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GAO Highlights Need for Coordination of Federal Energy, Entrepreneurship Initiatives

April 03, 2013

Ahead of the president' FY 2014 budget proposal release date (April 10, 2013) and amid federal sequestration, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released two reports that contend duplication, fragmentation and a lack of cooperation between federal agencies may plague federal support for wind energy deployment and entrepreneurial assistance. To address these issues, the GAO reports recommend enhanced collaboration between agencies and consolidation of funding programs. Looming budget cuts and political support could place these reports in the midst of political and public dialogue on government duplication and potentially be used as evidence of federal wasteful spending.

In a study of federal support for wind energy deployment, the GAO found that nearly all of the 82 different federal initiatives had overlap in services and financial support. GAO contends that fragmentation and lack of inter-agency cooperation are the driving force behind this duplication of efforts. Seven initiatives were indentified that have provided duplicative financial support from multiple initiatives to the same recipient for deployment of a single project. To address this issue, the report contends that federal agencies — specifically the Departments of Agriculture and Energy — should coordinate efforts to reduce unneeded duplication.

This GAO wind energy report already has drawn significant public dialogue with dozens of news articles already highlighting the report, its findings and potential impacts it could have on the wind industry. It also has started to spark political debate. In a press release from Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman Smith contends the study goes beyond duplication and highlights waste in federal wind energy deployment initiatives. Chairman Smith proposes federal agencies should cut many of these programs and redirect efforts toward research. He proposes that this refocusing will help renewable energy companies compete without taxpayer subsidies.

Although it is drawing significantly less public attention than the wind energy report, the GAO's study on entrepreneurial assistance found strikingly similar trends to the energy report. According to the report, the 52 federal programs that support entrepreneurs are fragmented and overlap based on the type of assistance they are authorized to offer, such as financial (grants and loans) and technical (training and counseling) and the type of entrepreneur they are authorized to serve. Most of the overlap can be attributed to programs that provide a broad range of assistance. The report also found that many federal agencies do not track program information on entrepreneurial assistance activities for many programs, a practice that is not consistent with government standards for internal controls.

As federal austerity measures progress, these reports and similar GAO studies potentially could play a bigger role in the availability and sources of government support for activities such as wind energy and entrepreneurial assistance. Although GAO reports focused on duplication typically have sparked limited public dialogue in the past, the wind energy report may indicate a shift in the relevance of these GAO reports. With looming budget cuts, public and political dialogue on and reaction to these reports could play an important role in shaping the future of federal support for innovation.

federal agency, dept of energy, cleantech, energy