Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center:
Clarifying Rationale for the Research and Development Funding Decisions Would Increase Accountability
GAO-09-339R: Published: Mar 12, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2009.
This letter formally transmits the summary of an oral briefing we gave on December 8, 2008, and subsequent agency comments. We gave this briefing in response to Senate Report 110-129, accompanying the 2008 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill. In accordance with direction in that report, and in consultation with House and Senate Appropriation Committee staff, we are reporting on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center (CTAC). Specifically, we address issues pertaining to CTAC's use of funds since fiscal year 2003, the ONDCP Director's approach to funding decisions for research and development, CTAC's measures of performance, and CTAC's reorganization in 2007.
In summary, since fiscal year 2003, CTAC has allocated funds to a variety of efforts to treat and prevent drug abuse and reduce the availability, production, and distribution of illicit drugs by transferring appropriated funds for its two programs--research and development and technology transfer--to its contracting agents. However, CTAC officials lacked confidence in the information on expenditures provided by its contractor, prompting CTAC to replace its primary contracting agent in March 2007. CTAC's contracting agents did not obligate $17.8 million (about 20 percent) of CTAC's fiscal year 2004 through 2007 research and development appropriations to specific projects, and returned these funds to CTAC. CTAC transferred all of its appropriations related to its technology transfer program since fiscal year 2003 to contracting agents, and CTAC was in the process of phasing out the program in October 2008 due to lack of funding. The ONDCP Director's approach to making research and development funding decisions is not documented and, therefore, not fully consistent with internal control standards.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Not Implemented
Comments: In fiscal year 2009, we reported on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) director's approach to funding decisions for the Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center's (CTAC) research and development program. We reported that CTAC's research and development funding decisions were not documented and, therefore, not fully consistent with internal control standards. We recommended that the ONDCP Director identify the role that different factors play in funding decisions, and document the basis used to select particular research and development project concepts for funding, including the rationale for selecting certain project concepts over others. In an August 7, 2009, letter to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the ONDCP director described the project concept review and selection process that ONDCP developed in response to GAO's recommendation. The letter noted that CTAC staff reviewed and rated concept submissions using the following criteria: (1) consistent with the CTAC reauthorization language; (2) consistent with ONDCP's strategic priorities; (3) technically feasible; (4) leverages interagency cooperation and funding; (5) fulfills an unmet need; and (6) cost. The letter did include information on the rationale the ONDCP Director used to select certain project concepts over others in making his final decisions. As we noted in our report, without information on how the ONDCP director weighted the various factors, and what his rationale was for funding certain project concepts over others, there is a lack of transparency in how funding decisions have been made, and it is difficult to know whether the project concepts the ONDCP Director selected for funding met the highest priority research and technology needs of the counterdrug community. In a March 14, 2011, e-mail, ONDCP's Deputy General Counsel stated that ONDCP's General Counsel determined that the annual CTAC report that the agency submits to Congress fulfills the obligation that the Director document the rationale for selecting specific project concepts over others. Based on this information and conversations with ONDCPs General Counsel, GAO does not believe that further actions will be taken to fully implement the recommendation and it is therefore closed not implemented.
Recommendation: The ONDCP Director should identify the role that different factors play in funding decisions, and document the basis used to select particular research and development project concepts for funding, including the rationale for selecting certain project concepts over others.
Agency Affected: Office of National Drug Control Policy