Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Federal Teacher Quality Programs

GAO-11-510T: Published: Apr 13, 2011. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 2011.

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George A. Scott
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This testimony discusses the findings from our recent work on fragmentation, overlap, and potential duplication in federally funded programs that support teacher quality. We recently issued a report addressing fragmentation, overlap, and potential duplication in federal programs that outlined opportunities to reduce potential duplication across a wide range of federal programs, including teacher quality programs. Our recent work on teacher quality programs builds on a long history of work where we identified a number of education programs with similar goals, beneficiaries, and allowable activities that are administered by multiple federal agencies. This work may help inform congressional deliberations over how to prioritize spending given the rapidly building fiscal pressures facing our nation's government. In recent years, the Department of Education (Education) has faced expanded responsibilities that have challenged the department to strategically allocate resources to balance new duties with ongoing ones. For example, we reported the number of grants Education awarded increased from about 14,000 in 2000 to about 21,000 just 2 years later and has since remained around 18,000, even as the number of full-time equivalent staff decreased by 13 percent from fiscal years 2000 to 2009. New programs often increase Education's workload, requiring staff to develop new guidance and provide technical assistance to program participants. Our work examining fragmentation, overlap, and potential duplication can help inform decisions on how to prioritize spending, which could also help Education address these challenges and better allocate scarce resources. In particular, our recent work identified 82 programs supporting teacher quality, which are characterized by fragmentation and overlap. Fragmentation of programs exists when programs serve the same broad area of national need but are administered across different federal agencies or offices. Program overlap exists when multiple agencies or programs have similar goals, engage in similar activities or strategies to achieve them, or target similar beneficiaries. Overlap and fragmentation among government programs or activities can be harbingers of unnecessary duplication. Given the challenges associated with fragmentation, overlap, and potential duplication, careful, thoughtful actions will be needed to address these issues. This testimony draws upon the results of our recently issued report and our past work and addresses (1) what is known about fragmentation, overlap, and potential duplication among teacher quality programs; and (2) what are additional ways that Congress could minimize fragmentation, overlap, and duplication among these programs?

We identified 82 distinct programs designed to help improve teacher quality administered across 10 federal agencies, many of which share similar goals. However, there is no governmentwide strategy to minimize fragmentation, overlap, or potential duplication among these programs. The fragmentation and overlap of teacher quality programs can frustrate agency efforts to administer programs in a comprehensive manner, limit the ability to determine which programs are most cost effective, and ultimately increase program costs. In addition, our larger body of work on federal education programs has also found a wide array of programs with similar objectives, target populations, and services across multiple federal agencies. In past work, GAO and Education's Inspector General have concluded that improved planning and coordination could help Education better leverage expertise and limited resources; however, given the large number of teacher quality programs and the extent of overlap, it is unlikely that improved coordination alone can fully mitigate the effects of the fragmented and overlapping federal effort. Sustained congressional oversight can also play a key role in addressing these issues. Congress could address these issues through legislation, particularly through the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), and Education has already proposed combining 38 programs into 11 programs in its reauthorization and fiscal year 2012 budget proposals. Further, actions taken by Congress in the past demonstrate ways this Subcommittee can address these issues. However, effective oversight may be challenging as many of the programs we identified, especially smaller programs, have not been evaluated.

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