By: Amanda K. Mullan

Abstract

The Federal Advisory Committee Act1 (FACA) stipulates that advisory committees must be more accessible to the public. To accomplish this, FACA requires the General Services Administration (GSA) to oversee advisory committees and report certain information to Congress and the public. Despite increased openness and account-ability, the Act falls short in a number of areas. The increasing number of advisory committees renders the evaluation of the system’s effectiveness necessary. In order to perform a thorough analysis of committees’ productivity and effectiveness, more ac-curate and relevant data is needed. Once an analysis is conducted, Congress or GSA should require that government agencies provide advisory committees with feedback about their recommendations and suggest ways for advisory committee members to improve in the future.

About the Author

Amanda Mullan is a Research Associate at the National Academy of Public Ad-
ministration. She is currently working on a team conducting an assessment of the National Weather Service’s organizational structure. Prior to joining the Academy, Amanda worked as an intern at the Congressional Research Service in the Government and Finance Division concentrating on Executive Branch Operations. She has recently completed her Master’s thesis on the Federal Advisory Committee Act and approaches to increase the effectiveness of the federal advisory committee system. Amanda holds a Masters in Public Administration from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from SUNY Cortland.

Introduction

Federal advisory committees exist in almost every United States federal
agency as a means for government employees to solicit advice from private individuals. More than 1,000 advisory committees exist, counseling over fifty federal agencies. They advise on a wide array of topics ranging from travel and stem cell research, to homeland security. Whereas the president of the United States and Congress acknowledge that advisory committees are beneficial to the policymaking process, an assessment of their cost-effectiveness has not been completed. Although the General Services Administration (GSA) collects data on advisory committees’ performance and effectiveness, the information provided is not sufficient for the required level of analysis. Determining how many recommendations an advisory committee provides for an agency and how many of those recommendations are implemented by the agency can provide insight into the effectiveness of a committee. The GSA currently collects information on performance measures, however the data provided is inconsistent. Since the data is inconsistent, it cannot be used to adequately determine the effectiveness of federal advisory committees. It is unclear if GSA has the authority to collect this data without an amendment to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).2

Without accurate information to evaluate the effectiveness of advisory com-
mittees, it is difficult to determine if federal advisory committees are accountable to the American public. On his first day in office, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum to the heads of all executive departments and agencies, making transparency and accountability a priority of his administration.3 On December 6, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a similar memorandum titled, “Open Government Directive,” which included further instructions on how departments and agencies should create and implement an open government plan.4 It is unclear what impact these policies have on improving the accountability of the federal advisory committee system. In response to these memoranda, the GSA created an updated FACA website, which provides the same data as the FACA Database, but in different formats. The Obama Administration also issued Executive Order 13490, prohibiting agencies from appointing federally registered lobbyists as members of federal advisory committees.5,6,7 Thus far, it is unclear what impact the executive order has had on recommendations made by advisory committees.

The following actions are recommended to better assess the effectiveness
and the accountability of federal advisory committees: collect relevant data to conduct a thorough evaluation of advisory committee performance, require agencies to provide feedback to advisory committees explaining why their advice was or was not implemented, and identify best practices that agencies should adopt to improve the functionality of their advisory committees. The GSA should also develop distinctive methods of data collection for evaluating peer review committees, as they operate differently than most other advisory committees. To give GSA the authority to collect more information, an amendment to FACA may be required.

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Cornell Policy Review

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