Fragmentation and Overlap in Programs Highlight the Need to Identify, Assess, and Reduce Inefficiencies
GAO-12-491: Published: May 10, 2012. Publicly Released: May 10, 2012.
What GAO Found
Homelessness programs are fragmented across multiple agencies and some show evidence of overlap. In fiscal year 2010, eight federal agencies obligated roughly $2.8 billion to administer 26 homelessness programs. Three agenciesthe Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Affairs (VA)are responsible for the majority of programs and dollars, 22 of 26 programs, and 89 percent of total funds. GAO found that these agencies and the Department of Labor (Labor) have multiple programs that offer similar services to similar beneficiaries. Fragmentation of services and overlap in some programs is partly due to their legislative creation and partly due to programs evolving to offer services that meet the variety of needs of persons experiencing homelessness. Fragmentation and overlap can lead to inefficient use of resources. For example, both HHS and VA have programs that provide similar services, but each agency separately manages its programs under different administrative units. In addition, some local service providers told us that managing multiple applications and reporting requirements was burdensome, difficult, and costly. Moreover, according to providers, persons experiencing homelessness have difficulties navigating services that are fragmented across agencies.
While almost all targeted programs maintain performance information (including data on the number of homeless served), few targeted programs have conducted evaluations to assess how effectively the programs are achieving their objectives. While performance information can be helpful for monitoring whether programs were achieving desired results, evaluations allow for comprehensive assessments. According to GAOs questionnaire, 2 of the 26 programs reported they had a program evaluation within the last 5 years. Information from program evaluations can help agencies fully assess what is working and how improvements can be made. Moreover, understanding program performance and effectiveness is key to determining in which programs and interventions to strategically invest limited federal funds.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (Interagency Council) is required to coordinate the federal response to homelessness and has taken several steps to coordinate efforts and promote initiatives across federal agencies. Federal coordination efforts have increased in recent years and included issuing the first federal strategic plan, increasing coordination at the state and local levels by focusing on the creation of state interagency councils on homelessness, and taking steps to develop a common vocabulary for discussing homelessness and related terms. The strategic plan serves as a useful and necessary step in increasing agency coordination and incorporates some elements of an effective strategy, but lacks key characteristics desirable in a national strategy. For example, the plan does not list priorities or milestones and does not discuss resource needs or assign clear roles and responsibilities to federal partners. In order for the Interagency Council and its members to effectively translate the goals and objectives of the plan into actions and measure their own progress in implementing them, these elements must be made transparent to help ensure accountability and measure the plans progress.
Why GAO Did This Study
Federal programs for those experiencing or at risk for homelessness generally are designed to provide housing assistance and other services such as health care, job training, or food assistance. This report responds to the statutory requirement that GAO identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives that have duplicative goals or activities and addresses (1) the number of and funding levels for federal homelessness programs and the extent to which fragmentation, overlap, and duplication exists; (2) whether the programs have been evaluated; and (3) actions of the Interagency Council and federal agencies to coordinate efforts and the extent to which the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness is an effective strategy. To address these objectives, GAO sent questionnaires to10 federal agencies and obtained and analyzed data for a range of programs.
What GAO Recommends
The Interagency Council and the Office of Management and Budgetin conjunction with HHS, HUD, Labor, and VA, should further analyze the degree and effects of overlap and fragmentation. VA agreed with this recommendation. HHS, HUD, Labor, and the Council did not explicitly agree or disagree. We also recommended that the Council incorporate additional elements into updates to the federal strategic plan or in implementation and planning documents. The Council stated it has been setting priorities and measuring progress, but was unable to provide documentation. GAO maintains its position and that the implementation of the federal strategic plan be made more transparent.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: We have contacted OMB three times recently regarding this recommendation, most recently on August 24, 2017. We have yet to receive a response.
Recommendation: The Interagency Council and the Office of Management and Budget; in conjunction with the Secretaries of HHS, HUD, Labor, and VA should consider examining inefficiencies that may result from overlap and fragmentation in their programs for persons experiencing homelessness. As a starting point, the agencies could use the program information from this report to further analyze the degree and effects of overlap and fragmentation. The results of this assessment could be used to take actions to reduce any identified inefficiencies and therefore better leverage their resources. Actions may include streamlining services offered within specific programs or by agencies, identifying programs that could benefit from further research or evaluations, or consolidating programs or services to reduce administrative costs.
Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: On March 13, 2015, we met with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and discussed the status of our recommendations made to them. They provided evidence of their efforts to identify inefficiencies and better leverage resources across the USICH's member agencies. For example, they provided guidance produced by the Department of Health and Human Services that demonstrates how Medicaid can be used to provide supportive housing for persons experiencing homelessness. In addition, USICH officials provided summaries of two studies that demonstrate health care cost savings when persons experiencing homelessness are provided housing.
Recommendation: The Interagency Council and the Office of Management and Budgetin conjunction with the Secretaries of HHS, HUD, Labor, and VA should consider examining inefficiencies that may result from overlap and fragmentation in their programs for persons experiencing homelessness. As a starting point, the agencies could use the program information from this report to further analyze the degree and effects of overlap and fragmentation. The results of this assessment could be used to take actions to reduce any identified inefficiencies and therefore better leverage their resources. Actions may include streamlining services offered within specific programs or by agencies, identifying programs that could benefit from further research or evaluations, or consolidating programs or services to reduce administrative costs.
Agency Affected: United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) told GAO that in implementing the Federal Strategic Plan, it is working with member agencies, such as the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Education, and Veterans Affairs (VA), to set priorities, measure progress and results, and hold federal partners accountable, as GAO suggested in March of 2011. In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, USICH issued annual updates and an amendment to the Federal Strategic Plan. The updates noted progress the key member agencies had made toward the plan's goals and included a discussion of their activities and accomplishments. For example, USICH and member agencies set priorities through internal council mechanisms. These priorities are then carried forward in the President's budget, which allocates resources for those priorities. The 2014 budget request had a 21 percent increase for homeless programs compared with the 2012 enacted budget. USICH and the member agencies ensure accountability through their attention to performance metrics. HUD and VA share a goal on reducing veteran homelessness. HUD has quarterly HUD Stat meetings that focus on HUD's progress in meeting its priority goals. VA participates in the meetings on homelessness and reports on its progress as well. USICH performs outreach to nonfederal partners through its website and newsletter and through dissemination of the Federal Strategic Plan. In addition, USICH provides annual updates to Congress on progress USICH and its member agencies are making on achieving the goals in the Federal Strategic Plan. In a meeting on March 13, 2015, USICH provided numerous documents, such as HUD's Interim Report on Family Options Study and the criteria for a city declaring the end of Veteran Homelessness, as examples of their actions, progress, and results.
Recommendation: To help prioritize, clarify, and refine efforts to improve coordination across agencies, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of federal homelessness programs, the Interagency Council, in consultation with its member agencies, should incorporate additional elements into updates to the national strategic plan or other planning and implementation documents to help set priorities, measure results, and ensure accountability. Such elements should be transparent and may include milestones, a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities as related to the plans objectives, and corresponding performance metrics.
Agency Affected: United States Interagency Council on Homelessness