Accountability

Published — April 6, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Confusing overlap in government assistance programs

Introduction

The number of American households needing assistance reached record levels during the recession but the confusing array of programs and services at the federal and state level was an obstacle for the needy.

For example, the Government Accountability Office identified 47 employment training programs that spent approximately $18 billion on services, 44 of which overlapped with at least one other program. And the federal government spent over $62.5 billion in 2008 on 18 different food assistance programs.

Six federal agencies along with numerous congressional committees oversee job training and employment programs, while state and local agencies provide services. Some of the programs overlap. For example, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Workforce Investment Act Adult, and Employment Service are all administered separately, but provide similar services such as job search assistance. Inefficiency was another problem, as people went to a number of offices and entered the same information repeatedly.

“This array of programs plays a key role in supporting those in need, but our work has shown it to be too fragmented and overly complex — for clients to navigate, for program operators to administer efficiently, and for program managers and policymakers to assess program performance,” the GAO said in its review of human service programs.

Some states have started using call centers and online applications to streamline the process, but that process varies program to program. Even if programs are lumped together, they typically have different eligibility rules and requirements, which can create further complications. Officials acknowledged that measures meant to combine services can end up requiring an excessive amount of a caseworker’s time.

With more households seeking assistance, program expenses have increased at a time when policymakers are looking at federal programs with increased scrutiny. The GAO recommended that the fragmentation, overlap and duplication of services be examined to determine how to streamline them.

FAST FACT: There are significant information gaps regarding how many families actually receive some federal services. For example, states have increasingly used portions of their TANF funds for child care, but states are not required to report the number or types of families who receive TANF-funded child care.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.

NATIONAL SECURITY

*The Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking to punish federal employeeswho leak confidential information. A new proposal seeks to allow intelligence agencies to seize pension benefits of employees believe to have disclosed unauthorized information. (Intelligence Authorization Act)

MISC.

*As a possible government shutdown looms, the Office of Personnel and Management updated its information for employees. Government employees not deemed essential will not be allowed to work, even as a volunteer. But furloughed federal employees cannot seek outside employment. Even during a shutdown, OPM stressed that ethical rules and procedures regarding outside employment continue. (OPM)

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