In mid-January, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report analyzing the federal efforts, funded at more than $3 billion in total, to improve STEM education across 13 agencies. While the report found most of the programs “overlapped to some degree with at least one other program,” the report said this overlap should not automatically be interpreted as redundancy. However, the report also notes that a majority of these programs have not been subject to comprehensive effectiveness evaluations since 2005. In addition, those programs with evaluations were not always in alignment with program objectives. The report was requested by House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN).
Elaborating on the potential duplication, the GAO report continues, "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. Nonetheless, the programs are similar enough that they need to be well coordinated and guided by a robust strategic plan."
The conclusion of the GAO report calls on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to lead a government-wide STEM education strategic planning effort, working with the other federal agencies “to better align their activities with a government-wide strategy, develop a plan for sustained coordination, identify programs for potential consolidation or elimination and assist agencies in determining how to better evaluate their programs.”
OSTP is already drafting such a STEM strategic plan, which is slated to be released in conjunction with the Administration’s FY 2013 budget. In addition, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) recently released its own report, which was described as "the most detailed inventory of the federal STEM education portfolio ever compiled.” Regarding duplication, the NSTC said, “There is only modest overlap in investments and no duplication among the STEM education investments. That does not mean that there are not opportunities for better alignment and deployment of STEM resources."
In responding to the findings of the GAO report, Chairman Kline released the following statement: “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. 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.”
Also of interest, Chairman Kline’s draft bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is discussed in more depth below, would eliminate the $150 million Math and Science Partnerships program at the U.S. Department of Education.