Technology education funding includes overlaps, possible duplication

GAO found potential duplication when it recently audited the federal government's annual $3 billion investment in so-called 'STEM' education initiatives.


The federal government’s $3 billion annual investment in “STEM” education initiatives contains a high number of overlapping programs that potentially could indicate duplicative activities, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO identified overlaps in 83 percent of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education programs it reviewed, meaning that the programs offer similar services to similar target groups. However, those overlaps do not necessarily indicate duplication, the watchdog agency said.

“Even when programs overlap, the services they provide and the populations they serve may differ in meaningful ways and would therefore not necessarily be duplicative,” the report said. Further work is needed to determine the extent of the potentially duplicative programs, it added.

Federal lawmakers in recent years have focused attention on the need for the United States to educate graduates in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines to maintain the nation’s competitiveness in global markets.

In fiscal 2010, there were 13 federal agencies sponsoring 209 STEM programs that cost a total of $3 billion.

The Health and Human Services and Energy departments and the National Science Foundation administered more than half of the programs. Nearly a third of the programs had obligations of $1 million or less, while some had obligations of more than $100 million.

The congressional watchdog noted the potential for duplication in the programs.

“Eighty-three percent of the programs GAO identified overlapped to some degree with at least one other program, in that they offered similar services to similar target groups in similar STEM fields to achieve similar objectives,” the Jan. 24 report said.

“Many programs have a broad scope—serving multiple target groups with multiple services. However, even when programs overlap, the services they provide and the populations they serve may differ in meaningful ways and would therefore not necessarily be duplicative,” the report indicated.

Nonetheless, the GAO noted that the STEM programs need to be “well coordinated and guided by a robust strategic plan” to ensure they are aligned without duplication, and currently, that is not the case.

“Less than half of the programs GAO surveyed indicated that they coordinated with other agencies that administer similar STEM education programs,” the report said.

Furthermore, the agencies are not utilizing performance measures effectively to measure how well the programs are delivering results, the GAO report said.

The GAO made four recommendations for improvement. White House officials, who reviewed the draft report, did not raise significant objections, the report said.



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