oversight

Federal Education Funding: Multiple Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency and Effectiveness Concerns

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-11-06.

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

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Education Task Force, Committee on the
                             Budget, United States Senate




For Release on Delivery
Expected at 9:30 a.m.
Thursday, November 6, 1997
                             FEDERAL EDUCATION
                             FUNDING

                             Multiple Programs and Lack
                             of Data Raise Efficiency and
                             Effectiveness Concerns
                             Statement of Carlotta C. Joyner, Director
                             Education and Employment Issues
                             Health, Education, and Human Services Division




GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
Federal Education Funding: Multiple
Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
and Effectiveness Concerns
                                         Mr. Chairman and Members of the Education Task Force:

                                         I am pleased to be here today to discuss federal support for education,
                                         concerns raised by the multiple programs dispersed through over 30
                                         agencies, and the lack of data about the programs and their impact.

                                         Hundreds of federal education programs—the specific number differs
                                         depending on how education is defined and who is counting the
                                         programs—are administered by more than 30 federal agencies. Although
                                         billions of federal dollars support education, state and local governments
                                         and the private sector spend even more. For example, federal spending for
                                         public elementary and secondary education is only about 7 percent of all
                                         funding for kindergarten through high school (K-12) education. State and
                                         local sources provide 47 and 46 percent of the funding, respectively.


Figure 1: Federal Share of Public K-12
Education Costs Is Small
                                         School Year 1994-1995
                                                                                             Local and Intermediate
                                                                                             Sources
                                                                                             46.4%
                                                                                             Federal
                                                                                             6.8%




                                                                                             State
                                                                                             46.8%




                                         My testimony today is based on work we have done over several years and
                                         on a recent analysis by the Department of Education’s National Center for
                                         Education Statistics (NCES).1 (A list of related GAO products appears at the


                                         1
                                           Federal Support for Education: Fiscal Years 1980 to 1997, Department of Education, NCES
                                         (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 1997).



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                      Federal Education Funding: Multiple
                      Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
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                      end of this testimony.) I will focus on (1) the amount and complexity of
                      federal support for education; (2) additional planning, implementation,
                      and evaluative information needed by agencies and the Congress on
                      federal education programs; and (3) some of the challenges of obtaining
                      more and better information.

                      In summary, billions of federal education dollars are distributed through
                      hundreds of programs and more than 30 agencies. Agencies and the
                      Congress need information to plan, implement, and evaluate these
                      programs. Moreover, to gauge and ensure the success of these programs,
                      the Congress and agencies need several kinds of information. First, they
                      need to know which specific program approaches or models are most
                      effective and the circumstances in which they are effective. They also need
                      to know if individual programs are working nationwide. In addition, they
                      need to be able to look across all programs that are designed to help a
                      given target group to see if individual programs are working efficiently
                      together and whether the federal effort is working effectively overall. We
                      believe closely examining these multiple education programs is definitely
                      needed. The current situation has created the potential for inefficient
                      service and reduced overall effectiveness. Basic information about
                      programs and program results is lacking, and we face many challenges in
                      obtaining this important information. The Government Performance and
                      Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) holds promise as a tool to help agencies manage
                      for results, coordinate their efforts with other agencies, and obtain the
                      information they need to plan and implement programs and evaluate
                      program results.


                      Overall federal support for education includes not only federal funds, but
Billions of Federal   also nonfederal funds associated with federal legislation. More than 30
Education Dollars     departments or agencies administer federal education dollars, although
Distributed Through   the Department of Education administers the most, accounting for about
                      43 percent. Of the about $73 billion appropriated to support education,
Hundreds of           half supports elementary and secondary education. Overall, six program
Programs and          areas account for almost two-thirds of all budgeted education funding.
                      Many departments and programs may target funds to the same target
Multiple Agencies     groups, such as poor children. Although some coordination takes place
                      and some programs have been consolidated, much more needs to be done
                      to coordinate the multiple education programs scattered throughout the
                      federal government.




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                           Federal Education Funding: Multiple
                           Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
                           and Effectiveness Concerns




Distribution of Federal    NCES  estimates federal support for education, excluding tax expenditures,
Support for Education      as approximately $100.5 billion in fiscal year 1997. This figure is an
                           estimate of the value of the assistance to the recipients—not the cost to
                           the government. NCES describes this support as falling into two main
                           categories: funds appropriated by the Congress (on-budget) and a
                           combination of what NCES calls “off-budget”2 funds and nonfederal funds
                           generated by federal legislation. Appropriated funds include items such as
                           grants, federal matching funds, and the administration and subsidy costs
                           for direct and guaranteed student loans. Off-budget funds are the portion
                           of direct federal loans anticipated to be repaid. Nonfederal funds
                           generated by federal legislation include nonfederal (generally state or
                           local) funds provided to obtain federal matching funds and capital
                           provided by private lenders for education loans. According to NCES, in
                           fiscal year 1997, appropriated funds constituted approximately three-
                           quarters of the total: $73.1 billion.


Multiple Departments and   To ensure that all Americans have equal access to educational
Programs                   opportunities, the federal government often targets its education funds to
                           groups, such as poor children, that for various reasons have not had equal
                           access to educational opportunities. The government may also target
                           funds to ensure that all children have access to vital resources—such as
                           well-trained teachers and technology. These concerns have helped
                           disperse federal education programs to over 30 departments or agencies.

                           The Department of Education spends the most, accounting for about 43
                           percent of appropriations or an estimated $31 billion in fiscal year 1997.
                           (See fig. 2.) The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spends
                           the next largest amount, with about 18 percent or an estimated $13 billion.
                           Over half of this amount ($7.1 billion) funded research; another $4 billion
                           funded the Head Start program. Other Departments with federal education
                           dollars include the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, and Defense, with
                           13, 6, and 5 percent, respectively. The remaining 15 percent is spent by
                           more than 30 additional departments or agencies.




                           2
                            The term “off-budget” as used by NCES differs from the technical definition of the term. Off-budget
                           actually refers to transactions that belong on budget because they are a government cost but that are
                           required by law to be excluded from the budget. The transactions associated with direct loans that
                           NCES describes as off budget would more appropriately be described as nonbudgetary.



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                                     Federal Education Funding: Multiple
                                     Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
                                     and Effectiveness Concerns




Figure 2: Many Federal Departments
Fund Education Programs
                                     Fiscal Year 1997
                                                                                  HHS ($13.1 Billion)
                                                                                  17.9%
                                                                                  Agriculture ($9.7 Billion)
                                                                                  13.2%
                                                                                  Labor ($4.6 Billion)
                                                                                  6.3%
                                                                                  Defense ($3.7 Billion)
                                                                                  5.1%
                                                                                  Over 30 Other Departments
                                                                                  or Agencies ($10.9 Billion)
                                                                                  15.0%




                                                                                  Education ($31.1 Billion)
                                                                                  42.6%




                                     Six program areas account for almost two-thirds of all on-budget
                                     education funding. As figure 3 shows, the child nutrition programs at the
                                     Department of Agriculture account for the largest percentage of
                                     funding—16 percent. The two programs accounting for the next largest
                                     percentages of funding are Department of Education programs: title I for
                                     disadvantaged preschool, elementary, and secondary children, with about
                                     14 percent, and Pell Grants for postsecondary education for low-income
                                     students, with about 12 percent. The Department of Labor runs other
                                     major programs (Job Corps and other job training programs) as do HHS
                                     and the Department of Defense.




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                                        Federal Education Funding: Multiple
                                        Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
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Figure 3: Six Program Areas Account
for Almost Two-Thirds of All Budgeted
Education Dollars                       Fiscal Year 1997
                                                                                     Child Nutrition Programs (Agriculture)
                                                                                     16%
                                                                                     Title I (Education)
                                                                                     13.8%


                                                                                     Pell Grants (Education)
                                                                                     11.9%
                                                                                     Training Programs (Labor)
                                                                                     8.7%

                                                                                     Head Start (HHS)
                                                                                     7.7%

                                                                                     Special Education (Education)
                                                                                     6.5%

                                                                                     Other
                                                                                     35.4%




                                        Figure 4 shows the fiscal year 1997 funding for the six largest program
                                        activities. Funding ranges from $8.3 billion for child nutrition programs to
                                        $3.4 billion for special education activities.




                                        Page 5                                                                 GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
                                  Federal Education Funding: Multiple
                                  Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
                                  and Effectiveness Concerns




Figure 4: Six Largest Education
Program Areas, Fiscal Year 1997
                                    Fiscal Year 1997
                                    9      Billions of Dollars
                                           8.3

                                    8

                                                      7.2
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                                                                 6.2
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                                  Elementary and secondary education programs account for half of all
                                  budgeted federal education dollars. (See fig. 5.) In addition, the federal
                                  government provides funds for postsecondary education (generally as
                                  grants and loan guarantees), research (through such Departments as HHS,
                                  Energy, and Defense, along with the National Science Foundation), and
                                  other activities such as rehabilitative services.




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                                     Federal Education Funding: Multiple
                                     Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
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Figure 5: Elementary and Secondary
Education: Half of On-Budget
Education Dollars                    Fiscal Year 1997
                                                                                  Other ($5.1 Billion)
                                                                                  7.0%
                                                                                  Research ($15.9 Billion)
                                                                                  21.8%




                                                                                  Elementary and
                                                                                  Secondary ($36.6 Billion)
                                                                                  50.1%



                                                                                  Postsecondary ($15.4 Billion)
                                                                                  21.1%




Many Agencies and                    Federal funds are generally targeted to specific groups. However, many
Programs Target Specific             education programs administered by separate agencies may target any
Groups                               single group. Although we have no comprehensive figures on the number
                                     of programs targeted to different groups, figure 6 shows the number of
                                     programs in various agencies targeted to three specific groups—young
                                     children, at-risk and delinquent youth, and teachers.




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                                                            Federal Education Funding: Multiple
                                                            Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
                                                            and Effectiveness Concerns




Figure 6: Three Target Groups Served by Multiple Programs and Agencies


  Department of                Department of         Department of              Department of          Department of            National                   Department of
   Agriculture                  Education             Health and                   Interior              Treasury             Endowment                       Justice
                                                    Human Services                                                            for the Arts

               1                                     34            59     28                       4                    4
                                                                                    2                      1
                                7       60                                                                                            22                   Department of
  Department of                                             6                                                                                        9
                                                                                                                                                              Labor
   Housing and                      6                 8
Urban Development     4                                            6                                                                             7
                                                                                                                                  2
                                                                                                                                                             ACTION
                                                                                                                                             1
  Department of
     Energy
                      3
                                                 Teachers                         At-Risk and                    Young Children                            State Justice
                                                 (FY1993)                       Delinquent Youth                (FY1992 & 1993)              1               Institute
                          1                                                         (FY1996)
  Environmental
                          2
Protection Agency                                                                                                                                          Corporation for
                                                                                                                                             6              National and
                          3                                                                                                                              Community Service
                                                                                                                                                 1
National Aeronautic
    and Space                                                                                                                                               Appalachian
                                                                                                                                                 1
  Administration                                                                                                                                             Regional
                                             1                                                         3                                                    Commission
                      9        4                                         1               1         1                              3          7

    National                                                                      President's
                              National Science      General Services                                   Department of        Small Business                 Department of
Foundation for Arts                                                            Crime Prevention
                                Foundation           Administration                                    Transportation       Administration                   Defense
 and Humanities                                                                    Council




                                                            Note: Circled numbers indicate number of programs.




                                                            In September 1997, we reported that the federal government funded a
                                                            wide array of programs dedicated to at-risk and delinquent youth.3 More
                                                            specifically, 15 federal departments and agencies administered 127 at-risk
                                                            and delinquent youth programs in fiscal year 1996. HHS and the
                                                            Departments of Justice, Labor, and Education administered 98 programs—
                                                            about 77 percent of all programs. HHS and Justice administered the
                                                            most—59 and 22, respectively—but Department of Labor programs
                                                            received the most money—$2.2 billion. About 43 percent of the funded
                                                            programs received at least $15 million each. Many programs, often located
                                                            in different federal departments and agencies, appear to fund similar

                                                            3
                                                                See At-Risk and Delinquent Youth: Fiscal Year 1996 Programs (GAO/HEHS-97-211R, Sept. 2, 1997).



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services. For example, in 1996, 47 federal programs provided substance
abuse prevention, 20 provided substance abuse treatment, and 57 provided
violence prevention. Thirteen federal departments and agencies
administered these programs and received about $2.3 billion.4 In addition,
the same department or agency administered many programs providing
similar services. Justice, for example, had nine programs providing
substance abuse prevention services to youth in 1996. Furthermore, many
individual programs funded multiple services: about 63 percent of the
programs funded four or more services each in 1996, according to our
review.

We also examined programs that provide teacher training. For this target
group, multiple federal programs exist in a number of federal agencies.
For example, the federal government funded at least 86 teacher training
programs in fiscal year 1993 in nine federal agencies and offices. For the
42 programs for which data were available, Department officials reported
that over $280 million was obligated in fiscal year 1993.5

Similarly, in fiscal years 1992 and 1993, the government funded over 90
early childhood programs in 11 federal agencies and 20 offices, according
to our review. Our analysis showed that one disadvantaged child could
have possibly been eligible for as many as 13 programs. Many programs,
however, reported serving only a portion of their target population and
maintained long waiting lists.6

Secretary of Education Riley testified recently before this Task Force that
the Department of Education has made progress in both eliminating
low-priority programs and consolidating similar programs. He noted, for
example, that the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities
Education Act reduced the number of programs from 14 to 6. In addition,
the Department has proposed eliminating or consolidating over 40
programs as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The multiple education programs scattered throughout the federal
government have created the potential for inefficient service as well as

4
 This does not include programs in the armed services in the Department of Defense. The services—
Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, National Guard, and Navy—administered seven programs totaling
$48.8 million. Of those, four programs provided substance abuse prevention, and all of them provided
violence prevention services. None of the programs provided substance abuse treatment.
5
 Multiple Teacher Training Programs: Information on Budgets, Services, and Target Groups
(GAO/HEHS-95-71FS, Feb. 22, 1995).
6
Early Childhood Programs: Multiple Programs and Overlapping Target Groups (GAO/HEHS-95-4FS,
Oct. 31, 1994).



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                       difficulty for those trying to access the most appropriate services and
                       funding sources. Federal programs that contribute to similar results
                       should be closely coordinated to ensure that goals are consistent and, as
                       appropriate, program efforts are mutually reinforcing.7 Uncoordinated
                       program efforts can waste scarce funds, confuse and frustrate program
                       customers, and limit the overall effectiveness of the federal effort.8


                       The large numbers of programs and agencies supporting education
More Information Is    activities and target groups make management and evaluation information
Needed About the       critical to the Congress and agency officials. Information about the federal
Federal                education effort is needed by many different decisionmakers, for different
                       reasons, at different times, and at different levels of detail. Much of that
Pre-Kindergarten-12    information, however, is not currently available.
Education Effort and
Its Impact
Kinds of Information   To efficiently and effectively operate, manage, and oversee programs and
Needed                 activities, agencies need reliable, timely program performance and cost
                       information and the analytic capacity to use that information. For
                       example, agencies need to have reliable data during their planning efforts
                       to set realistic goals and later, as programs are being implemented, to
                       gauge their progress toward reaching those goals. In addition, in
                       combination with an agency’s performance measurement system, a strong
                       program evaluation capacity is needed to provide feedback on how well an
                       agency’s activities and programs contributed to reaching agency goals.
                       Systematically evaluating a program’s implementation can also provide
                       important information about the program’s success or lack thereof and
                       suggest ways to improve it.9

                       Moreover, to gauge and maximize success of federal efforts, congressional
                       and agency officials and decisionmakers need many kinds of information.
                       First, agencies and the Congress need to know specific models that work
                       and the circumstances in which they are effective, such as specific
                       classroom activities for preventing substance abuse. Second, the Congress
                       and agencies also need to know if the program, such as the activities
                       funded by the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Community Act, is working

                       7
                        Managing for Results: Using the Results Act to Address Mission Fragmentation and Program Overlap
                       (GAO/AIMD-97-146, Aug. 29, 1997).
                       8
                       The Government Performance and Results Act: 1997 Governmentwide Implementation Will Be
                       Uneven (GAO/GGD-97-109, June 2, 1997).
                       9
                        Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’ Strategic Plans to Improve Federal Management
                       (GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-98-29, Oct. 30, 1997).


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                      nationwide. Finally, the Congress needs the ability to look across all
                      programs designed to help a given target group to assess how the
                      programs are working together and whether the overall federal effort is
                      accomplishing a mission such as preventing substance abuse among
                      youths.

                      In addition, for specific oversight purposes, congressional decisionmakers
                      sometimes want specific kinds of information. For example, this Task
                      Force has indicated that two types of information would be particularly
                      useful to its mission: knowing which federal education programs target
                      which groups and knowing what characterizes successful programs.


Areas in Which Some   Some information is available about preK-12 programs that do not appear to
Information Exists    be achieving the desired results and others that appear to be successful.
                      Secretary Riley, for example, has testified that the Department will be
                      doing more to disseminate the latest information on what works in
                      education.

                      Our clearest evidence about a lack of positive effect from federal
                      expenditures comes from one of the largest programs: title I. Title I of the
                      Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the largest federal elementary
                      and secondary education grant program. It has received much attention
                      recently because of an Education Department report showing that, overall,
                      title I programs do not ultimately reduce the effect of poverty on a
                      student’s achievement.10 For example, children in high-poverty schools
                      began school academically behind their peers in low-poverty schools and
                      could not close this gap as they progressed through school. In addition,
                      when assessed according to high academic standards, most title I students
                      failed to exhibit the reading and mathematics skills expected for their
                      respective grade levels. The study concluded that students in high-poverty
                      schools were the least able to demonstrate the expected levels of
                      academic proficiency.

                      Many of our studies sought to determine what is working and identify
                      information available or needed to make better determinations about
                      program results. For example, we have looked at promising practices or



                      10
                         Prospects: Final Report on Student Outcomes, Abt Associates, Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.: Apr. 1997).
                      The study notes, however, that although it was not able to discern a compensatory effect of chapter 1,
                      this is not really an indication of program failure. Without chapter 1 services, students may have fallen
                      further behind. (The program now called title I was called chapter 1 from the early 1980s through
                      1994.)



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strategies in several areas: school violence,11 substance abuse prevention,12
and school-to-work transition.13 In 1995, we also prepared an overview of
successful and unsuccessful practices in schools and workplaces.14 Our
reviews identified several important program characteristics: strong
program leadership, linkages between the program and the community,
and a clear and comprehensive approach.

The Department of Education also has contracts for evaluating what
works. For example, the Prospects study—in addition to providing the
data on the overall limited effect of title I—analyzed the five high-
performing, high-poverty schools in its sample of 400 schools. Although
the number of schools is too small for conclusive generalizations, the
study described the characteristics of these schools as “food for thought”
for future research on successful programs. These schools had an
experienced principal; low teacher and pupil turnover; an emphasis on
schoolwide efforts that seek to raise the achievement of every student; a
greater use of tracking by student ability; a balanced emphasis on remedial
and higher order thinking in classroom involvement; and higher parent
support and expectations than low-performing, high-poverty schools.

Similarly, the Department’s Special Strategies study of 10 promising
alternatives for title I practices, found two—the Success for All and Comer
School Development programs—to be especially successful approaches.
Overall, the study concluded that “some programs, well implemented,
appear to help students make dramatic academic progress; that pursuing
schoolwide change may be well worth the effort; that intensive early
intervention may yet be the best bet; and that after a third of a century of
research on school change, we still have not provided adequate human
and fiscal resources, appropriately targeted, to make large-scale program




11
 School Safety: Promising Initiatives for Addressing School Violence (GAO/HEHS-95-106, Apr. 25,
1995).
12
 Drug Control: Observations on Elements of the Federal Drug Control Strategy (GAO/GGD-97-42,
Mar. 14, 1997).
13
 Transition From School to Work: States Are Developing New Strategies to Prepare Students for Jobs
(GAO/HRD-93-139, Sept. 7, 1993).
14
  GAO/PEMD-95-28, Aug. 31, 1995.


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                          improvements a reliably consistent reality in schools serving students
                          placed at risk.”15, 16

Significant Information   Significant information gaps exist, however, about both programs and
Gaps                      their outcomes. Currently, no central source of information exists about
                          all the programs providing services to the same target groups among
                          different agencies or about those providing a similar service to several
                          target groups. Instead, we have had to conduct the specific analyses
                          previously described for at-risk and delinquent youth, young children, and
                          teachers—as well as others—to obtain this information.

                          Moreover, in our evaluations of specific programs—some of which get
                          billions of federal dollars each year—the most basic information is
                          lacking. For example, our study of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools
                          Program revealed that the program has no centralized information about
                          what specific services the funds pay for—much less whether the money is
                          being spent effectively. In our ongoing work on Head Start, we found that
                          no list of Head Start classrooms and their locations existed.

                          A second important theme from our report on successful and unsuccessful
                          practices was that few evaluations of successful strategies exist, and many
                          of the existing evaluations lack the methodological rigor needed to
                          determine effectiveness.17 We further documented this theme in our
                          review of Head Start evaluations.18 Since Head Start’s inception in 1965,
                          federal funding for the program has increased significantly. Since 1990,
                          Head Start funding has more than doubled—increasing from $1.5 billion in
                          fiscal year 1990 to almost $4 billion in fiscal year 1997. During this period,
                          Head Start also received additional federal funds to, among other things,
                          increase participation and improve program quality. Yet, little research has
                          focused on program impact, and the body of Head Start research available
                          is inadequate for use in drawing conclusions about the impact of the
                          current Head Start program. We do not know what is working and what is
                          not in today’s programs—the early research on Head Start, conducted over
                          20 years ago, may no longer apply to today’s program because of program

                          15
                           Urban and Suburban/Rural Special Strategies for Educating Disadvantaged Children: Findings and
                          Policy Implications of a Longitudinal Study, Department of Education (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 1997).
                          16
                           The latter point has recently been reinforced by an analysis of education productivity. See David W.
                          Grissmer, Education Productivity, Washington, D.C., Council for Educational Development and
                          Research (Washington, D.C.: 1997).
                          17
                            GAO/PEMD-95-28, Aug. 31, 1995.
                          18
                           Head Start: Research Provides Little Information on Impact of Current Program (GAO/HEHS-97-59,
                          Apr. 15, 1997).



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                                 changes and changes in the population served. We have recommended
                                 that HHS include in its research plan an assessment of the impact of regular
                                 Head Start programs. Although the Department believes that clear
                                 evidence exists of the positive impacts of Head Start services, it does have
                                 plans to evaluate the feasibility of conducting such studies.

                                 More promising, but still incomplete, is the information available for Safe
                                 and Drug-Free Schools programs.19 Information on effectiveness and
                                 impact has not been collected, although overall evaluations of the Safe and
                                 Drug-Free Schools program have not been completed. However,
                                 Education’s evaluative activities focus on broader aspects of program
                                 implementation and not the effectiveness of all Safe and Drug-Free
                                 Schools programs nationwide. Moreover, the lack of uniform information
                                 requirements on program activities and effectiveness may create a
                                 problem for federal oversight.


                                 If (1) process information is critical for program, agency, and interagency
Challenges in                    management of federal elementary and secondary programs, and
Obtaining Important              (2) outcome and impact information is needed to assess results and focus
Information                      efforts on what works, why is information not readily available? The
                                 challenges to collecting that information include

                             •   competing priorities—such as reducing paperwork and regulatory burden
                                 and promoting flexibility in program implementation—that restrict data
                                 collection and evaluation activities;
                             •   the cost of data collection;
                             •   the secondary role of education in many programs;
                             •   the difficulty of obtaining impact evaluation information (under any
                                 circumstances);
                             •   the special challenge to assessing overall effects on federal efforts
                                 involving multiple federal programs in multiple agencies; and
                             •   until recently, a lack of focus on results and accountability.


Competing Priorities Limit       The goal of having enough information for accountability and program
Data Collection Activities       management is always competing with the goals of providing local
                                 agencies with the flexibility they need to meet local needs and lessening
                                 regulatory burden. For example, the Paperwork Reduction Act has given
                                 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the responsibility of

                                 19
                                  Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Balancing Accountability With State and Local Flexibility
                                 (GAO/HEHS-98-3, Oct. 10, 1997).



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                        approving collections of information done by the federal government,
                        whether through questions, surveys, or studies. This can limit the burden
                        on state and local governments and others; however, it can also limit the
                        amount of information collected by the Department of Education.

                        Similarly, the challenge of balancing flexibility and accountability is
                        apparent in efforts to provide certain federal education funds as block
                        grants. Agencies face the challenge of balancing the flexibility block grants
                        afford states to set priorities on the basis of local need with their own need
                        to hold states accountable for achieving federal goals.20 For example, the
                        Safe and Drug-Free Schools program allows a wide range of activities and
                        permits states to define the information they collect on program activities
                        and effectiveness. With no requirement that states use consistent
                        measures, the Department faces a difficult challenge in assembling the
                        triennial state reports to develop a nationwide picture of the program’s
                        effectiveness.

                        One promising strategy as an alternative to traditional block grants is the
                        use of Performance Partnership Grants (PPG). Under PPGs, the states and
                        the federal government negotiate an arrangement that identifies specific
                        objectives and performance measures regarding outcomes and processes.
                        This approach gives the states more control over their funding decisions,
                        while encouraging them to accept greater accountability for results.21


Information Is Costly   Obtaining and analyzing information to manage and evaluate programs
                        requires significant resources. For example, the Department of
                        Education’s strategic plan cites the need to improve the quality of
                        performance data on programs and operations and to promote the
                        integration of federal programs with one another as well as with state and
                        local programs. Towards this end, in fiscal year 1997, the Department of
                        Education was appropriated about $400 million for educational research
                        and improvement. Education estimates an additional $367 million was
                        obligated by the Department for information technology for Department
                        operations.




                        20
                         For more information on ensuring accountability in block grants, see Block Grants: Issues in
                        Designing Accountability Provisions (GAO/AIMD-95-226, Sept. 1, 1995).
                        21
                          See, for example, a description of use of this approach in grants for substance abuse prevention and
                        treatment services in Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Reauthorization Issues Facing the
                        Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (GAO/T-HEHS-97-135, May 22, 1997).



                        Page 15                                                                          GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
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                          In addition, evaluation research is costly. For example, in fiscal year 1993,
                          the Department awarded 38 contracts totaling more than $20 million for
                          evaluating elementary and secondary education programs. Contract
                          amounts ranged from $38,000 to fund a program improvement conference
                          to $6.8 million for implementing the chapter 1 longitudinal study
                          (Prospects). But this accounted for only 1 year of this multiyear study: this
                          longitudinal study to assess the impact of significant participation in title I
                          programs on student and young adult outcomes cost about $25 million
                          over a 4-year period.22 The median cost for an evaluation contract was
                          about $180,000 in fiscal year 1993.

                          In our testimony last spring on challenges facing the Department of
                          Education, we noted that the Department needed more information to
                          determine how its programs are working and that additional departmental
                          resources may be needed to manage funds and provide information and
                          technical assistance.23 For example, title I is intended to promote access to
                          and equity in education for low-income students. The Congress modified
                          the program in 1994, strengthening its accountability provisions and
                          encouraging the concentration of funds to serve more disadvantaged
                          children. At this time, however, the Department does not have the
                          information it needs to determine whether the funding is being targeted as
                          intended. Although the Department has asked for $10 million in its fiscal
                          year 1998 budget request to evaluate the impact of title I, it has only just
                          begun a small study of selected school districts to examine targeting to
                          identify any necessary mid-course modifications. The ultimate impact of
                          the 1994 program modifications could be diminished if the funding
                          changes are not implemented as intended.


Many Programs Involving   Many federal programs involving education have other primary purposes.
Education Have Other      For example, the Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition program
Primary Purposes          provides school breakfast and school lunch programs. The Head Start
                          program also emphasizes health and nutrition as well as parenting skills;
                          cognitive development is only one of six program goals. In addition, Safe
                          and Drug-Free Schools Act money can be used to provide comprehensive
                          health education, whose major goals and objectives are broader than just
                          drug and violence prevention.



                          22
                             Biennial Evaluation Report, Fiscal Years 1993-1994, Department of Education (Washington D.C.:
                          1995).
                          23
                           Department of Education: Challenges in Promoting Access and Excellence in Education
                          (GAO/T-HEHS-97-99, Mar. 20, 1997).



                          Page 16                                                                         GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
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                              Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
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Impact Evaluation             Good evaluative information about program effects is difficult to obtain.
Information Is Difficult to   Each of the tasks involved—measuring outcomes, ensuring the
Obtain                        consistency and quality of data collected at various sites, establishing the
                              causal connection between outcomes and program activities, and
                              distinguishing the influence of extraneous factors—raises formidable
                              technical or logistical problems. Thus, evaluating program impact
                              generally requires a planned study and, often, considerable time and
                              expense. Program features affect the relative difficulty of getting reliable
                              impact information. The more varied the program activities and the less
                              direct the connection between the provider and the federal agency, the
                              greater the difficulty of getting comparable, reliable data on clients and
                              services. For example, a federal agency whose own employees deliver a
                              specified service can probably obtain impact data more easily than one
                              that administers grants that states then pass on to several local entities to
                              be used different ways. Also, due to the absence of contrasting
                              comparison groups, it is extremely difficult to estimate the impact of a
                              long-standing program that covers all eligible participants.24


Multiple Federal Programs     The sheer number of departments and agencies that spend federal
Managed by Different          education dollars makes it hard to aggregate existing information among
Agencies                      federal programs for certain issues or target groups. Each program may
                              have its own measures on the federal, state, and local levels. Even for a
                              single program, each state may use different measures (as mentioned
                              earlier regarding the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act
                              programs), creating difficult challenges to developing a nationwide picture
                              of the program’s effectiveness. Yet this is just 1 of the 127 programs
                              administered by 15 agencies that target at-risk and delinquent youth. If the
                              Congress wanted to know the overall effectiveness of the federal effort in
                              helping at-risk and delinquent youth, the task would be even more
                              daunting than that the Department of Education faces in developing a
                              nationwide picture of one flexibly administered program.


Past Lack of Emphasis on      Federally funded programs have historically placed a low priority on
Results and Accountability    results and accountability. Therefore, until recently, the statutory
                              framework has not been in place to bring a more disciplined approach to
                              federal management and to provide the Congress and agency
                              decisionmakers with vital information for assessing the performance and
                              costs of federal programs.

                              24
                               Program Evaluation: Improving the Flow of Information to the Congress (GAO/PEMD-95-1, Jan. 30,
                              1995).



                              Page 17                                                                     GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
Federal Education Funding: Multiple
Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
and Effectiveness Concerns




In recent years, however, governments around the world, including ours,
have faced a citizenry that is demanding that governments become more
effective and less costly.25 These two demands are driving the move to a
performance-based approach to managing public-sector organizations.

GPRA  is the centerpiece of a statutory framework provided by recent
legislation to bring needed discipline to federal agencies’ management
activities. Other elements are the expanded Chief Financial Officers Act,
the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.
These laws each responded to a need for accurate, reliable information for
executive branch and congressional decision-making. In combination, they
provide a framework for developing (1) fully integrated information about
an agency’s mission and strategic priorities, (2) performance data for
evaluating the achievement of these goals, (3) the relationship of
information technology investments to meeting performance goals, and
(4) accurate and audited financial information about the costs of meeting
the goals.

GPRA  requires that agencies clearly define their missions, establish
long-term strategic goals as well as annual goals linked to them, measure
their performance according to the goals they have set, and report on their
progress. In addition to ongoing performance monitoring, agencies are
also expected to perform discrete evaluations of their programs and to use
information obtained from these evaluations to improve their programs.
Agencies are also expected to closely coordinate with other federal
agencies whose programs contribute to similar results to ensure that goals
are consistent and, as appropriate, that program efforts are mutually
reinforcing. Each agency was required to submit to OMB and the Congress
a strategic plan explaining its mission, long-term goals, and strategies for
meeting these goals by September 30, 1997, and the Department of
Education did so.

Beginning in fiscal year 1999, agencies are to use their strategic plans to
prepare annual performance plans. These performance plans are to
include annual goals linked to the activities noted in their budget
presentations as well as the indicators the agency will use to measure
performance according to results-oriented goals. Agencies are
subsequently to report each year on the extent to which goals are met,
explain why these goals are not met, if needed, and discuss the actions

25
 See, for example, Managing for Results: Experiences Abroad Suggest Insights for Federal
Management Reform (GAO/GGD-95-120, May 2, 1995); Managing for Results: State Experiences
Provide Insights for Federal Management Reforms (GAO/GGD-95-22, Dec. 21, 1994); and Government
Reform: Goal-Setting and Performance (GAO/AIMD/GGD-95-130R, Mar. 27, 1995).



Page 18                                                                    GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
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Programs and Lack of Data Raise Efficiency
and Effectiveness Concerns




needed to meet any unmet goals. In addition, by early 1998, OMB must
submit to the Congress governmentwide performance plans based on
agencies’ plans as part of the president’s fiscal 1999 budget.

For federal education programs, this shift to a focus on results can help
inform decisionmakers about effective program models and the actual
activities and characteristics of individual federal programs. GPRA provides
an incentive for agency and program personnel to systematically assess
their programs and identify and adapt successful practices of similar
programs. The act also provides an early warning system for identifying
goals and objectives that are not being met so that agency and program
staff can replace ineffective practices with effective ones.

The act’s emphasis on coordination among similar programs and linking
results to funding also provides a way to better understand the overall
effect of federal activities and to identify programs that might be
abolished, expanded, or consolidated with others. If agencies and OMB use
the annual planning process to highlight crosscutting program issues, the
individual agency performance plans and the governmentwide
performance plan should provide the Congress with the information
needed to identify agencies and programs addressing similar missions.
Once these programs are identified, the Congress can consider the
associated policy, management, and performance implications of
crosscutting program issues. This information should also help identify the
performance and cost consequences of program fragmentation and the
implications of alternative policy and service delivery options. These
options, in turn, can lead to decisions about department and agency
missions and allocating resources among those missions.26

Achieving the full potential of GPRA is a particularly difficult challenge
because of the multiple programs and many departments involved in the
federal effort to improve public K-12 education. Meanwhile, this
challenge—combined with the current limited data available about the
programs and their effectiveness—is precisely why GPRA is needed. It is
also why we believe it holds promise to help improve the information
available to decisionmakers and, thus, the federal effort in this important
area.


Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased
to respond to any questions you or members of the Task Force may have.

26
  GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-98-29, Oct. 30, 1997.



Page 19                                                     GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
Related GAO Products


              Managing for Results: Building on Agencies’ Strategic Plans to Improve
              Federal Management (GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-98-29, Oct. 30, 1997).

              Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Balancing Accountability With State and
              Local Flexibility (GAO/HEHS-98-3, Oct. 10, 1997).

              Education Programs: Information on Major Preschool, Elementary, and
              Secondary Education Programs (GAO/HEHS-97-210R, Sept. 15, 1997).

              Education Programs: Information on Major Postsecondary Education,
              School-to-Work, and Youth Employment Programs (GAO/HEHS-97-212R, Sept.
              15, 1997).

              At-Risk and Delinquent Youth: Fiscal Year 1996 Programs (GAO/HEHS-97-211R,
              Sept. 2, 1997).

              Managing for Results: Using the Results Act to Address Mission
              Fragmentation and Program Overlap (GAO/AIMD-97-146, Aug. 29, 1997).

              Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention: Multiple Youth Programs Raise
              Questions of Efficiency and Effectiveness (GAO/T-HEHS-97-166, June 24, 1997).

              The Government Performance and Results Act: 1997 Governmentwide
              Implementation Will Be Uneven (GAO/GGD-97-109, June 2, 1997).

              Head Start: Research Provides Little Information on Impact of Current
              Program (GAO/HEHS-97-59, Apr. 15, 1997).

              Department of Education: Challenges in Promoting Access and Excellence
              in Education (GAO/T-HEHS-97-99, Mar. 20, 1997).

              Schools and Workplaces: An Overview of Successful and Unsuccessful
              Practices (GAO/PEMD-95-28, Aug. 31, 1995).

              Block Grants: Issues in Designing Accountability Provisions
              (GAO/AIMD-95-226, Sept. 1, 1995).

              Multiple Teacher Training Programs: Information on Budgets, Services,
              and Target Groups (GAO/HEHS-95-71FS, Feb. 22, 1995).




(104909)      Page 20                                                      GAO/T-HEHS-98-46
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