Community Services Block Grant:
Better Alignment of Outcome Measures with Program Goals Could Help Assess National Effectiveness
GAO-20-25: Published: Nov 19, 2019. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2019.
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HHS oversees the federal Community Services Block Grant program, which provides about $700 million in grants to states. In turn, the states provide funding to and oversee more than 1,000 local agencies. These agencies offer a range of services to address the program’s three goals: reducing poverty, promoting self-sufficiency, and revitalizing low-income communities.
Although HHS uses state data for insight into the program’s performance, it doesn’t clearly tie the data to the program’s three goals.
We recommended HHS provide information on how data collected from the states aligns with program goals in its new performance management plan.
Department of Health and Human Services
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What GAO Found
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the selected states GAO reviewed provided oversight of the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program through onsite visits and other oversight activities to assess grant recipients' use of funds against program requirements. Specifically, GAO found:
HHS and the selected states conducted required oversight activities. The Community Services Block Grant Act requires HHS to conduct compliance evaluations for several states each year and requires states to conduct onsite visits to local CSBG recipients at least once every 3 years to evaluate whether recipients met various goals.
- During fiscal years 2016 and 2017, HHS conducted onsite compliance evaluations for 12 states that it deemed most at risk of not meeting CSBG requirements.
- GAO's visits to three states found that all three had conducted onsite visits to local grantees during the same fiscal years.
HHS and the selected states also conducted additional oversight activities. This included routine reviews and quarterly calls.
HHS and state monitoring activities primarily identified administrative errors, instances of non-compliance and other issues, which grant recipients took steps to address. For example, a HHS fiscal year 2017 compliance evaluation found that in fiscal year 2015 one state neither implemented procedures to monitor and track findings from a state audit, nor monitored eligible entities as required.
HHS uses state outcome data to report on CSBG's national effectiveness, but these data are not aligned with the national program goals to reduce poverty, promote self-sufficiency, and revitalize low-income communities. HHS recently redesigned its' performance management approach to improve its ability to assess whether the CSBG program is meeting these three goals, but several elements of the approach do not align with leading practices in federal performance management. GAO found that HHS's redesigned approach does not demonstrate:
How the agency's newly developed national performance measure—intended to provide a count of the number of individuals who achieved at least one positive outcome through CSBG funds—will assess the program in meeting national program goals.
How the state outcome data, consisting of more than 100 state and local program measures, relate to CSBG's three national goals.
How data collected from state and local agencies will be assessed for accuracy and reliability.
Without aligning its redesigned performance management approach with leading practices, OCS cannot properly assess its' progress in meeting CSBG's three national goals.
Why GAO Did This Study
CSBG is one of the key federal programs focused on reducing poverty in the United States. In fiscal year 2019, CSBG provided about $700 million in block grants to states. In turn, states provided grants to more than 1,000 local agencies, which used the funding to provide housing and other services to program participants. HHS is responsible for overseeing states' use of this funding, and states have oversight responsibility for local agencies. GAO was asked to review CSBG program management.
This report examines (1) how HHS and selected states conduct their oversight responsibilities and (2) how HHS assesses the effectiveness of the CSBG program. GAO reviewed files for six of the 12 states where HHS conducted onsite compliance evaluations during fiscal years 2016 and 2017, and six states where HHS conducted routine monitoring—five of which were randomly selected. GAO visited three states, selected based on their CSBG funding amount and other factors, to conduct in-depth reviews of their monitoring activities. GAO also reviewed agency documents and interviewed HHS and selected state and local officials.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is recommending that HHS's new performance management approach include information on how its performance measure and state outcome measures align with program goals and how it will assess data reliability. HHS agreed with GAO's recommendation.
For more information, contact Kathryn Larin at (202) 512-7215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Comments: HHS agreed with this recommendation and and stated that it plans to take actions to better align its performance measures with the three national performance goals outlined in the new CSBG Theory of Change. We commend HHS for its plans to address this recommendation, but encourage the agency to focus on aligning its performance outcomes with the three national goals of the CSBG program as established by the CBBG Act, which are similar but not identical to the three goals outlined in the new CSBG Theory of Change. HHS also stated that it would implement additional actions to assess the reliability of state performance outcome data.
Recommendation: The Director of OCS, in developing the new performance management approach for the CSBG program, should ensure that its performance framework includes information on (1) details for how the national measure is linked to and used to assess the three national program goals, (2) descriptions of how the updated state and local performance outcome measures align with national program goals, and (3) a written plan for how OCS will assess the reliability of state performance outcome data. (Recommendation 1)
Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Community Services