Results Act

Observations on Federal Science Agencies Gao ID: T-RCED-97-220 July 30, 1997

This testimony focuses on progress made by six agencies--the Departments of Commerce, Energy, and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and NASA--in fulfilling the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act. GAO also discusses interagency coordination of crosscutting science programs, activities, and functions that are similar or complementary to those of other federal agencies. In the science and technology area, where more than 20 agencies spent $60 billion in fiscal year 1996, the potential for unnecessary overlap is particularly great and close coordination is essential.

GAO noted that: (1) overall, the six agencies' draft strategic plans show progress toward meeting the purposes of the act; however, only one of the six agencies' plans contains all six of the act's critical elements; (2) in addition, some of the completed elements were insufficient; (3) for example, the goals and objectives were frequently results-oriented, but it was unclear in all of the plans how some of the goals would be measured; (4) developing effective performance measures for these program goals will be a major challenge for science agencies; (5) futhermore, five of the six plans did not include information on past and future program evaluations and the one inclusion could be improved; (6) because the draft plans do not contain all six elements, the Congress is missing critical pieces of information for its consultations with the agencies; (7) under Office of Management and Budget guidance, the agencies' final submission should include a summary of consultation efforts, including crosscutting activities; (8) currently, the agencies' draft plans generally do not address how crosscutting activities correspond with those of other agencies; (9) in addition, the plans generally do not address whether such shared responsibilities were coordinated in the development of the draft plans; (10) however, some of the agencies' missions and goals do involve or overlap those of other agencies; (11) despite the fact that the draft plans do not reflect coordination activities, several agencies have initiated efforts to coordinate crosscutting research programs governmentwide; (12) coordination has occurred primarily at the program level rather than at the senior management level which is necessary to ensure consistency of program objectives among agencies; and (13) in GAO's opinion, recognition of such coordination activities as part of the final submission will be useful to the Congress in making funding decisions that involve similar or complementary science programs.

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