Federal Advisory Committee Act:

Views of Committee Members and Agencies on Federal Advisory Committee Issues

GGD-98-147: Published: Jul 9, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the views of federal advisory committees and federal agencies on Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirements.

GAO noted that: (1) overall, the views presented by both the committee members and agencies GAO surveyed provided useful insights into the general operation of FACA as Congress explores possible improvements to FACA; (2) the responses of committee members to a series of questions, when taken together, conveyed a generally shared perception that advisory committees were providing balanced and independent advice and recommendations; (3) although the percentage differed by question, 85 percent to 93 percent of the respondents said their committees were balanced in membership, had access to the information necessary to make informed decisions, and were never asked by agency officials to give advice or make recommendations based on inadequate data or analysis or contrary to the general consensus among committee members; (4) FACA requirements were considered to be more useful than burdensome by 10 of the 19 agencies; (5) for the other nine agencies, the requirements were considered either as burdensome as they were useful or somewhat more burdensome than useful; (6) the ceilings on discretionary advisory committees imposed by Executive Order 12838 did not deter a majority--12 of 19--of the agencies from seeking to establish such committees, according to their responses; (7) agencies identified a total of 26 advisory committees mandated by Congress that they believed should be terminated; (8) this number represented about 6 percent of congressionally mandated advisory committees in existence during fiscal year (FY) 1997; (9) the overall responses GAO received from committee members on the issue of public participation were mixed; (10) about 27 percent of the respondents said that all of their committee meetings were open to the public, and 37 percent said that all of their committee meetings were closed to the public; (10) advisory committee meetings can be closed to the public to protect such things as trade secrets or information of a personal nature; (11) most of the agencies--16 of the 19--did not believe that FACA had prohibited them from soliciting or receiving input from the public on issues or concerns of the agency independent of the FACA process; (12) still, some agencies were reluctant to get input from parties that were not chartered as FACA advisory committees because of concern that this could lead to possible litigation over compliance with FACA requirements; and (13) more explicitly, six agencies reported that they decided not to obtain outside input at least eight times during FY 1995 through FY 1997 because of the possibility of future litigation over compliance with FACA.

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