For the past 50 years, the federal government has had a metropolitan area program designed to provide a nationally consistent set of standards for collecting, tabulating, and publishing federal statistics for geographic areas in the United States and Puerto Rico. Before each decennial census, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reviews the standards to ensure their continued usefulness and relevance and, if warranted, revises them. While designed only for statistical purposes, various federal programs use the statistical areas to determine eligibility and to allocate federal funds. OMB advises agencies to carefully review program goals to ensure that appropriate geographic entities are used in making these decisions. GAO was asked to examine the process used for developing the OMB standards issued in 2000 and their effects on certain federal programs. Specifically, GAO agreed to report on (1) the process used to develop the 2000 standards, (2) how the 2000 standards differed from the 1990 standards, (3) how the application of the standards affected the geographic distribution of counties into statistical areas, and (4) the effect of standards on the eligibility and funding allocations for four federal programs.
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