Climate Change:

Federal Reports on Climate Change Funding Should Be Clearer and More Complete

GAO-05-461: Published: Aug 25, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2005.

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The Congress has required the administration to report annually on federal spending on climate change. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reports funding in four categories: technology (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), science (to better understand the climate), international assistance (to help developing countries), and tax expenditures (to encourage reductions in emissions). The Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), which coordinates many agencies' activities, reports only on science. To measure funding, OMB and CCSP use budget authority, the authority provided in law to enter into financial obligations that will result in government outlays. GAO was asked to examine federal climate change funding for 1993 through 2004, as reported by both agencies, including (1) how total funding and funding by category changed and whether funding data are comparable over time and (2) how funding by agency changed and whether funding data are comparable over time.

Federal funding for climate change increased from $2.4 billion in 1993 to $5.1 billion in 2004 (116 percent), as reported by OMB, or from $3.3 billion to $5.1 billion (55 percent) after adjusting for inflation. During this period, inflation-adjusted funding increased for technology and science, but decreased for international assistance. The share for technology increased (36 to 56 percent), while the shares for science and international assistance decreased (56 to 39 percent and 9 to 5 percent, respectively). However, it is unclear whether funding changed as much as reported because modifications in the format and content of OMB reports limit the comparability of funding data over time. For example, OMB reported that it expanded the definitions of some accounts to include more activities, but did not specify how it changed the definitions. Also, while OMB's totals for science funding were generally comparable to CCSP's totals, the more detailed data in CCSP reports were difficult to compare over time because CCSP introduced new categorization methods without explaining how they related to the previous methods. OMB officials stated that changes in their reports were due, in part, to the short timeline for completing them, and that it has not been required to follow a consistent reporting format from one year to the next. The Director of CCSP said that its reports changed as the program evolved. GAO was unable to compare climate-related tax expenditures over time because OMB reported data on proposed, but not on existing tax expenditures. For example, while OMB reported no funding for existing climate-related tax expenditures in 2004, GAO identified four such tax expenditures in 2004, including revenue loss estimates of $330 million to develop certain renewable energy sources. OMB reported that 12 of the 14 agencies that funded climate change programs in 2004 increased such funding between 1993 and 2004, but unexplained changes in the reports' contents limit the comparability of data on funding by agency. GAO found that OMB reported funding for certain agencies in some years but not in others, without explanation. For example, OMB reported funding of $83 million for the Department of Defense in 2003, but did not list any such funding in prior reports. OMB told GAO that it relied on agency budget offices to submit accurate data.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB and CCSP should from year-to-year, each use the same format for presenting data, to the extent that they may do so and remain in compliance with reporting requirements.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB and CCSP should from year-to-year, each use the same format for presenting data, to the extent that they may do so and remain in compliance with reporting requirements.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB and CCSP should explain changes in report content or format when they are introduced.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2005, GAO recommended that OMB should explain changes in report content or format when they are introduced. In its April 2006 report to Congress entitled, "Federal Climate Change Expenditures," OMB explicitly acknowledged GAO's recommendation and included a section of the report entitled "1.3 Reporting Changes." In this report, OMB noted that "where appropriate, reporting changes have been footnoted." OMB's May 2007 report to Congress similarly noted changes in report content and format in footnotes.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB and CCSP should explain changes in report content or format when they are introduced.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2005, GAO recommended that the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) should explain changes in report content or format when they are introduced. Funding data tables in CCSP's subsequent Our Changing Planet reports (November 2006, October 2007, July 2008) have used the same format to present funding data. Changes from prior years are described in footnotes.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB and CCSP should provide and maintain a crosswalk comparing new and old report structures when changes in report format are introduced.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB and CCSP should provide and maintain a crosswalk comparing new and old report structures when changes in report format are introduced.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2005, GAO recommended that OMB should provide and maintain a crosswalk comparing new and old report structures when changes in report format are introduced. In Appendix B of its April 2006 report to Congress entitled, "Federal Climate Change Expenditures," OMB explicitly acknowledged GAO's recommendation and noted that "to address GAO's recommendations, reporting changes have been noted in table footnotes throughout this report and a summary table of climate funding from 2003 through 2007 has been provided." OMB's May 2007 report to Congress provides a similar Appendix B that summarizes changes from 2003 through 2008.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB should include information on existing climate-related tax expenditures in its reports.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2005, GAO recommended that OMB include information on existing climate-related tax expenditures in its reports. In its April 2006 report to Congress entitled, "Federal Climate Change Expenditures," OMB explicitly acknowledged GAO's recommendation and noted that "this report now includes existing tax expenditures that could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB should use the same criteria for determining which tax expenditures to include as it uses for determining which accounts to include.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB issued its 2007 Federal Climate Change Expenditure Report to Congress in April of 2006. Based in part upon our work, OMB implemented GAO's recommendation by using consistent selection criteria to identify which expenditures and accounts to include in its report.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB should request that the Congress clarify whether future reports should be presented in terms of expenditures and obligations or in terms of budget authority, and if the Congress prefers the former, OMB should request the necessary time to prepare reports on that basis.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Congress and the public can consistently track federal climate change funding or spending over time, OMB should, if it continues to report budget authority rather than expenditures and obligations, clearly identify the information reported as budget authority throughout the report.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On November 2, 2005, the Conference Report on the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs appropriations act (H. Rept. 109-265) cited GAO's report and required OMB to report using budget authority, obligations, and expenditures. In April of 2006, OMB issued its 2007 Federal Climate Change Expenditures Report to the Congress. The report addresses GAO's recommendations and the associated Congressional requirement regarding budget metrics. Specifically, OMB clearly labels data throughout the report with respect to the budget metrics presented (e.g., FY 2005 actual budget authority, FY 2006 enacted budget authority, FY 2006 obligations, FY 2006 Outlays, and FY 2007 Proposed Budget Authority), and reporting changes have been footnoted.

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