Early Education and Care:

Overlap Indicates Need to Assess Crosscutting Programs

HEHS-00-78: Published: Apr 28, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 2000.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO updated its 1994 report federally funded programs that provide or support education or child care for children under age 5, focusing on: (1) what portion of the budget authority for these programs was used for education and care for children under age 5 and how many children in this age group participated in the programs; (2) what types of children these programs target and what services are provided to these children; and (3) what information is needed to assess whether the current array of federal programs is duplicative and what issues should be considered to improve overall efficiency of early childhood education and care programs.

GAO noted that: (1) 69 federal programs provided or supported education and care for children under age 5 in fiscal year (FY) 1999; (2) 9 different federal agencies and departments administered these programs, though the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) operated most of them; (3) among the 69 programs, education and care was a program purpose, an allowable activity, or was facilitated in some way by the program; (4) 29 of these programs (about 40 percent) provided education and care as a program purpose, but the extent to which they focused on education and care and on children under age 5 varied; (5) of the 21 programs that provided data, about half spent a significant proportion of their budget authority, 40 percent or more, on education and care for children under age 5; (6) the other programs that provided data spent 13 percent or less of their budgets for this purpose; (7) the remaining 8 programs could not provide an estimate; (8) the 29 programs spent at least $9 billion to provide education and care to children under age 5 in FY 1999; (9) three HHS programs--Head Start, Child Care Development Fund, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families--together accounted for approximately $8 billion of the $9 billion total; (10) the 29 programs targeted 3 major groups of children--the economically disadvantaged, those with special needs, and members of certain native populations; (11) the three largest programs, in terms of spending on children under age 5, targeted the economically disadvantaged; (12) some of the smaller programs focused on narrower groups, such as children with disabilities; (13) the programs were generally allowed to provide a broad range of services such as health, dental, mental health, social, parental, nutritional services, speech and hearing assessments, and disability screening; (14) only 4 programs actually provided most of these services to a high proportion of the participants under age 5; (15) for the most part, the remaining programs provided services to a smaller proportion of participants under age 5; (16) to address inefficiencies that may arise, policymakers could choose to coordinate, integrate, or consolidate programs; and (17) in order to identify the best method for addressing inefficiencies among fragmented and overlapping programs, policymakers need to know whether programs are: (a) fulfilling a unique role; (b) unnecessarily redundant; or (c) being administered in the most effective way to meet program as well as federal strategic goals.

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