Overlap of Programs Suggests There May Be Opportunities for Consolidation

July 23, 2012

The federal government spent about $68 million on 15 of the 16 financial literacy programs that were comprehensive in scope or scale in fiscal year 2010; cost data were not available for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was created that year. In addition, about $137 million in federal funding in four other major programs was directed to housing counseling, which can include elements of financial education. Since fiscal year 2010, at least four of these programs have been defunded and CFPB has received resources to fund its financial literacy activities.

Federal financial literacy and housing counseling activities are spread across multiple agencies and programs. GAO has not identified duplication—programs providing the same activities and services to the same beneficiaries—but has found overlap—multiple programs with similar goals and activities—in areas such as housing counseling and the financial education of youth. Further, CFPB was charged with some financial education duties that overlap with those of other federal agencies, making it essential that their respective roles and responsibilities be clearly delineated to ensure efficient use of resources. Moreover, CFPB's creation may signal an opportunity for consolidating some federal financial literacy efforts, which would be consistent with federal goals of reorganizing and consolidating federal agencies to reduce the number of overlapping government programs.

Federal agencies have made progress in recent years in coordinating their financial literacy activities and collaborating with nonfederal entities, in large part due to the efforts of the federal multiagency Financial Literacy and Education Commission. The commission's 2011 national strategy includes some useful elements—such as plans to coordinate interagency communication, improve strategic partnerships, and promote evaluation. However, it does not recommend or provide guidance on the appropriate allocation of federal resources among programs and agencies, which GAO has found to be desirable in a national strategy. While the commission's governance structure presents challenges in addressing resource issues, without a clear discussion of resource needs and where resources should be targeted, policymakers lack information to help direct the strategy's implementation and help ensure efficient use of funds. 

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