Difficulties in Evaluating Public Affairs Government-Wide and at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

LCD-79-405: Published: Jan 18, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 2, 1979.

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In order to test the effectiveness of a major public information program, GAO addressed the following: problems and concerns with the lack of uniform definitions concerning public affairs, information dissemination, education, and advertising; management of public affairs within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW); and management of selected health education efforts. The management of two nationwide campaigns, the National High Blood Pressure Education Program and the new Smoking and Health Initiative program, is examined. The questions that need to be answered before undertaking a campaign are as follows: how does each funding request relate to the past and future efforts; what determines the amount of advertising to be used; and what management structures have been considered to achieve program objectives more effectively. Government agencies do not always define what is involved in public affairs, and are not consistent in reporting and evaluating their public affairs costs.

Public affairs activities in HEW are managed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and by 30 other offices. Although the Assistant Secretary's office is responsible for coordinating and reviewing public affairs activities, departmental oversight has been weak. Public affairs plans, budgets, audiovisual products, and publications were not always submitted to the Assistant Secretary's office for review, contrary to HEW's instructions. In an examination of the smoking and health program, GAO found that there was little indication that the managers had considered many of the essential elements of campaign development. The basis for the fiscal year 1979 budget request for the public information campaign and research on childhood determinants of smoking is unclear, and goals have not been established for the campaign. The high blood pressure program, on the other hand, is well managed and appears to have had some success in controlling hypertension.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should work with the agencies to develop uniform definitions of public affairs and campaigns and should require all Government agencies to identify in their annual budgets the costs for their public affairs activities. GAO also recommends that the Secretary of HEW should establish guidelines for the evaluation of communications activities to include what activities should be evaluated and what types of evaluations should be conducted. Explanations should be required concerning how public affairs projects submitted for review and approval will be evaluated. If an evaluation is not planned, an adequate justification should be provided. In addition, HEW should develop procedures to ensure that necessary criteria, such as establishing objectives, planning the campaign, and monitoring and evaluating the program, will be adequately and consistently applied to the HEW public affairs activities.

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