Federal Advisory Committee Act:

General Services Administration's Oversight of Advisory Committees

GGD-98-124: Published: Jun 15, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether the General Services Administration (GSA), through its Committee Management Secretariat, was carrying out its oversight responsibilities under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), focusing on whether GSA had: (1) ensured that federal advisory committees were established with complete charters and justification letters; (2) comprehensively reviewed each advisory committee annually; (3) submitted annual reports on advisory committees to the President in a timely manner; and (4) ensured that agencies prepared follow-up reports to Congress on recommendations by presidential advisory committees.

GAO noted that: (1) compared to when GAO last reported in 1988, little had changed during the period it studied on how the Secretariat carried out its FACA responsibilities; (2) with 963 federal advisory committees, 57 sponsoring agencies, and submissions for each committee during fiscal year (FY) 1997, GSA's Committee Management Secretariat reviewed a large amount of paperwork for the purpose of ensuring that sponsoring agencies were: (a) following the requirements placed upon them by FACA; and (b) implementing GSA regulations; (3) the Secretariat conducted these reviews while performing other duties, such as providing formal training to federal employees who were directly involved with the operations of advisory committees and collaborating with an interagency committee on advisory committee management; (4) nevertheless, the Secretariat was responsible under FACA and GSA regulations for ensuring that those requirements were all fulfilled; (5) GSA, in consultation with the agencies, did not ensure that advisory committees were established with complete charters and justification letters as required by FACA or GSA regulations; (6) 36 percent of the charters and 38 percent of the letters GAO reviewed did not contain one or more items required by FACA or GSA regulations; (7) GSA did not independently assess, as it conducted the annual comprehensive reviews required by FACA, whether committees should be continued, merged, or terminated; (8) although GSA collected the FY 1996 annual reports, GSA officials said they accepted the data in them without further review; (9) GAO found this acceptance to be the norm even when information in a FY 1996 annual report should reasonably lead to further inquiries; (10) GSA did not submit most of its FACA annual reports to the President in time for him to meet the statutory reporting date to Congress nor did it ensure that FACA-required follow-up reports on presidential advisory committee recommendations were prepared for Congress; (11) Secretariat officials told GAO that agencies must take greater responsibility for preparing complete charters and justification letters and committee annual reports for sending follow-up reports to Congress; and (12) FACA has given the Secretariat responsibilities for ensuring that agencies satisfy the requirements for forming and operating advisory committees, and the Secretariat is not carrying out these responsibilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA had agreed to implement the recommendation and has completed action on all three facets of the recommendation. These actions have included revising its database to include a checklist of required data for committee charters and justification letters, providing feedback to agencies on their annual report submissions, and reissuing guidance to agencies on the required follow-up reports to Congress on presidential committee recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, should direct the Committee Management Secretariat to fully carry out the responsibilities assigned to it by FACA in a timely and accurate manner. In particular, the Secretariat should: (1) consult with the agencies to ensure that the charters and justification letters for federal advisory committees contain the information required by law or regulation; (2) follow up with agencies when their annual reports contain information that raises questions about whether committees should be continued; and (3) ensure that agencies file the required follow-up reports to Congress on presidential advisory committee recommendations.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs introduced legislation (S. 2228) in the 104th Congress to amend the Federal Advisory Committee Act which, at the request of GSA, would move the reporting date of the President's annual report on advisory committees to Congress for the previous fiscal year from December 31 to March 15.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, GSA, should direct the Committee Management Secretariat to make the necessary arrangements with agencies to submit its annual report to the President on time or follow through with its intention to ask Congress to move the reporting date.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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