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Federal User Fees: A Design Guide

GAO-08-386SP Published: May 29, 2008. Publicly Released: May 29, 2008.
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The federal government will need to make the most of its resources to meet the emerging challenges of the 21st century. As new priorities emerge, policymakers have demonstrated interest in user fees as a means of financing new and existing services. User fees can be designed to reduce the burden on taxpayers to finance the portions of activities that provide benefits to identifiable users above and beyond what is normally provided to the public. By charging the costs of those programs or activities to beneficiaries, user fees can also promote economic efficiency and equity. However, to achieve these goals, user fees must be well designed. GAO was asked to study how user fee design characteristics may influence the effectiveness of user fees. Specifically, GAO examined how the four key design and implementation characteristics of user fees--how fees are set, collected, used, and reviewed--may affect the economic efficiency, equity, revenue adequacy, and administrative burden of cost-based fees. GAO reviewed economic and policy literature on federal and nonfederal user fees, including prior GAO work, and used relevant case examples to illustrate different types of design elements and the impacts they may have.

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Administrative costsCost accountingCost analysisCost controlEconomic analysisEconomic developmentEconomic growthFederal agenciesFederal regulationsFeesFinancial analysisFinancial managementInternal controlsProgram evaluationProgram managementStrategic planningUser feesProgram goals or objectivesProgram implementation