Financial Literacy and Education Commission:
Further Progress Needed to Ensure an Effective National Strategy
GAO-07-777T: Published: Apr 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2007.
The Financial Literacy and Education Improvement Act created, in December 2003, the Financial Literacy and Education Commission. This statement is based on a report issued in December 2006, which responded to the act's mandate that GAO assess the Commission's progress in (1) developing a national strategy; (2) developing a Web site and hotline; and (3) coordinating federal efforts and promoting partnerships among the federal, state, local, nonprofit, and private sectors. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed Commission documents, interviewed its member agencies and private financial literacy organizations, and benchmarked the national strategy against GAO's criteria for such strategies.
The National Strategy for Financial Literacy serves as a useful first step in focusing attention on financial literacy, but it is largely descriptive rather than strategic and lacks certain key characteristics that are desirable in a national strategy. The strategy provides a clear purpose, scope, and methodology and comprehensively identifies issues and challenges. However, it does not serve as a plan of action designed to achieve specific goals, and its recommendations are presented as "calls to action" that generally describe existing initiatives and do not include plans for implementation. The strategy also does not fully address some of the desirable characteristics of an effective national strategy that GAO has previously identified. For example, it does not set clear and specific goals and performance measures or milestones, address the resources needed to accomplish these goals, or fully discuss appropriate roles and responsibilities. As a result of these factors, most organizations that GAO spoke with said the strategy was unlikely to have a significant impact on their financial literacy efforts. The Commission has developed a Web site and telephone hotline that offer financial education information provided by numerous federal agencies. The Web site generally serves as an effective portal to existing federal financial literacy sites. Use of the site has grown, and it averaged about 69,000 visits per month from October 2006 through March 2007. The volume of calls to the hotline--which serves as an order line for a free tool kit of federal publications--has been limited. The Commission has not tested the Web site for usability or measured customer satisfaction with it; these are recommended best practices for federal public Web sites. As a result, the Commission does not know if visitors are able to find the information they are looking for efficiently and effectively. The Commission has taken steps to coordinate the financial literacy efforts of federal agencies and has served as a useful focal point for federal activities. However, coordinating federal efforts has been challenging, in part because the Commission must achieve consensus among 20 federal agencies, each with its own viewpoints, programs, and constituencies, and because of the Commission's limited resources. A survey of overlap and duplication and a review of the effectiveness of federal activities relied largely on agencies' self-assessments rather than the independent review of a disinterested party. The Commission has taken steps to promote partnerships with the nonprofit and private sectors through various public meetings, outreach events, and other activities. The involvement of state, local, nonprofit, and private organizations is important in supporting and expanding Commission efforts to increase financial literacy, and our report found that the Commission could benefit from further developing mutually beneficial and lasting partnerships with these entities that will be sustainable over the long term.