Budget Issues:

The Importance of Increased Accuracy of Budget Outlay Estimates

AIMD-99-235R: Published: Aug 30, 1999. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 1999.

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GAO provided information on how the Department of Education estimates, tracks, and reports on its budget outlays.

GAO noted that: (1) in an environment in which the caps on new discretionary budget authority and on outlays are increasingly constraining federal spending, it is important that congressional decisionmakers have accurate estimates of program outlays; (2) more accurate estimates provide greater confidence that program funding will be within overall discretionary limits without restricting spending further than is necessary; (3) moreover, management reforms such as the Government Performance and Results Act and the Chief Financial Officers Act reinforce the need for better planning and cost data; (4) the increased importance of budget outlay estimates raises questions about whether the department's outlay estimating process is as accurate as it can be; (5) the department groups similar grant programs and then estimates that they will spend funds at the same rate; (6) while this is an acceptable practice, it can mask differences between programs and changes that can occur over time; (7) for example, spending patterns may change as a new program matures and program requirements are fully established or as the result of a change in policy; and (8) the recent implementation of Education's Grant Administration and Payment System (GAPS) enables the department to identify and track separately the actual rate of budget outlays at the program level and provides an opportunity for improving budget outlay estimates.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FY2000 was the first year that the Department of Education was able to track actual rates of spending for each grant within an account rather than relying on a less accurate pooling method. Education revised spendout rates for three Elementary and Secondary Education accounts in its FY2001 budget request in whole or in large part because of this change.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Budget Service to systematically monitor budget outlay data available through GAPS and use this information to estimate and adjust spendout rates at the account level to reflect actual program level data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education


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