The report was prepared for Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

The report was prepared for Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. Drew Angerer / AP file photo

GAO Maps Out Agency Spending on Climate Change

OMB disagrees with recommendation for special review of program overlap.

In a broad-ranging compendium requested by one of Congress’s most vocal skeptics about climate change, the Government Accountability Office on Wednesday released an agency-by-agency breakdown of spending related to the politically divisive topic.

The report, which tracks spending since 1993 by agency, category and program, was submitted on April 30 to Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, who authorized its release 30 days later.

It comes as the Trump administration has been reversing many of the Obama administration’s policies and information displays that stressed a human role in observable changes in climate that lend an urgency for to environmentalists’ calls for protective action.

GAO took note that the first Trump climate funding reports have not included the climate-change risk calculations that Obama’s final budgets did.

In what it describes as a “decentralized approach” to climate-related spending, GAO analyzed data from the Office of Management and Budget and made recommendations it said would help OMB better coordinate and reduce duplication.

Since 1993, agencies have spent more than $154 billion for “activities to understand and address climate change,” a push that has risen in recent years from about $2.4 billion across 10 agencies in fiscal 1993 to about $13.2 billion across 19 agencies in proposed budget authority for fiscal 2017. In the past seven years, for example, annual funding for technology to reduce carbon emissions increased by about $3.5 billion.

The lion’s share (89 percent) of spending on climate change issues is done by six agencies GAO isolated—the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy and Agriculture, along with NASA and the National Science Foundation—in 18 “primary purpose” climate change programs.

The coordinating role in the past has been played by the White House Executive Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (though the Trump White House groups declined to comment on a draft of the new report).

Congress has required appropriations bills to segregate funds addressing climate change since 2010, and OMB over the years has responded to many of GAO’s recommendations for greater precision, the report said.

But OMB could improve agency understanding of the risks climate trends pose to their budgets, the auditors said, citing spending categories such as disaster assistance, flood insurance and crop insurance. “By providing, concurrent with any future climate change funding reports to Congress, funding information for federal programs with fiscal exposure to climate change,” GAO wrote, “OMB would have better assurance that it was providing policymakers with the information necessary for them to make decisions about spending trade-offs.” Examples it gave included “costs to repair, replace, and improve the weather-related resilience of federally-funded property and resources.”

Though its report included appendices that track climate-related spending at all agencies going back 25 years, GAO cautioned that its conclusions based on a deeper review of the six main spending agencies “cannot be generalized to those of departments or agencies not included in our review.”

GAO recommended that OMB “enhance” the information it provides to Congress, as it has recommended in the past, on fiscal exposures and risk due to climate uncertainty. And it recommended that OMB provide a special detailed inventory of climate change-related programs that appear fragmented, overlapping or duplicative.

OMB accepted the budget numbers but disagreed with the recommendations, saying the level of detail it provides Congress is sufficient. “OMB already assesses potential fragmentation, overlap, and duplication as part of its budget process, contained most recently in its Major Savings and Reform volume of the President’s budget,” the budget agency told GAO. Additionally, the OMB staff said, the United States already prepares an inventory of federal climate-related activities as part of its Climate Action Report to the United Nations.

GAO stuck to its view, and said its auditors “are encouraged by OMB staff’s statement that the agency is taking our previous recommendations on federal program inventories into account as part of its implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 and the GRPA Modernization Act of 2010.”

Rep. Smith’s staff did not respond to Government Executive inquires by publication time.

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