Coastal Zone Management:

Measuring Program's Effectiveness Continues to Be a Challenge

GAO-08-1045: Published: Sep 12, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2008.

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In 1972, Congress enacted the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) to protect the nation's coastlines from growing demands associated with residential, recreational, commercial, and industrial uses. The act encourages coastal states and territories to develop programs to manage and balance economic development and coastal protection. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administers the program and provides financial and technical assistance to participating states. GAO was asked to provide information on (1) NOAA's methodology for awarding CZMA grants to the states, (2) the extent to which NOAA has processes for ensuring that grants are used in a manner that is consistent with the CZMA, and (3) the extent to which NOAA's state program evaluations and performance measurement system enable the agency to assess the effectiveness of the National Coastal Zone Management Program. GAO reviewed relevant laws, regulations, and documents and interviewed NOAA and the 34 state coastal program officials.

NOAA awards coastal program grants to states generally according to the requirements of the CZMA and congressional direction provided through the annual appropriations process. For the majority of grant funding awarded by NOAA, CZMA regulations require the agency to provide each state a base amount and a proportional share of funding based on a state's shoreline miles and coastal population. For more than 20 years, because of a congressionally mandated cap of $2 million per state, NOAA has had to redistribute funds from those states whose proportional share would have exceeded the cap to other states whose grant amount is under the cap. As a result, states with longer shorelines or larger coastal populations have essentially received a static level of funding, while states with shorter shorelines or smaller coastal populations have seen increases greater than they likely would have received without the cap. In addition, NOAA's present practices for awarding coastal zone grants deviate somewhat from its regulations. For example, NOAA is not using a competitive process for awarding coastal zone enhancement grants as required. NOAA has established processes to ensure that state grant activities comply with the requirements of the CZMA. Specifically, NOAA requires states to submit draft grant proposals each year that include a detailed narrative and budget for each project proposed for funding. NOAA reviews the states' grant applications and negotiates the terms of work and management of the projects before awarding the grant. NOAA officials told us that, as part of this review, they ensure that the states' grant requests are consistent with the goals outlined in the CZMA. After the funds are awarded, NOAA monitors the states' progress through semiannual reports that the states must submit. NOAA's periodic evaluations of states' coastal management programs and its performance measurement system have weaknesses that limit the agency's ability to determine the effectiveness of the National Coastal Zone Management Program. NOAA's evaluations of state programs are of limited value because they do not provide the agency with independent information to assess program performance against performance goals. NOAA's recently developed performance measurement system is also of limited value because it lacks measurable targets, a process for ensuring data reliability, or measures for assessing state programs' effectiveness in meeting all CZMA goals. Furthermore, although NOAA plans to use both the results from its periodic evaluations of state programs and its new performance measurement system to determine the effectiveness of the National Coastal Zone Management Program, the agency has not yet developed an approach that would allow it to integrate the information from these sources to assess progress at the national level.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: To be determined

    Matter: In reauthorizing the CZMA, Congress may wish to clarify whether it would like eligible states to receive equal amounts of funding under the coastal zone management grants or whether these grants should be proportional and reflect each state's respective shoreline miles and coastal population. If Congress decides that states should receive coastal zone management grants that are proportional to each state's varying shoreline miles and coastal population, then Congress may wish to consider raising or eliminating the cap.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NOAA adjusted the formula that it uses to distribute coastal zone management grant funding to the states. The adjustments bring the agency's practices into alignment with its regulations that specify that each state will receive a coastal zone management grant that is based on (1)a minimum share plus (2) a proportional share of the remaining funds. The revised formula was used to calculate and distribute coastal zone management grants for FY 2011. In addition, NOAA reviewed its regulations for its Coastal Zone Enhancement Grant Program to determine opportunities to include a competitive component. Based on this review, NOAA developed a "Projects of Special Merit" competition program that will be part of the Coastal Zone Enhancement Program cycle for fiscal years 2011 - 2015. NOAA solicited proposals for funding under the competitive program in a January 6, 2011 announcement

    Recommendation: The Administrator of NOAA should review and revise as needed its regulations and grant award practices for the coastal zone management and enhancement programs to ensure that they are in alignment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NOAA's FY 2012 funding guidance to state coastal zone programs included a requirement that each state coastal zone program establish specific targets and measures. According to NOAA's guidance, establishing performance measures and targets is an effort to include an additional quantitative data point in evaluations, an additional reference to inform program review and discussion, and to provide greater accountability. The guidance requires each coastal zone management program to establish three performance measures and an associated target that are linked to goals and objectives that the program has identified as reflecting important priorities of its program. These targets and measures, and progress toward them, will be one element reviewed during NOAA's evaluation of the state's coastal zone management program and will provide an additional source of data to help inform the overall evaluation of a state program as well as providing a quantitative reference for each program about how well it is meeting the goals and objectives that it has identified as important.

    Recommendation: To strengthen NOAA's periodic evaluations of state coastal management programs, NOAA should establish performance goals so that evaluators have criteria for evaluating state coastal programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2009, NOAA issued program guidance that revised the role of state coastal management officials in the review process. These revisions provide the agency with clear and defined roles for state coastal management officials in the review process and help to ensure evaluations of state programs are independent. Specifically, NOAA now requires meetings and interviews with stakeholders, in which the state coastal program is discussed, to be conducted without participation from the state coastal program staff.

    Recommendation: To strengthen NOAA's periodic evaluations of state coastal management programs, NOAA should ensure that evaluations are independent by revising the role of state coastal management officials in the review process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2011, NOAA began to work with state coastal program managers to identify program goals, objectives, measures, and targets. The agency has a target date of April 2013 for state programs to start reporting on progress towards meeting identified targets.

    Recommendation: To enhance NOAA's ability to evaluate the overall progress of the National Coastal Zone Management Program, NOAA should create targets for performance measures already developed that can be used to assess the effectiveness of the national program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2010, NOAA issued program guidance for state and territory coastal management programs that includes data documentation requirements that outline the data that state coastal zone management programs must submit on the programs and projects that they have undertaken to implement the national goals of the Coastal Zone Management Act. These data documentation requirements provide the agency with information about the source of data reported by each state coastal zone management program and enable the agency to verify reliability and consistency of the data being submitted. In addition, NOAA now requires the Coastal Zone Management Specialist assigned to each state's coastal zone management program to review and accept the performance measurement data submitted by the state. The agency also issued internal guidance for the specialists' review process in July 2010. According to NOAA, the guidance was developed to ensure consistency during the specialists' review and improve NOAA's ability to ensure the reliability of the data being submitted as well as ensuring that state coastal zone management programs are meeting reporting requirements.

    Recommendation: To enhance NOAA's ability to evaluate the overall progress of the National Coastal Zone Management Program, NOAA should develop appropriate internal controls for verifying that the data received for the performance measurement system are reliable and consistent across participating states.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to NOAA, the agency evaluated a range of measures to assess state programs' effectiveness in improving processes, such as government coordination and decision-making, and was unable to identify any. NOAA does not intend to take further action to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To enhance NOAA's ability to evaluate the overall progress of the National Coastal Zone Management Program, NOAA should develop measures to assess state programs' effectiveness in improving processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2009, NOAA created a workgroup of state coastal zone management program representatives to, among other things, investigate and develop alternative approaches to integrate the qualitative data from its periodic state evaluations with the quantitative data in its performance measurement system. According to NOAA officials, the agency has established a target date of December 2012 to select and begin implementing an approach.

    Recommendation: To strengthen NOAA's ability to determine the effectiveness of the National Coastal Zone Management Program, NOAA should develop an approach to integrate the qualitative data from its periodic state evaluations with the quantitative data in its performance measurement system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

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