Skip to main content

Efficiency and Effectiveness of Fragmented Economic Development Programs Are Unclear

GAO-11-477R Published: May 19, 2011. Publicly Released: May 19, 2011.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights


One of the areas included in our recent report on potential duplication among federal programs was economic development. If economic development programs are administered efficiently and effectively, they can contribute to the well-being of our nation's economy at the least cost to taxpayers. Absent a common definition for economic development, we had previously developed a list of nine activities most often associated with economic development. These activities include planning and developing strategies for job creation and retention, developing new markets for existing products, building infrastructure by constructing roads and sewer systems to attract industry to undeveloped areas, and establishing business incubators to provide facilities for new businesses' operations, among others. Our recent work included information on 80 economic development programs at four agencies--the Departments of Commerce (Commerce), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture (USDA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). This work examined (1) the potential for overlap in the design of the programs, (2) the extent to which the four agencies collaborate to achieve common goals, and (3) the extent to which the agencies have developed measures to determine the programs' effectiveness. According to the agencies, funding provided for these 80 programs in fiscal year 2010 amounted to $6.2 billion, of which about $2.9 billion was for economic development efforts, largely in the form of grants, loan guarantees, and direct loans. Some of these 80 programs can fund a variety of activities, including those focused on noneconomic development activities, such as rehabilitating housing and building community parks. In February 2011 we briefed staff of the House and Senate Small Business Committees on the results of this work to date. We will perform additional analysis of some of these programs and will report on them at a later date.

Full Report

Office of Public Affairs


Business development loansCommunity development programsEconomic developmentGrants to statesHousing programsInteragency relationsProgram evaluationProgram managementPublic assistance programsRegional development programsRural economic developmentDuplication of effort