Report cites mixed results in agency collaboration

Some agencies with overlapping missions are collaborating with one another, but others lack coordination and risk duplicating efforts, according to two new reports from the General Accounting Office.

GAO used 2001 fiscal performance reports and 2003 performance plans to assess the level of cooperation among agencies responsible for managing the country's borders, wetlands, and programs related to drug control, flood mitigation and insurance, wildfire management, poverty, the regulation of financial institutions, and public health systems.

Past GAO studies have shown that agencies tend to go about their own work with little thought for collaboration, resulting in widespread "mission fragmentation" and program overlap, the reports (GAO-03-321 and GAO-03-320) said.

The previous GAO reports recommended that agencies use the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act as a framework to ensure that agencies with overlapping tasks work toward consistent goals and use compatible methods for measuring the success of government programs.

"Coordination among federal programs with related responsibilities is essential to efficiently and effectively meet national concerns," wrote recently retired Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., in a letter commissioning one of the reports. "Uncoordinated program efforts can waste scarce funds, confuse and frustrate program customers and limit the overall effectiveness of the federal effort."

Most agencies mentioned coordination efforts in their 2001 fiscal performance reports and discussed plans for further coordination in 2003, according to GAO. For instance, the Interior Department and the Forest Service, which is part of the Agriculture Department, included joint wildfire fighting efforts in their performance plans. Their coordination resulted in the development of a shared National Fire Plan and 10-year Comprehensive Strategy.

In addition, the Justice and Treasury departments jointly developed the Border Coordination Initiative, which the Customs Service credits for improved border control efforts, including more comprehensive training for agents and better sharing of intelligence.

But not all agencies responsible for the same federal programs are cooperating with one another, the report said.

For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Commerce Department, which share responsibility for wetlands with three other agencies, failed to note any collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, Defense or Interior departments.

The agencies included in both reports agreed with GAO's findings.

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