Fast Facts

The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy manage federal grant programs that can support drug prevention activities in schools.

The agencies haven't clearly defined how their grant programs support the National Drug Control Strategy's goals. Although the agencies have performance measures for their programs, some of the measures:

Didn't relate to drug prevention

Didn't link directly to the Strategy's goals

Weren't reported at all in the Strategy

Our recommendations help the agencies clarify how grant programs support the prevention-related goals of the Strategy.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Education (Education), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) manage six key federal grant programs that can support drug prevention activities in schools. The flexibility of these grants supports a variety of drug prevention education programs. The agencies generally monitor grantees' compliance with grant requirements through periodic reporting.

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The aim of the National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy) is to reduce drug misuse, but HHS, and ONDCP have not fully defined how several key grant programs support the Strategy. ONDCP's guidance directs agencies to report, for each grant program, performance measures that relate to the Strategy's goals. However, some performance measures for several programs did not relate to drug prevention, did not link directly to the Strategy's prevention goals, or were not reported at all. For example:

  • A $372 million set-aside for HHS's Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program must be used on drug prevention, but HHS did not link the program's performance measures to the Strategy's prevention education goal.
     
  • ONDCP did not report on any performance measures in the Strategy or document how its $100 million Drug-Free Communities Support program contributes to achieving specific goals in the Strategy.

GAO also found that the approximately $10 million grants to states component of Education's School Climate Transformation Grant program could more fully provide performance information related to the Strategy's prevention education goal.

Fully understanding these programs' contributions to the goals of the National Drug Control Strategy could help Congress and the public better understand and assess how the nation's significant investments in drug prevention education programs help address the drug crisis.

Why GAO Did This Study

Most people who develop a substance use disorder begin using substances as adolescents. To reach adolescents, drug prevention programs are frequently provided in schools. Education, HHS, and ONDCP manage most federal programs that support school-based drug prevention activities.

This report (1) describes how Education, HHS, and ONDCP support drug prevention activities in schools, and monitor those efforts and (2) examines the extent to which these agencies identify how their prevention activities support the National Drug Control Strategy.

GAO reviewed agency documentation, the 2019 and 2020 National Drug Control Strategy documents which ONDCP identified as being most relevant to our review including the fiscal year 2019 drug control budget, ONDCP guidance, relevant federal laws, and GAO's prior work on attributes of successful performance measures that can help achieve agency goals. GAO also interviewed federal and state officials.


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Recommendations

GAO is making four recommendations, including that Education, HHS, and ONDCP clarify how grants that can include drug prevention education programs support related goals of the National Drug Control Strategy. HHS and ONCP agreed with the recommendation and Education partially concurred, saying it would explore collecting and reporting related performance data.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should work with grantees to collect and report performance information for the grants to state educational agencies component of the School Climate program that relate to achieving the prevention education goal of the National Drug Control Strategy. (Recommendation 1)
Open
Education partly concurred with this recommendation. Education stated that it believes it complied with the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) guidance to identify performance measures for the School Climate program that align with the National Drug Control Strategy's goals and objectives through the grants to school districts. Specifically, the agency said that ONDCP's guidance applies to the program overall rather than to each component part, and that its performance measures for the school district portion of the program are therefore sufficient. However, we noted that 13 of 14 state grantees planned to incorporate opioid abuse prevention and mitigation strategies into their grant activities when using federal funds through the School Climate program. In response, Education said it would explore collecting performance information on opioid abuse prevention and mitigation from these grantees and make an effort to report such information. As of August 2021, Education said it was working with state grantees to collect this performance information as part of their annual performance reports which are due in October 2021. The agency also reported that it hoped to share information about its progress and conclusions no later than February 2022. We will consider closing this recommendation when Education reports performance information related to opioid abuse prevention and mitigation from state grantees.
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of Health and Human Services should clarify how the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) prevention set-aside contributes to the goals of the National Drug Control Strategy, including considering how the performance measures relate to the prevention education goal. (Recommendation 2)
Open
HHS agreed with this recommendation. In May 2021, HHS said it will continue working with Office of National Drug Control Policy on performance measures for the SABG prevention set-aside and better document how they relate to the prevention education goal of the National Drug Control Strategy. For example, as part of the annual state reports prepared by the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking, HHS is considering how it could expand these reports to include information about states' efforts to administer drug prevention activities in schools. We will consider closing this recommendation when HHS clarifies how the SABG prevention set-aside contributes to goals of the National Drug Control Strategy, including how the performance measures relate to the prevention education goal.
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of Health and Human Services should determine how the State Opioid Response program contributes to the prevention goals of the National Drug Control Strategy and develop performance measures that relate to achieving those goals including the prevention education goal. (Recommendation 3)
Open
HHS agreed with this recommendation. In May 2021, HHS said it was determining what data related to the prevention goals of the National Drug Control Strategy are available from grantees through the State Opioid Response program. In addition, HHS said it was in the process of reviewing how the Department's reporting tool for the program could be modified to include performance measures related to achieving the prevention goals of the National Drug Control Strategy. We will consider closing this recommendation when HHS determines how the State Opioid Response program contributes to the prevention goals of the National Drug Control Strategy and develops related performance measures.
Office of National Drug Control Policy The Director of ONDCP should report performance measures for the Drug-Free Communities Support program and clarify how those measures are being used to assess the program's contributions to achieving specific goals of the National Drug Control Strategy, in the relevant Strategy documents. (Recommendation 4)
Open
ONDCP agreed with this recommendation. In August 2021, ONDCP said it was in the process of developing performance measures for the Drug-Free Communities Support program that can be used to assess the program's contributions to future iterations of the National Drug Control Strategy. ONDCP expects to include these performance measures in the National Drug Control Assessment which will be released in February 2022. We will consider closing this recommendation when ONDCP reports the performance measures and clarifies how they are used to assess the program's contributions to achieving specifc goals of the National Drug Control Strategy, including through the National Drug Control Assessment.

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