Results Act could prevent overlap, GAO says

Federal agencies that oversee early childhood programs could better serve the public if they heeded the Government Performance and Results Act, a General Accounting Office auditor testified last week.

In 1993, when the Results Act was passed, more than 90 programs at 11 federal agencies offered early childhood services. A requirement in the Results Act that agencies develop strategic and performance plans should be used to prevent such program overlap, Marnie S. Shaul, a GAO health and education analyst, told a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on government management Thursday.

"Mission fragmentation and program overlap are widespread, and programs are not always well coordinated. This wastes scarce funds, frustrates taxpayers, and limits overall program effectiveness," Shaul said.

A review of the two agencies most responsible for early childhood programs, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, found that both had a long way to go in coordinating their efforts. While the 1999 Education performance plan acknowledged the necessity of working with HHS's Head Start program and others, it lacked the details to make the plan work, Shaul said.

Similarly, HHS's Administration for Children and Families (ACF) failed to adequately explain how it would work to avoid program overlap with other agencies in its 1999 performance plan. ACF also did not specify what performance measures it would use to achieve its goals, Shaul testified.

Although some effort has been made to coordinate cross-cutting programs, agencies can do a better job, Shaul said. The Results Act is a valuable tool for this effort, Shaul said, because its emphasis on results "implies that federal programs contributing to the same or similar outcomes are expected to be closely coordinated, consolidated, or streamlined."

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