DOT and DOE Can Take Steps to Better Assess Duplication Risk and Enhance Usefulness

March 29, 2012

Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Energy (DOE) guidance require officials to check for duplication prior to filing a charter to establish a new or renew an existing FACA advisory group. However, GAO found that DOT and DOE's processes for assessing duplication are often informal, and neither agency has specific steps identified for making such an assessment. Using an informal approach without specific steps makes it more likely that agency assessments for duplication will be inconsistent or incomplete. In addition, while basic information about the 15 DOT and 21 DOE fiscal year 2010 FACA advisory groups is publicly available in the FACA database, including designated points of contact and the objectives of the groups, no such information is readily available for non-FACA advisory groups. This limits the agencies' ability to fully assess the universe of advisory groups for particular topic areas. DOT and DOE officials faced some challenges identifying and collecting information for the 19 DOT and 33 DOE non-FACA advisory groups GAO reviewed, relying on various sources and Internet searches to gather basic information, since neither agency maintains an inventory of its non-FACA advisory groups and their activities. In addition, advisory groups often address complex and highly technical issues that span across agencies. For example, one advisory group GAO identified focused on experimental and theoretical research in nuclear physics. Agency officials familiar with these types of technical topic areas and other potential stakeholders covering these same topics are best positioned to assess the potential for unnecessary duplication and would be even better positioned to do so if the departments develop specific assessment steps and enhance the visibility of non-FACA advisory groups. 

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