National Service Programs:

Role of State Commissions in Implementing the AmeriCorps Program

HEHS-97-49: Published: Feb 20, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 1997.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed state commissions' capacity to absorb additional AmeriCorps program management responsibility, focusing on: (1) the statutory role of state commissions; (2) state commission operations, including project-level outputs from national service projects within their purview, such as participant enrollment and expenditure data; and (3) extending state commissions' administrative and oversight role over AmeriCorps and correspondingly decreasing the federal government's role.

GAO found that: (1) by assigning state commissions significant responsibilities, the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, in effect, emphasizes state control of the AmeriCorps program; (2) these responsibilities include developing a statewide service infrastructure, selecting and funding AmeriCorps projects, and monitoring and evaluating projects; (3) state commissions directly control two-thirds of the federal funds available for AmeriCorps projects; (4) for fiscal year 1995, state commissions received $131 million of $192 million available in federal funding; (5) GAO's review of seven state commissions indicated that all are performing program management activities envisioned by the act, but vary in terms of their infrastructures and project outputs; (6) operational resources of the state commissions in GAO's sample varied widely; (7) for selected projects, outputs also varied both within and among the state commissions; (8) officials from the seven state commissions agreed on the need for a federal role in AmeriCorps, but disagreed on how much federal control is desirable; (9) on one hand, all officials agreed that only a federal entity can provide AmeriCorps with a national identity, which they considered essential; (10) on the other hand, they disagreed on the role the Corporation for National and Community Service should play in allocating AmeriCorps funding grants; (11) senior Corporation officials agreed with state officials that a federal role is necessary to provide the AmeriCorps program with a national identity; (12) they also stated that a federal role is necessary to conduct performance evaluations of national service projects and state commissions; (13) these officials acknowledged that changes to the funding allocation process might better achieve the Corporation's quality control objectives and said they may recommend changes to Congress when it considers reauthorization of the act; and (14) Corporation officials noted that, notwithstanding their view that the act gave the states a substantial degree of control over the program, they have initiated actions to increase state commissions' autonomy.

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