Federal Evaluation:

Fewer Units, Reduced Resources, Different Studies From 1980

PEMD-87-9: Published: Jan 23, 1987. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the recent changes in the status of program evaluation activities in the civil executive departments and agencies, specifically: (1) the current level of program evaluation activity in the executive branch; and (2) changes that occurred between 1980 and 1984.

GAO found that, between 1980 and 1984: (1) the total number of units in civil departments and agencies engaging in program evaluation activities decreased by 26 percent; (2) fiscal resources decreased by 37 percent and personnel decreased by 22 percent; (3) fewer evaluation units were in operation and both budgetary and human resources decreased, especially for those departments with block grant programs; (4) only about 20 percent of the units with continued evaluation activity reported any legislative set-aside funding for evaluation; (5) internal budget allocations did not compensate for set-aside reduction, and tended to decrease more rapidly than the set-asides themselves; and (6) despite the decreases in units, funding levels, and professional staff, evaluation studies decreased by only 3 percent. GAO also found that: (1) evaluation units increased their internal staff work on less expensive studies and non-technical reports and reduced the number of costlier, more time-consuming studies by external evaluators; (2) program managers and top agency officials were the primary recipients of evaluation studies; and (3) findings from the studies were not easily available to Congress and the public.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is a general one designed to suggest ways in which congressional committees may strengthen their oversight of executive agencies. However, the precise actions needed, if any, depend on whether problems are found by specific committees.

    Matter: Congress should determine whether the agencies under its jurisdiction are developing and reporting the information needed by committees for their oversight responsibilities. This would include periodic reviews to ensure that agencies are fulfilling legislated mandates for the provision of evaluative information. To ensure the availability of information required for oversight purposes, it might be necessary to specify, in law or accompanying committee reports, additional set-asides, mandated studies, or improved dissemination of evaluation findings.


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