GAO: OMB program inventory needs work to detect duplicative programs

Jason Miller, Executive Editor, Federal News Radio

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By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

The Government Accountability Office says agencies aren’t consistent in reporting their information to the Office of Management and Budget’s master inventory of federal programs. Without consistent data, GAO said OMB’s inventory won’t be effective in identifying overlaps or duplications in program services — one of the major goals of keeping such a database.

GAO’s report recommends that the Office of Management and Budget revise its guidance to direct agencies to collaborate when defining and identifying programs that are similar in function or mission. The report also calls on agencies to work with each other when developing their inventories, in the hopes that they identify similar programs that can collaborate with each other more effectively.

OMB is required to publish a list of all federal programs on a central governmentwide website according to the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010.

Under this law, OMB must also issue guidance to agencies specifying the format of the information it needs — including how they defined their programs — for the program inventory.

GAO’s recommendation for more agency collaboration comes after OMB moved away from a “one-size-fits-all” requirement for agencies to define their programs. In May 2013, OMB published the inventories submitted by 24 agencies and found that each government office would define its programs based on different criteria. GAO’s report outlines the different approaches that agencies take when defining their programs:

(Source: GAO)

To demonstrate the shortcomings of the information submitted to its inventory, GAO searched for agency programs pertaining to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education and nuclear nonproliferation. The results GAO got back only showed a fraction of the programs that actually exist, finding only 9 programs that matched its query exactly when it should have found 179. An additional 51 programs were found in the search based on the program descriptions provided by the agencies.

“As a result of these limitations, the inventory is not a useful tool for decision making,” GAO wrote in the report.

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