Assessment of Whether the Federal Grant Process Is Being Politicized During Election Years

GGD-81-41: Published: Dec 31, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 31, 1980.

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GAO studied the possible politicization of the Federal grant award process in election years as assertions have been made that Federal grants are awarded to achieve political purposes. GAO directed its study toward discretionary programs where the establishment of distributional criteria is usually delegated to the executive branch. The objective of the study was to test whether indications of politicization were apparent, based on an analysis of gross patterns of assistance awards in a 10-year period which covered most of the campaign activities of three national elections. Work was limited to six key States which collectively accounted for 190 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a national election. The database developed involved about 4,000 assistance awards including public works grants, technical assistance, planning grants, and economic assistance. GAO analyzed the total dollar amount awarded in each of the six States by year, the percent of dollars awarded in the six States by year to the total amount awarded nationwide, the number of grants awarded in the six States by year, and the percent of dollars awarded in the six States by month in the three election years.

GAO found that considerable fluctuations occurred in the dollars awarded annually in each State. These fluctuations appeared to be random and related to overall changes in program funding levels rather than election years. The proportion of dollars awarded in each State remained relatively constant and there was no apparent trend which coincided with election years. A close relationship existed between numbers of grants awarded and funding levels, indicating that the average dollar value of individual project grants remained fairly constant. Fluctuations which did occur could be traced to a small number of large dollar grants awarded for purposes not relating to election year politics. There was no apparent evidence of an award pattern designed to yield political benefit during primary and national elections. The awarding of grants showed a dominant end-of-year spending pattern. If election year political influences were a factor in the distribution of grant awards, they were very insignificant compared to the end-of-year spending phenomenon. If there was any truth to the allegation of the politicization of the grant award process, it was that grants which would have been awarded in the normal course of events were being timed and orchestrated to gain maximum political effect. The GAO analysis did not reveal any apparent differences in award patterns in election versus nonelection years. Even by an in-depth review of individual cases, establishing conclusive proof that an abuse had occurred would probably be very difficult.

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