had limited commitment to MTSNAC in part
because the group’s original scope was the marine transportation system
and all related federal agencies, 21 some of which is beyond the
administration’s jurisdiction. In their view, MTSNAC provided a useful and
needed service by addressing the wide-ranging issues affecting the
marine transportation system, but its advice may have been better
targeted at agency officials with a commitment to the broader marine
transportation system.

Balancing responsiveness with independence: Balancing responsiveness
to agencies’ needs with ensuring independence can improve the
usefulness of an advisory group. On one hand, responding to agencies’
needs may help advisory groups produce useful recommendations or
reports. But on the other hand, as we have previously reported, the
advice and recommendations of federal advisory groups should be
independent of influence by the entity that created the advisory group. 22
Similarly, we previously reported that advisory groups’ independence is
important because the effectiveness of FACA advisory groups can be
undermined if the members are, or are perceived to be, lacking
independence. 23

According to officials and members of the Electricity Advisory Committee
(EAC), a DOE FACA advisory group, EAC’s responsiveness to DOE
needs enhanced its usefulness and officials worked closely with the
group’s members to focus the direction of the group to meet the agency’s
needs. According to some EAC members, agency officials generally
identified the topic to be covered while members determined how EAC
would address the topic and sometimes identified additional topics to
cover. Officials found EAC members to be responsive to DOE needs. For


20
 The new MTSNAC group had not met as of July 2011.
21
  For example, the U.S. Coast Guard in the Department of Homeland Security and the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Department of Defense are included in the marine
transportation system.
22
  GAO, Federal Communications Commission: Federal Advisory Committees Follow
Requirements, but FCC Should Improve Its Process for Appointing Committee Members,
GAO-05-36 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 10, 2004).
23
 GAO, Federal Advisory Committees: Additional Guidance Could Help Agencies Better
Ensure Independence and Balance, GAO-04-328 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 16, 2004).




Page 16                                            GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
example, at DOE’s suggestion, EAC began developing “quick response”
products to react to agency requests for information and input in lieu of
lengthier reports. DOE officials also assisted with the development of
agendas for meetings, which can be highly interactive. This type of
dialogue between agency officials and advisory group members can help
the advisory group meet agency needs and enhance the usefulness of
the group’s products.

However, there may be a tension between responsiveness and
independence that could affect the group’s usefulness. Some advisory
group members indicated that some situations may challenge members’
efforts to maintain independence. For example, in one instance, members
of MTSNAC said that their sponsoring agency drafted recommendations
and asked the group to endorse them, which the group declined. The
members believed that the consensus-based recommendations they
developed were valid even if they were not the recommendations that the
agency wanted to hear. When asked for their perspectives on the group’s
usefulness in general, DOT officials stated that they implemented some of
MTSNAC’s recommendations and, while they did not always agree with
other recommendations, members’ diverse and varied perspectives could
be useful.

Leveraging resources through collaboration: Collaboration between an
advisory group and other groups focusing on similar topics can help
agencies spend resources efficiently, prevent unnecessary duplication,
and enhance the group’s usefulness. As we reported in 2011, interagency
mechanisms or strategies to coordinate programs that address
crosscutting issues may reduce potentially duplicative, overlapping, and
fragmented efforts. 24 Collaboration with groups focusing on similar topics
may help ensure that groups are not duplicating activities but are instead
focusing on the most useful tasks. Similarly, it may help advisory groups
leverage existing resources to more quickly obtain information or
expertise already possessed by other groups, thereby enhancing their
usefulness and efficiency. Some advisory groups—such as non-FACA
interagency coordination groups—share resources and information with
other advisory groups.



24
  GAO, Managing for Results: GPRA Modernization Act Implementation Provides
Important Opportunities to Address Government Challenges, GAO-11-617T (Washington,
D.C.: May 10, 2011).




Page 17                                          GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
One official explained that collaborating and coordinating helps DOE’s
federal Smart Grid Task Force (SGTF) to be useful and accomplish its
purpose. SGTF is a statutorily mandated non-FACA group created
primarily for the federal agencies involved in smart grid activities 25 to
coordinate projects and priorities, and the group’s members are
representatives of the relevant agencies. 26 According to one agency
official and a third party stakeholder, SGTF’s coordinating function is
useful in part because member agencies can become more aware of
ongoing or proposed activities in the federal government that may affect
their agency. Further, an agency official explained that members
contributed to the body of knowledge about smart grid activities, for
example, by collaboratively identifying common challenges for smart grid
implementation. DOE also benefits from SGTF reaching out beyond the
federal government—involving states and other entities—to accomplish
its purpose. For example, SGTF members are statutorily required to
coordinate with members of EAC’s smart grid subcommittee, who are
nonfederal parties with interests or expertise in the smart grid. According
to DOE agency officials, SGTF and EAC members meet every few
months to discuss smart grid technological changes and developments.
Agency officials stated that this type of coordination helps minimize the
risk of unnecessary duplication of efforts.

Evaluating usefulness: By evaluating the usefulness of advisory groups,
agencies may identify actions that can increase the groups’ usefulness or
discover future directions for the groups. Alternately, evaluation may help
agencies determine whether certain groups are more useful than others,
or if a group is no longer necessary, and can help avoid overlap and
duplication. In 2008, we reported that performance information can play a
valuable role in highlighting the need to take a closer look at the
effectiveness of existing approaches and processes. 27 Though each
agency is required to recommend either continuing or terminating its
FACA advisory groups through GSA’s annual review and consultation
process, there is no such requirement for non-FACA advisory groups.
Examination of advisory groups’ usefulness could inform officials of



25
  Smart Grid is a way of using technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of
the electric power delivery system (the energy grid).
26
  Section 1303(b) of Pub. L. No. 110-140, 121 Stat. 1492, 1785 (Dec. 19, 2007).
27
  GAO-08-1026T.




Page 18                                                 GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
              changes needed to bring about performance improvements and enhance
              usefulness.

              Some officials from DOT’s FAA have taken steps to evaluate ATPAC, a
              FACA advisory group, and are consequently better equipped to assess
              the group’s strengths, weaknesses, and whether the group continues to
              be relevant and useful. For example, officials (1) collected information on
              the group’s accomplishments—identifying the number of issues
              addressed over a number of years, (2) gathered members’ perspectives
              on the relevance and continuation of the group, and (3) informally
              considered whether the group’s costs outweigh its benefits. Based on the
              information gathered on ATPAC’s accomplishments, officials determined
              that the group’s workload had decreased. For example, while the
              committee resolved an average of about 16 issues per year over its first
              29 years, over the last 6 years, ATPAC resolved approximately 6 issues
              per year. According to agency officials, FAA and ATPAC have responded
              to the change in workload by decreasing the frequency of meetings from
              about four to three times a year. Agency officials explained that they are
              further evaluating the group and may consider additional actions in the
              future.

              The practices identified through our advisory group case studies—
              securing agency commitment, balancing responsiveness with
              independence, leveraging resources through collaboration with similar
              groups, and evaluating usefulness—can help agencies leverage the
              advice produced by both FACA and non-FACA advisory groups to better
              address topics of importance to the agencies and avoid duplication of
              efforts.


              Advisory groups exist governmentwide and are generally considered
Conclusions   useful and cost efficient mechanisms for federal agencies to obtain advice
              and input from a range of stakeholders and experts. However, the
              advisory group environment is fluid, and the potential for duplication
              exists both within and outside the agency as advisory groups are routinely
              established and used, taking on new issues in response to emerging
              agency needs. Therefore, assessments of whether existing advisory
              groups continue to be needed or whether another body or entity may be
              better suited to carry out advisory functions are important to help prevent
              unnecessary duplication and inefficient use of government resources.

              FACA requirements direct agencies to check for duplication among
              advisory groups, and DOT and DOE guidance incorporates these


              Page 19                                      GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
                      requirements. However, neither agency’s guidance includes specific
                      steps for assessing duplication, resulting in an informal process that is not
                      always comprehensive. These issues are further exacerbated by the lack
                      of visibility over non-FACA groups, which often address the same or
                      similar issues as FACA advisory groups. Advisory groups addressing
                      similar issues may also be housed in different agencies across
                      government, further complicating any assessment for duplication. While
                      agencies are not required to track their non-FACA advisory groups,
                      having available at least minimal information about non-FACA advisory
                      groups, as well as specific assessment steps, would help ensure more
                      comprehensive assessments of whether new advisory groups should be
                      created and existing groups should be retained. DOT and DOE are only
                      two among many federal government agencies that widely use advisory
                      groups, however, these actions could be a good first step in facilitating
                      coordination and sharing of information of advisory groups
                      governmentwide.


                      To reduce the risk of potential duplication of efforts and further inform
Recommendations for   assessments of advisory groups, we recommend that the Secretary of
Executive Action      Transportation and the Secretary of Energy take the following two
                      actions:

                      •   Identify and document specific steps that should be taken in
                          periodically assessing potential duplication and the ongoing need for
                          both FACA and non-FACA advisory groups.

                      •   Develop and make public (e.g., on the agency’s website) information
                          identifying non-FACA advisory groups providing advice to the
                          agency—including the group name, agency point of contact, and a
                          brief description of the group’s purpose.

                      We provided copies of our draft report to DOT, DOE, and GSA for their
Agency Comments       review and comment. DOT and DOE agreed to consider the
and Our Evaluation    recommendations. GSA provided technical comments, which we
                      incorporated.




                      Page 20                                      GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional
committees, the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Energy, the
Administrator of the General Services Administration, and other interested
parties. The report also is available at no charge on the GAO website at
http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff members have any questions about this report, please
contact me at (206) 287-4809 or calboml@gao.gov. Contact points for our
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on
the last page of this report. GAO staff who made major contributions to
this report are listed in appendix V.



Linda M. Calbom
West Region Director




Page 21                                     GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Methodology



Methodology

              This report examined (1) the extent to which the Department of
              Transportation’s (DOT) and Department of Energy’s (DOE) assessment
              process helps ensure advisory group efforts are not duplicative and what
              challenges, if any, exist in assessing potential duplication and (2) to what
              extent DOT and DOE advisory groups are useful in assisting their
              respective agencies in carrying out their missions and how the groups’
              usefulness could be enhanced. For this report, we selected two
              agencies—DOT and DOE—and developed and applied a methodology to
              better understand how their advisory groups function. We selected DOT
              and DOE based on knowledge of these agencies’ advisory groups and
              because they represented two federal agencies working on a range of
              issues and topics with a similar number of Federal Advisory Committee
              Act (FACA) advisory groups. This review included advisory groups
              established under FACA 1 (FACA advisory groups) and other advisory
              groups not subject to FACA (non-FACA advisory groups).

              To address our objectives, we first developed a list of the 88 fiscal year
              2010 FACA and non-FACA advisory groups that provided input or advice
              to the selected agencies (see table 2 below). FACA groups are any
              advisory groups, with limited exceptions, which are established or utilized
              by a federal agency or the President, and that have at least one member
              who is not a federal employee. To identify the DOT and DOE FACA
              advisory groups, we used the online FACA database maintained by the
              General Services Administration (GSA). 2 DOT and DOE officials verified
              the active fiscal year 2010 FACA advisory groups identified in the FACA
              database, the last year for which data was finalized by GSA. Because
              there are several types of non-FACA advisory groups and no single
              uniform definition, we developed one to identify non-FACA advisory
              groups whose primary activity was to provide advice to their respective
              agencies. DOT and DOE officials concurred with our definition, and we
              relied on the agencies to identify groups that met the following definition:

              •   Groups active in fiscal year 2010 that serve primarily an advisory
                  function and provide input to the agency and/or component agency
                  offices (e.g., DOT: Federal Aviation Administration, DOE: Office of
                  Science) on areas related to the agency or office’s mission. These



              1
               Pub. L. No. 92-463, 86 Stat. 770 (Oct. 6, 1972), codified, as amended, at 5 U.S.C.
              app. 2.
              2
               The FACA database is available to the public at www.fido.gov/facadatabase.




              Page 22                                              GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




      groups may have a mix of federal and nonfederal members and are
      established to provide advice or recommendations on issues or
      policies pertaining to the agency or its components.

Because the non-FACA advisory groups were self-identified by DOT and
DOE officials based on this definition, the groups identified may not
include all of the existing non-FACA advisory groups for each agency. 3
Non-FACA advisory groups are not subject to FACA for a variety of
reasons, including statutory language that excludes a group or
membership consisting entirely of federal government employees.

Table 2: Advisory Groups Active in Fiscal Year 2010

                                                      DOT            DOE           Total
 FACA advisory groups                                   15              21            36
 Non-FACA advisory groups                               19              33            52
 Total                                                  34              54            88
Sources: GAO analysis of DOT and DOE information.


We gathered information for each of the 88 FACA and non-FACA
advisory groups identified as active in fiscal year 2010 using the FACA
database and working with agency officials to collect information for each
non-FACA group, such as a purpose statement or group descriptions. To
better understand advisory group management, operations, and agency
oversight responsibilities, we reviewed relevant documentation such as
the FACA regulations and guidance, DOT and DOE committee
management policies, and prior GAO reports on advisory groups. We
interviewed agency officials within GSA’s Committee Management
Secretariat and General Counsel and agency officials within DOT and
DOE Committee Management Offices to better understand how each
agency operates and manages advisory groups. We also spoke with
aviation industry groups that participate as members in some DOT
aviation advisory groups to obtain their perspectives on general
experiences with these advisory groups.



3
 The non-FACA advisory groups included in our review are not intended to cover all
entities or groups providing advice to the agencies. Some groups have multiple functions,
and providing advice may be a secondary activity among other functions. For example,
the Transportation Research Board promotes innovation through transportation research,
and providing advice to DOT on transportation policies and programs is not the primary
function of the group.




Page 23                                              GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




To assess the reliability of the FACA database, we (1) reviewed existing
documentation related to the database, (2) reviewed a previous GAO
data reliability assessment of the FACA database, (3) reviewed database
use protocols, including verification and internal controls, and (4)
interviewed knowledgeable agency officials about the data. We
determined that the data used were sufficiently reliable for the purposes
of identifying FACA advisory groups and their status, presenting the total
cost of FACAs, determining the most commonly reported interest areas,
and analyzing FACA missions and activities.

To assess the extent to which DOT’s and DOE’s assessment process
helps to ensure advisory groups efforts are not duplicative, and to
determine what challenges may exist in assessing duplication, we
narrowed the scope of our review and assessed the potential for
duplication, overlap, and fragmentation among 47 of the 88 FACA and
non-FACA advisory groups identified as active within fiscal year 2010. 4
Specifically, we reviewed the 47 groups focusing on those interest areas
most relevant to DOT and DOE—using the interest area identification in
the FACA database and assigning these same interest areas to the non-
FACA advisory groups—ultimately identifying aviation and energy as the
most common advisory group interest areas for DOT and DOE,
respectively. We also formulated definitions for duplication, overlap, and
fragmentation using the broad definitions provided in GAO’s recent work. 5
For the FACA advisory groups, we reviewed information within the FACA
database performance measures section, their charters, and other
agency documentation; for the non-FACA advisory groups, we reviewed
agency provided descriptions and other agency documentation to help
determine with more specificity the types of issues or topics the groups
covered. We reviewed responses to a brief questionnaire sent to agency
points of contact for the 47 selected DOT and DOE groups asking the


4
 This review contributes to the broader congressional mandate that GAO conduct routine
investigations to identify programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals
and activities. Section 21 of Pub. L. No. 111-139, 124 Stat. 8, 29-30 (Feb. 12, 2010).
5
 For the purposes of our analysis, duplication or overlap exists when advisory groups
have the same or similar objectives and scope and/or duties, and engage in the same or
similar activities or strategies to achieve them. Fragmentation is present where more than
one advisory group is involved in the same interest area, focused on the same topic and
provides advice to different recipients. The presence of fragmentation and overlap can
suggest the need to look closer at the potential for unnecessary duplication, which exists
where some degree of duplication, overlap, or fragmentation is not warranted. See also
GAO-11-318SP.




Page 24                                                 GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




respondents to identify, among other items, (1) any internal agency
processes used to determine duplication, overlap, or fragmentation of
proposed advisory groups with existing advisory groups and (2) their
awareness of any other FACA or non-FACA advisory group within the
agency or governmentwide that focused on the same issues as their
group. 6

From these 47 advisory groups, we then selected those groups that focus
on common issues or topic areas in these broad areas for further analysis
to better understand whether in fact the groups’ efforts were potentially
duplicative and interviewed agency officials in the following offices:

•   DOT: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials within the Office
    of the Deputy Administrator; Air Traffic Organization; Office of Aviation
    Safety; and Office of Policy, International Affairs and Environment that
    were involved in five FACA and four non-FACA advisory groups that
    were identified as potentially duplicative, overlapping or fragmented;
    and

•   DOE: Office of the Secretary; Office of Science; Office of Health,
    Safety and Security; and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable
    Energy officials that were involved in three FACA and five non-FACA
    advisory groups that were identified as potentially duplicative,
    overlapping, or fragmented.

To review the usefulness of DOT and DOE advisory groups in assisting
their respective agencies in carrying out their mission, and to identify
practices to enhance their usefulness or help avoid duplication, we
conducted in-depth case studies on three FACA and two non-FACA
advisory groups. See table 3 below.




6
We received questionnaire responses from 15 DOT and 22 DOE advisory groups.




Page 25                                         GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




Table 3: Advisory Group Case Studies

 Advisory group                                     Agency      Advisory group type
 Air Traffic Procedures Advisory Committee          DOT         FACA
 Electricity Advisory Committee                     DOE         FACA
 Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency         DOT         Non-FACA
 Medical Services
 Smart Grid Task Force                              DOE         Non-FACA
 U.S. Marine Transportation System National         DOT         FACA
 Advisory Council
Source: GAO.


We judgmentally selected these five advisory groups to obtain a mix of
characteristics with the purpose of reporting additional details on a
targeted selection of advisory groups. 7 To obtain a diverse mix and
coverage across several characteristics, we considered the following
factors in selecting the advisory group case studies: the agency they
advise, FACA status, age, how the group was established, and whether
they generated reports or recommendations. For FACA advisory groups,
we also considered results from the performance measures section of the
FACA database, but this information was not available for non-FACA
advisory groups. For each case study, we reviewed relevant
documentation and interviewed agency officials, advisory group
members, and third party or industry stakeholders to obtain their
perspectives on the group’s activities and its usefulness to the agency.
For instance, to understand the group’s usefulness, we asked about how
helpful the group was at assisting the agency in carrying out its mission,
the impact the group or its products had on the agency, and the value
added by the group. For example, we met with FAA, Maritime
Administration, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
officials to discuss the effectiveness and usefulness of selected DOT
advisory groups. The two selected non-FACA advisory groups were
interagency coordination bodies whose membership consisted of federal
employees. Because of this, the interviewees were able to represent both
the agency and member perspectives. We reviewed advisory group
charters, reports, meeting minutes, and performance measures from the




7
 The case study selections were not limited to the issue areas of aviation and energy used
in the assessment of potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation.




Page 26                                              GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




FACA database, other documentation as available, and observed an
advisory group meeting for the Electricity Advisory Committee.

In addition, we developed criteria to understand the extent to which
advisory groups provided input on topics of importance to their respective
agencies’ missions and to describe the advice producing activities of
advisory groups, such as whether the advisory group held meetings and
produced reports and recommendations and if the groups’ objectives
were documented and were related to the agency’s strategic goals or
mission. We developed these criteria by reviewing a selection of previous
GAO reports, including those on the Government Performance and
Results Act Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) 8 and the Program
Assessment Review Tool (PART), 9 identifying a list of potential criteria to
assess effectiveness and usefulness in consultation with internal GAO
experts, and soliciting the perspectives of agency officials. We applied
these criteria only to the 36 DOT and DOE FACA advisory groups actively
chartered in fiscal year 2010 because similar information for non-FACA
advisory groups was not available. We also gathered information on a
selection of FACA and non-FACA advisory groups by reviewing
information from the FACA database, advisory group charters and
websites, relevant agency strategic planning documents, and interviewing
agency officials for both FACA and non-FACA advisory groups.

We conducted this performance audit from January 2011 to March 2012
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe the
evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
conclusions based on our audit objectives.




8
 Pub. L. No. 111-352, 124 Stat. 3866 (Jan. 4, 2011). GPRAMA amends the Government
Performance and Results Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-62, 107 Stat. 285 (Aug. 3, 1993).
9
 OMB described the PART, which was created in 2002, as a diagnostic tool meant to
provide a consistent approach to evaluating federal programs as part of the executive
budget formulation process.




Page 27                                              GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix II: DOT and DOE Fiscal Year 2010
              Appendix II: DOT and DOE Fiscal Year 2010
              Advisory Groups



Advisory Groups

              To identify DOT and DOE FACA advisory groups, agency officials verified
              the active fiscal year 2010 groups identified in the FACA database. 1 To
              identify non-FACA advisory groups providing input and advice to DOT
              and DOE, agency officials used the following definition: groups active in
              fiscal year 2010 that serve primarily an advisory function and provide
              input to the agency and/or component agency offices on areas related to
              the agency or office’s mission. These groups may have a mix of federal
              and nonfederal members, and are established to provide advice or
              recommendations on issues or policies pertaining to the agency or its
              components. We selected those groups focusing on the most common
              advisory group issue areas of aviation for DOT and energy for DOE for
              further review, covering 47 of the 88 DOT and DOE advisory groups
              active in fiscal year 2010 (see tables 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

              Table 4: Fiscal Year 2010 Advisory Groups

                                                                                     Subset assessed for
                                                   Total active FY 2010             potential duplication,
                                                      advisory groups           overlap, or fragmentation
               DOT                                                      34                             17
               DOE                                                      54                             30
               Total                                                    88                             47
              Source: GAO.



              Table 5: Fiscal Year 2010 DOT FACA Advisory Groups

               1.       Advisory Council on Transportation Statistics
               2.       Air Traffic Procedures Advisory Committee
               3.       Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee
               4.       Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee
               5.       Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Advisory Committee
               6.       Medical Review Board Advisory Committee
               7.       Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee
               8.       National Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council




              1
               At the end of each fiscal year, GSA reviews the information agencies entered into the
              FACA database. We reviewed FACA advisory groups confirmed as actively chartered at
              the end of fiscal year 2010, the most recently verified fiscal year. This may include groups
              that were not actively chartered in subsequent fiscal years and may exclude groups that
              were actively chartered for a period of time prior to the end of fiscal year 2010.




              Page 28                                                   GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix II: DOT and DOE Fiscal Year 2010
Advisory Groups




 9.        Railroad Safety Advisory Committee
 10.       Research Engineering and Development Advisory Committee
 11.       RTCA Inc. (Utilized as an Advisory Committee)
 12.       Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Advisory Board
 13.       The Future of Aviation Advisory Committee
 14.       Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety
 15.       U.S. Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council
Source: GAO analysis of FACA database.


Note: Aviation groups reviewed for potential duplication appear in bold.


Table 6: Fiscal Year 2010 DOT Non-FACA Advisory Groups

 1.      Aeronautical Charting Forum
 2.      Arctic Monitoring & Assessment Program
 3.      Committee for the Marine Transportation System
 4.      Coordinating Organization for Global Navigation Satellite System
 5.      European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment Work Group 73
 6.      European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation Action Plan 24
 7.      Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Services
 8.      Flight in Non-Segregated Airspace
 9.      International Civil Aviation Organization, Unmanned Aircraft System(s) Study
         Group
 10.     Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems
 11.     Joint Planning Advisory Group
 12.     National Defense Transportation Association Voluntary Intermodal Sealift
         Agreement Executive Working Group
 13.     NSS Transborder Security Sub-Interagency Policy Committee on Air Domain
         and the Obstruction Evaluation Process
 14.     Performance Based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee
 15.     Renewable Energy Rapid Response Team
 16.     Ship Manager Executive Working Group
 17.     U.S. Instrument Flight Procedures Panel
 18.     U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Advisory Board
 19.     Vertical Flight Committee
Source: GAO analysis of advisory groups identified by DOT.


Note: Aviation groups reviewed for potential duplication appear in bold.




Page 29                                                      GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix II: DOT and DOE Fiscal Year 2010
Advisory Groups




Table 7: Fiscal Year 2010 DOE FACA Advisory Groups

 1.      Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee
 2.      Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee
 3.      Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee
 4.      Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee
 5.      Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future
 6.      DOE/NSF Nuclear Science Advisory Committee
 7.      Electricity Advisory Committee
 8.      Environmental Management Advisory Board
 9.      Environmental Management Site-Specific Advisory Board
 10.     Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee
 11.     High Energy Physics Advisory Panel
 12.     Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee
 13.     Methane Hydrate Advisory Committee
 14.     National Coal Council
 15.     National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore
         Drilling
 16.     National Petroleum Council
 17.     Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee
 18.     Secretary of Energy Advisory Board
 19.     State Energy Advisory Board
 20.     Ultra-Deepwater Advisory Committee
 21.     Unconventional Resources Technology Advisory Committee
Source: GAO analysis of FACA database.


Note: Energy groups reviewed for potential duplication appear in bold.



Table 8: Fiscal Year 2010 DOE Non-FACA Advisory Groups

 1.      American Statistical Association Committee on Energy
 2.      Biomass Research and Development Interagency Working Group on Algae
         Biofuels
 3.      Biomass Research and Development Interagency Working Group on
         Conversion
 4.      Biomass Research and Development Interagency Working Group on
         Feedstock Supply
 5.      Biomass Research and Development Interagency Working Group on
         Logistics and Distribution
 6.      Clean Air Workgroup
 7.      Cultural Resources Workgroup




Page 30                                                     GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix II: DOT and DOE Fiscal Year 2010
Advisory Groups




 8.      Defense Programs Surety Committee
 9.      Department of Energy’s Federal Quality Council
 10.     DOE Fire Safety Committee
 11.     DOE Risk Assessment Technical Experts Working Group
 12.     Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know and Toxics Release Inventory
         Workgroup
 13.     Environmental Management Technical Expert Group
 14.     FedCenter Board
 15.     Federal Caucus
 16.     Federal Electronics Stewardship Working Group
 17.     Federal Interagency Energy Management Task Force
 18.     Fugitive Emissions Workgroup
 19.     Interagency Committee on Standards Policy
 20.     Interagency Environmental Leadership Workgroup
 21.     Interagency Steering Committee on Radiation Standards
 22.     L Prize Technical Review Committee
 23.     Protective Force Career Options Committee
 24.     Radiological Air Emissions (Subpart H) Group
 25.     Senior Technical Advisory Panel
 26.     Smart Grid Task Force
 27.     Sustainable Acquisition and Materials Management Workgroup
 28.     Sustainable Acquisition Workgroup
 29.     Technical Evaluation Panel
 30.     Use Control Effectiveness Committee
 31.     Use Control Project Officers Group
 32.     Use Control Site Coordinators
 33.     Zero Energy Commercial Buildings Consortium
Source: GAO analysis of advisory groups identified by DOE.

Note: Energy groups reviewed for potential duplication appear in bold.




Page 31                                                      GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix III: Additional Information on 36
                                         Appendix III: Additional Information on 36
                                         Actively Chartered FACA Advisory Groups



Actively Chartered FACA Advisory Groups

                                         To understand the extent to which advisory groups provided input to
                                         agencies on topics of importance to their missions, we reviewed
                                         information on the 15 DOT and 21 DOE FACA advisory groups that were
                                         actively chartered in fiscal year 2010. We selected information to review
                                         by developing criteria based on agency officials’ input and a review of
                                         relevant literature—including FACA guidelines and GAO reports on the
                                         Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act. Each of the
                                         36 FACA advisory groups had documented goals and topics that were
                                         aligned with their respective agency’s missions or strategic goals (See
                                         table 9). Further, each was engaged in activities that could help the group
                                         produce advice (See table 10). 1

Table 9: Alignment with Agency Mission, Actively Chartered DOT and DOE FACA Advisory Groups in Fiscal Year 2010

                                                       Number of actively chartered FACA advisory groups with:
                                      Documented                               Objectives or activities aligned with
                                  objectives or activities                      agency strategic goals or mission
                                                                                                        Implicitly          Explicitly
Agency                              No                      Yes                 Not aligned               aligned            aligned          Total
DOT                                  0                        15                               0                   9                6           15
DOE                                  0                        21                               0                 11                 10          21
DOT and DOE total                    0                        36                               0                 20                 16          36
                                         Sources: GAO analysis of fiscal year 2010 FACA database and DOT and DOE agency missions.




                                         1
                                          While a group does not necessarily need to meet or produce reports and
                                         recommendations to be useful, and not all information produced may be useful, these
                                         activities are a broad indication that groups are actively producing advice and information
                                         that are aligned with agency missions and goals and that may be useful to agencies.




                                         Page 32                                                                  GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
                                        Appendix III: Additional Information on 36
                                        Actively Chartered FACA Advisory Groups




Table 10: Select Activities, Actively Chartered DOT and DOE FACA Advisory Groups in Fiscal Year 2010
                                                                                                                        a
                                              Number of actively chartered FACA advisory groups that
                        Held meetings in FY               Produced reports                              Produced formal
                                                                       b
                               2010                          in FY 2010                           recommendations as of FY 2010
Agency                             No       Yes                  No            Yes                       No                   Yes       Total
DOT                                 1        14                    6               9                      2                    13          15
DOE                                 1        20                  12                9                      2                    19          21
DOT and DOE total                   2        34                  18              18                       4                    32          36
                                        Source: GAO analysis of fiscal year 2010 FACA database.

                                        a
                                         Of these 36 actively chartered FACA advisory groups, 5 were new or reestablished in
                                        fiscal year 2010.
                                        b
                                         Excludes subcommittee or committee of visitors reports and meeting minutes. In some
                                        cases, advice may be communicated through meeting minutes.




                                        Page 33                                                               GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix IV: Comments from the
             Appendix IV: Comments from the Department
             of Energy



Department of Energy




             Page 34                                     GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
Appendix V: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Appendix V: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Linda Calbom, (206) 287-4809 or calboml@gao.gov.
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the individual named above, Sharon Silas, Assistant
Staff             Director; Kathy Gilhooly; Laura Henry; Delwen Jones; Hannah Laufe;
Acknowledgments   Janet Lee; Sara Ann Moessbauer; Steven Putansu; and Maria Wallace
                  made key contributions to this report.




(544163)
                  Page 35                                 GAO-12-472 Federal Advisory Groups
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