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Highlights

What GAO Found

Although federal funding for autism research fluctuated from fiscal years 2008 through 2012, it increased overall during this period, from approximately $169 million in fiscal year 2008 to $245 million in fiscal year 2012—about a 45 percent increase (about a 37 percent increase when adjusted for inflation to fiscal year 2012 dollars). Over this time period, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) consistently provided the majority of autism research funding—between about 76 and 83 percent of the total funding awarded each fiscal year. The highest funding levels were in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, in part, as a result of additional funds appropriated to NIH under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. While overall funding increased, federal funding varied by each of the seven research areas specified in the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s (IACC) strategic plan. These research areas are biology, treatments and interventions, causes, diagnosis, infrastructure and surveillance, services, and lifespan issues. The following figure shows the changes in funding by fiscal year for each of the seven research areas, as well as the overall average annual percent change in funding for each research area.

Federal Funding and Average Annual Percent Change by Autism-Related Research Area from Fiscal Years (FY) 2008 through 2012

Federal Funding and Average Annual Percent Change by Autism-Related Research Area from Fiscal Years (FY) 2008 through 2012

Note: The research areas noted in the figure were established by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s (IACC) strategic plan. The federal agencies that funded autism research during the time period are the Department of Defense; Department of Education; Environmental Protection Agency; National Science Foundation; and seven agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children and Families, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Institutes of Health, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In this figure, all dollars are expressed in nominal terms.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 68 children have been identified as having autism—a developmental disorder involving communication and social impairment. According to CDC, there are likely many causes of autism and many factors, including environmental, biologic, and genetic, that may make a child more likely to have autism. There is no known cure for autism; however,research shows that early intervention can greatly improve a child’s development. From fiscal years 2008 through 2012, 11 federal agencies awarded approximately $1.2 billion to fund autism research.

GAO was asked to examine federal autism research funding. In this report, GAO describes how the amount of federal funding in each of the research areas specified in the IACC’s strategic plan changed from fiscal years 2008 through 2012. GAO analyzed data previously collected for GAO-14-16, Federal Autism Activities: Better Data and More Coordination Needed to Help Avoid the Potential for Unnecessary Duplication, including updated data, to identify changes in agency funding awarded from fiscal years 2008 through 2012. Data by strategic plan research area for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 are not currently available. To calculate the changes in federal autism funding awarded, GAO analyzed the data by IACC strategic plan research area, including any growth or decreases in each area by fiscal year and agency.

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How has federal autism research funding changed from fiscal years 2008 through 2012?

GAO-15-583R, June 30, 2015

From fiscal years (FY) 2008 through 2012, 11 federal agencies awarded approximately $1.2 billion in funding for autism research. The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) is a federal advisory committee that coordinates and monitors federal autism activities. Federally funded autism research has been organized into seven research areas as defined in the IACC’s annual strategic plan for autism research. Each research area contains specific short- and long-term research objectives.

For more specific information on how federal funding of autism research has changed over time, use the filters below, which allow sorting by research area, federal agency, and fiscal year. Click on the headers (Research Area, Objective, Agency, and Total Funds Awarded) to rearrange the data below. Hover over the “Objective” to see complete descriptions of the research objectives funded under each research area. We previously reported that 12 objectives did not have corresponding federal funding. These objectives are not included in the table.



Source: GAO analysis of data from federal agencies that funded autism research. | GAO-15-583R

Notes: The term “autism” refers to a group of disorders—known as autism spectrum disorder—that vary in symptom severity. Autism research projects that were not categorized to any of the objectives are not included in the table. Additionally, the table reflects a project that the Health Resources and Services Administration broke up into seven sub-projects and categorized into different objectives for fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012. This project was not broken out in previous years; therefore, all funding for the project is attributed to objective 4.A (short term) for fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

The table also includes Department of Defense's (DOD) research projects that were funded through the agency’s fiscal years 2008 through 2011 appropriations. Projects funded through DOD’s fiscal year 2012 appropriations are not included in the table. For that year, DOD provided the following information on the projects funded through its fiscal year 2012 appropriation by research area: $665,455 in diagnosis, $2,511,985 in biology, $275,626 in causes, and $673,874 in treatments and interventions. In this table, all dollars are expressed in nominal terms. For detailed information on our data collection and analysis methodology, see GAO-15-583R and appendix I in GAO-14-16.

For a printable version of all of the objectives that are included through interactive hovers in the table, download this document.

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Recommendations

GAO is not making any recommendations. GAO provided a draft of this report to the Department of Defense, Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation. GAO received technical comments from the Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. The Environmental Protection Agency did not provide any comments.

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