Report: $3 billion federal STEM program needs better oversight

One- third of all federal STEM programs had obligations of $1 million or less.

Very few of the federal government’s 209 programs designed to increase knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) receive oversight from a specific agency, while many STEM initiatives overlap with each other, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Eight in 10 STEM-related programs identified in the extensive GAO report released April 10 had at least some overlap with similar efforts to promote the four academic fields that have been pushed by legislators, policymakers, and educators as a way to fill tech-related jobs during the economic recovery.

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President Obama announced in March that a group of elite universities – including Harvard and Stanford – would join a White House effort to train and deploy 100,000 STEM teachers by 2022, a program partly funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Before changes are made to the government’s efforts to promote STEM fields, the GAO cautioned that even among the overlapping initiatives, “services they provide and the populations they serve may differ in meaningful ways and would therefore not necessarily be duplicative.”

Every program under the $3-billion federal STEM umbrella “need[s] to be well coordinated and guided by a robust strategic plan,” no matter its function or overlap with similar programs, the GAO said.

The agency’s investigation into the government’s STEM funding found a distinct lack of evaluation tools that could help officials better understand how to efficiently and effectively promote the four fields.

“Agencies’ limited use of performance measures and evaluations may hamper their ability to assess the effectiveness of their individual programs as well as the overall STEM education effort,” the report said. “Specifically, program officials varied in their ability to provide reliable output measures–for example, the number of students, teachers, or institutions directly served by their program.”

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