Community Services Block Grant Program:

HHS Should Improve Oversight by Focusing Monitoring and Assistance Efforts on Areas of High Risk

GAO-06-627: Published: Jun 29, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 2006.

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The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) provided over $600 million to states in fiscal year 2005 to support over 1,000 local antipoverty agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services's (HHS) Office of Community Services (OCS) is primarily responsible for overseeing this grant; states have oversight responsibility for local agencies. At the request of Congress, GAO is providing information on (1) HHS's compliance with federal laws and standards in overseeing states, (2) five states' efforts to monitor local agencies, and (3) federal CSBG training and technical assistance funds targeted to local agencies with problems and the results of the assistance. States were selected based on varying numbers of local agencies and grant amounts and recommendations from associations, among other criteria.

In a February 2006 letter (GAO-06-373R), GAO notified OCS that it lacked effective policies, procedures, and controls to help ensure that it fully met legal requirements for monitoring states and internal control standards. At that time, GAO also offered recommendations for improvements. OCS has responded that it intends to take actions to address each of those recommendations. In addition, GAO found that OCS did not routinely collect key information, such as results of state monitoring reports, or systematically use available information, such as state performance data, to assess the states' CSBG management risks and target monitoring efforts to states with the highest risk. All five states we visited conducted on-site monitoring of local agencies with varying frequency and performed additional oversight efforts. Two state offices visited each local agency at least once between 2003 and 2005, while the other three states visited local agencies less frequently. State officials we visited had different views on what they must do to meet the statutory requirement to visit local agencies at least once during each 3-year period, and OCS has not issued guidance interpreting this requirement. Officials in all five states also provided oversight in addition to monitoring through such activities as reviewing reports and coordinating with other federal and state programs. OCS targeted some training and technical assistance funds to local grantees with financial or management problems, but information on the results of this assistance is limited. In fiscal years 2002 through 2005, OCS designated between $666,000 and $1 million of its annual $10 million training and technical assistance funds to local agencies with problems, but had no process for strategically allocating these funds to areas of greatest need. In addition, the final reports on awarded grants indicated that some local agencies had improved, but the reports provided no information on the outcomes of assistance for nearly half of the 46 local agencies that GAO identified as being served.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency stated that, in fiscal year 2009, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) grantees, including those who receive grantees monitored by the Office of Community Services (OCS), will start using the Standard Form-Performance Progress Report (SF-PPR) for required performance progress reports. According to OCS, the SF-PPR will begin for all awards (new and continuing) made by ACF in fiscal year 2009. At a minimum, grantees will be required to submit the ACF's Office of Grants Management's version of the SF-PPR coversheet and SF-PPR Appendix B Program Indicators, which are specific to ACF performance progress reports. In July 2010, ACF provided us with a copy of the SF-PPR which includes the mentioned appendix that requires grantees to report on performance progress to date and to provide a final performance report within 90 days of the project's completion. Furthermore, the form provides details on what information is expected to be in the performance reports, including major activities and accomplishments and problems faced, and defines what is meant by these expectations.

    Recommendation: In order to provide better oversight of state agencies, the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Conduct should establish reporting guidance for training and technical grants that would allow OCS to obtain information on the outcomes of grant-funded activities for local agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Community Services issued an information memorandum on October 10, 2006, to state CSBG agencies on their responsibilities to monitor local agencies, and updated it on November 27, 2006. In this memo, OCS stated that state agencies must monitor eligible entities no later than three years after the last compliance review and illustrated its expectations by stating that if an compliance review had occurred in September 2005 that the next review should occur by September 2008.

    Recommendation: In order to provide better oversight of state agencies, the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families should issue guidance on state responsibilities with regard to complying with the requirement to monitor local agencies at least once during each 3-year time period.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services' Inspector General (IG)issued a report on CSBG's progress in implementing six recommendations from this report and the related agency correspondence. The IG conducted this review in response to the CSBG program being appropriated $1 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. By the time of the IG report issuance, the Office of Community Services (OCS) established written policies and procedures to ensure that on-site monitoring was focused on states with the highest risk. According to these policies and procedures, OCS's future triennial schedules for state assessments will place a priority on assessing states at highest risk.

    Recommendation: In order to provide better oversight of state agencies, the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families should establish policies and procedures to help ensure that its on-site monitoring is focused on states with highest risk.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services' Inspector General (IG)issued a report on CSBG's progress in implementing six recommendations from this report and the related agency correspondence. The IG conducted this review in response to the CSBG program being appropriated $1 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The IG found that the Office of Community Services (OCS) had implemented this recommendation. Specifically, OCS had used six factors for conducting a risk-based assessment of state CSBG. These factors were: (1) the number of local grantees identified by a state as vulnerable, in crisis, terminated, or having corrected past problems; (2) the complexity each state's monitoring efforts in relation to the state's physical size, number of eligible grantees, and personnel allocations to the CSGB program; (3) poverty in the state; (4) the total number of people served the grantees in the state in relation to the total number of eligible grantees in the state; (5) Office of Management and Budget Circular A-133 audit reports; and (6) the timeliness of state CSGB plans. This IG performance audit was conducted in accordance with GAGAS.

    Recommendation: In order to provide better oversight of state agencies, the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Conduct should conduct a risk-based assessment of state CSBG programs by systematically collecting and using information. This information may include programmatic and performance data, state and local Single Audit findings, information on state monitoring efforts and local agencies with problems, and monitoring results from other related federal programs that may be obtained by effectively using the memorandum of understanding with the Head Start program and other collaborative efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2007, HHS stated that the Office of Community Services (OCS) worked with the Monitoring and Assessment Task Force -- a consortium of federal, state and local officials associated with Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) programs -- to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for providing training and technical assistance to state and local CSBG-funded entities that focus on Program Leadership, Program Integrity, and Program Accountability. OCS' "Training, Technical Assistance, and Capacity Building for the Community Services Block Grant Program" (July 26, 2007) includes the OCS Strategic Plan for CSBG Program Improvement - FY 2007-2009, which OCS noted was developed in response to GAO's recommendation. The strategic plan briefly focuses on improvement initiatives, such as training and technical assistance funding accountability. In July 2010, HHS provided us with a copy of this strategic plan, which explicitly mentions that it was developed in response to our recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to provide better oversight of state agencies, the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Conduct should implement a strategic plan that will focus its training and technical assistance efforts on the areas in which states face the greatest needs. OCS should make use of risk assessments and its reviews of past training and technical assistance efforts to inform the strategic plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families

 

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