Head Start:

An Effective Program but the Fund Distribution Formula Needs Revision and Management Controls Need Improvement

HRD-81-83: Published: Jul 23, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the management and administration of the Head Start program because Congress has shown considerable interest in early childhood and family development. The objective of the review was to determine whether this program, which has progressed over the years from a demonstration project to an ongoing service program, is being effectively managed and administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since fiscal year 1977, Head Start funds have been redistributed among States in accordance with congressional intent by using the distribution formula mandated by the 1978 legislation. However, the increased Head Start enrollments envisioned by Congress and provided for by the 1978 amendments have not been sustained. Operating cost increases provided to States have varied. Both Congress and the Administration have emphasized the importance of maintaining high quality in local Head Start programs; however, program quality is being threatened by a trend among many grantees to reduce services to children and families because of escalating operating costs and insufficient funding. Although these service reductions appear to be widespread through the program, not all grantees are finding it necessary to reduce program services, indicating that some grantees may not need increased levels of funding while others do if service reductions are to be avoided. Although the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families regional offices use the Federal average cost per child as one basis in determining the amount of Federal funding to be allocated to grantees within the States, as it is presently calculated, average cost per child should not be used in the funding decision process. Since 1972, the responsibilities and administrative workloads of Head Start staff have increased dramatically. However, staffing levels and funding for salaries and expenses have not kept pace.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should consider modifying the funding distribution formula to assure that sufficient operating cost increases are provided to all States so that grantees can maintain their enrollment and service levels before any funds are provided for expansion of enrollments. In addition, Congress should consider placing a moratorium on further expansion of Head Start, until sufficient funding is available to expand enrollment and to provide adequate cost-of-living increases to all States.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) to: (1) review the training planned for community representatives to see that it is designed to produce consistency in interpreting program requirements and grantee monitoring; (2) determine what, if any, additional funding is needed by grantees to bring their programs into full compliance with performance standards and administrative requirements; (3) assure that adequate resources are made available to regional offices so that followup of monitoring efforts can be achieved; (4) issue a manual to grantees including models of administrative forms, records, and procedures; (5) work with regional office auditors and Office of Human Development Services (OHDS) grants management officers to improve the timeliness and expedite the regional offices' review of independent auditors' reports; (6) work with the HHS Audit Agency on developing and issuing additional guidance to independent auditors requiring the submission of balance sheets and operating statements showing more detail on expenses; (7) work with the HHS Audit Agency and the OHDS Grants and Contracts management Division to eliminate the requirements for independent audit work which duplicates functions performed by ACYF monitoring teams; and (8) direct regional office community representatives to validate grantees' program information reports before entering the data into the performance indicator system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families to develop and implement a management information system for Head Start.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should (1) direct the Commissioner of ACYF to develop and implement an overall planning system for Head Start covering all program components and major functions; and (2) assure that sufficient resources are available to operate the system. In addition, the Secretary should require that Head Start forward planning cover a period not less than the period of program reauthorization approved by Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) to gather and analyze data on the average cost per child and average cost per child contact hour in order to assist ACYF regional offices to make the most equitable distribution of Federal funds to grantees within their regions. In addition, the Secretary should (1) direct the Commissioner of ACYF to initiate an effort to gather information from grantees on reductions in Head Start services to children and their families to ascertain the extent of service reductions nationwide; and (2) inform the appropriate authorizing and appropriating committees of the extent of service reductions in Head Start program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Human Development Services to determine the staffing and administrative requirements needed for the Head Start program and, if the Assistant Secretary finds that the Head Start program does not have the resources it needs and if resources can be made available, the Secretary should furnish the staff and other resources necessary for the program to carry out its responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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