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New Report Finds Significant Overlap in Federal STEM Education Programs
Maze of Programs Cost Taxpayers Billions, Rarely Reviewed for Efficacy

Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the scope and efficacy of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs.

The report, requested last January by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), reveals more than 200 separate STEM programs operated across a bakers’ dozen of federal agencies.

“In recent years, the federal government has dedicated significant resources to developing STEM programs, yet taxpayers have seen little evidence that these programs are actually working. According to the GAO, only about a quarter of the 209 federal STEM programs have been evaluated for efficacy since 2005, and nearly 90 percent overlap with at least one other program” said Chairman Kline. “Investing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is a worthwhile endeavor – but pumping billions of dollars into programs that may be duplicative or unproductive is just plain foolish. Instead of adding programs paid for with taxpayers’ hard-earned money, we need to promote more efficient government by weeding out waste and investing wisely.”

Rep. Hunter said, “In order to keep our nation competitive, we need to make sure workers have skills and training to enter high-demand fields like science and engineering. However, federal STEM programs cost taxpayers approximately $3 billion each year, and today’s GAO report raises serious questions about whether this money is being put to good use. At a time when the United States continues to struggle with record debt and high unemployment, we must take a closer look at STEM program effectiveness to ensure our investment is helping our workforce thrive.”

Highlights from the report include:
  • In fiscal year 2010, 13 federal agencies invested over $3 billion in 209 programs designed to increase knowledge of STEM fields and attainment of STEM degrees.
  • The number of programs within agencies ranged from 3 to 46, with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Energy and the National Science Foundation administering more than half of these programs.
  • Almost a third of the programs had obligations of $1 million or less, while some had obligations of over $100 million.
  • Eighty-three percent of the programs GAO identified overlapped to some degree with at least 1 other program in that they offered similar services to similar target groups in similar STEM fields to achieve similar objectives.
  • Agencies’ limited use of performance measures and evaluations may hamper their ability to assess the effectiveness of their individual programs as well as the overall STEM education effort. Specifically, program officials varied in their ability to provide reliable output measures—for example, the number of students, teachers, or institutions directly served by their program. 

To read the full report, click here.