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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

GAO backs more accountability in grant programs

Federal program managers should use both carrots and sticks to boost accountability in management of grant programs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

By working collaboratively with grantees and lawmakers, and sharing best practices among themselves, managers can enhance the effectiveness of grant programs and stretch resources, the report (GAO-06-1046) stated.

The use of performance accountability measures has increased significantly in program management over the past several years, in part due to the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act and the development of the Bush administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool, GAO reviewers said. But they found that the use of performance metrics and goals has not grown to the same extent among federal grant programs.

The study examined four places that do use performance metrics -- the Health and Human Services Department's office handling child support payments; an Education Department office that administers grants for career and technical education; a Massachusetts Division of Medical Assistance program to manage mental health and substance abuse programs; and an Ontario, Canada-based realty management contract.

GAO reviewers found that methods of establishing accountability can be financial or nonfinancial, and based on rewards or penalties. For example, a financial mechanism could entail rewarding good performance with a one-time bonus or increased funding. A nonfinancial method might involve rewarding programs with greater operational flexibility or by altering a program's oversight or reporting burden. The report even suggested that public recognition alone could be a productive incentive.

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