Federal Advisory Committee Act




JULY 14, 1998


Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to discuss with you today the effectiveness of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), and GSA's role in achieving the Act's goals. I will also review our plans to address the General Accounting Office's (GAO) specific recommendations in its recent reports. Accompanying me today is James L. Dean, Director of the Committee Management Secretariat, established by section 7(a) of FACA, and Dr. Kennett Fussell, who is present to provide a brief demonstration of GSA's Internet-based committee reporting system.

Mr. Chairman, during previous testimony before this Subcommittee, I had the occasion to discuss the Act's relationship to Federal information policy and, most recently, how GSA and the agencies manage the responsibilities the Act gives them. In the interest of time, I will not repeat that information and will instead focus on the specific issues before us today.

As FACA enters its second quarter-century during fiscal year 1998, it is appropriate and important to examine opportunities for strengthening the Act's role in encouraging and promoting effective collaboration. Congress passed FACA in 1972 amidst concerns relating to the number and costs of advisory committees, as well as the lack of adequate means for ensuring their accountability to the public. Stated simply, Congress designed the Act to illuminate how agencies made decisions based on advice and recommendations from individuals outside of Government. Since 1972, the Act's coverage has been extended to more than 3,900 advisory committees made up of an estimated 516,000 members. Total costs to support these efforts from 1972 to 1997 were $3.6 billion in 1997 constant dollars. Today, advisory committee members contribute between 150,000 and 200,000 days per year through service on 903 advisory committees covering a diverse range of issues (Charts I and II).

The environment within which the Act operates has changed dramatically since 1972. During the 1990's, the Executive branch expanded the use of advisory committees by obtaining greater direct participation from local communities, State and tribal governments. This shift contrasts with earlier approaches that emphasized decision-making at the national level.

Mr. Chairman, you requested that our testimony address the extent to which the Act's primary goals of cost effectiveness and openness have been achieved.

There are several significant factors that have influenced total governmentwide costs associated with operating advisory committees, only one of which is whether the committee meeting is open to the public. For example:

?visory committees have become an integral part of the basic business processes used by some agencies to accomplish their statutory missions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) sponsor committees that perform critical functions in satisfying procedural and administrative protocols, while also providing advice and recommendations. Advisory committees have largely become institutionalized within these agencies for these reasons.
?;br>?visory committees have become the preferred tools for addressing significant national issues. Committees have been formed to respond to such emergencies as the Space Shuttle Challenger and Three-Mile Island accidents and, most recently, to evaluate issues related to aviation and information security. Costs associated with such committees vary greatly and may directly influence the growth in governmentwide expenditures during a given year.
?;br>?deral agencies are increasingly using Advisory committees in the Field. As part of the Administration's initiatives to improve customer service and increase the public's participation in Federal decisions affecting local communities, agencies are establishing more advisory committees. Such committees are addressing a diverse range of issues, including those related to ecosystem management and restoration of environmentally contaminated facilities.

Accordingly, trends relating to FACA-related expenditures and public access to committee meetings must be viewed within the context of the contemporary use of advisory committees.


During fiscal year 1997, 57 Federal Departments and agencies sponsored 963 advisory committees. A total of 36,586 individuals served as committee members; 5,698 meetings were held; and 1,101 reports were issued. Related expenditures of $178 million were necessary to fund such costs as compensation of committee members, reimbursement for travel and per diem expenses, Federal member and staff support expenditures, consulting fees, and administrative overhead. Approximately $83.4 million, or 47 percent of all costs associated with supporting advisory committees during the year, were the result of indirect expenditures for Federal staff support and Federal member participation (Chart III).

A number of other committee costs, however, involve direct outlays by agencies. For example, Federal agencies spent $40.3 million in fiscal year 1997 to cover travel and per diem expenses for non-Federal committee members and staff. Committees then use GSA's Government travel discount programs to minimize their travel costs.

Terminating unnecessary or inactive committees also reduces costs. During the reporting period, 60 committees were terminated. Sponsoring agencies have identified another 98 committees for termination during fiscal year 1998, with associated combined savings of $4 million.

Compared with total expenses of $148.5 million during the previous year, total costs incurred during fiscal year 1997, or $178 million, reflect a 19.8 percent increase in resources dedicated for this purpose. However, the average nominal cost per committee meeting increased only slightly by 5 percent, from $29,656 during fiscal year 1996 to $31,239 in fiscal year 1997. In real terms (using 1997 constant dollars), overall costs increased by 17.3 percent and the average cost per committee meeting increased by only 3 percent.

GSA evaluated advisory committee cost trends from fiscal year 1988 to fiscal year 1997, the same period that GAO reviewed. During that period, governmentwide costs have increased in real terms from $121.6 million to $178 million (Chart IV), or 46.4 percent. At the same time, however, the average cost to support each advisory committee member has declined in real terms from $5,727 in fiscal year 1988 to $4,866 during fiscal year 1997, for a net decrease of 15 percent (Chart V).

Similarly, the average real cost to fund advisory committee meetings has declined from $34,584 during fiscal year 1988 to $31,239 in fiscal year 1997, for a net decrease of 10 percent. The average number of committee meetings has increased from 3.5 per committee to 5.9 per committee during the same period, for a net increase of 69 percent.

A significant factor in the increased overall rate of expenditures for advisory committees governmentwide is a result of substantial levels of committee activity sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). From fiscal year 1988 to fiscal year 1997, HHS' costs have increased in real terms from $49.5 million to $81.1 million, for a net growth rate of 63.8 percent. During the same period, costs for all other agencies increased in real terms from $82.1 million to $96.9 million, or 18 percent. From 1988 to 1997, the number of advisory committee members sponsored by HHS increased from 5,147 to 14, 860 (Chart VI).

During fiscal year 1997, 5,698 advisory committee meetings were held. Of that number, 2,765, or 48.5 percent of the total, were open or partially open to the public. However, agencies such as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) scheduled a significant number of closed meetings. Taken together, the number of such meetings conducted by these three agencies represented 92 percent of all closed meetings held during fiscal year 1997 (Chart VII). Excluding the large number of meetings that DOD, HHS and NSF must keep closed, 89 percent of the remaining agencies' advisory committee meetings are directly accessible to the public.

Sessions may be closed or partially open to the public based upon provisions of the Government in the Sunshine Act. Examples of meetings which may be closed or partially closed include those involving discussions of classified information; reviews of proprietary data submitted in support of Federal grant applications; and deliberations involving consideration of information that impacts individuals' personal privacy.

Since 1988, the proportion of advisory committee meetings scheduled by DOD, HHS and NSF that are directly open to the public has declined from 85.2 percent to 25.2 percent during fiscal year 1997. At the same time, however, the proportion of meetings scheduled by the remaining agencies that are open to the public has increased from 70.5 percent during fiscal year 1988 to 89 percent during fiscal year 1997.

The total number of committee meetings held during fiscal year 1997, or 5,698, marked a 14 percent increase in activity compared with the previous year's total of 5,008. The average number of meetings per committee held during the year was 5.9, reflecting an 18 percent increase over the previous year's average of 5.0.

Mr. Chairman, the GAO has just concluded a yearlong examination of GSA's efforts to implement its specific procedural responsibilities under the Act. We have welcomed the opportunity to work with the GAO on this effort and believe we are taking the right steps to address its recommendations. Since we have already provided detailed comments on both the final report and GAO's survey of advisory committee members and Federal Committee Management Officers (CMOs), I respectfully request that these comments be inserted into the record.

I would, however, like to briefly cover two important developments that have taken place since the GAO completed its assignment. First, GSA has completed a final draft of its revised regulations that implement FACA. GSA will soon send the new Proposed Rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. It addresses GAO's conclusion that GSA has not ensured that follow-up reports to Congress on public Presidential advisory committee recommendations were prepared by sponsoring agencies as required by section 6(b) of the Act. The Proposed Rule specifically provides for the inclusion of 6(b) follow-up responsibilities within the charters of Presidential advisory committees. GSA will record this information in its database to ensure compliance with section 6(b). The Proposed Rule will also restructure the process used by agencies to fulfill the requirement for consultation with the Secretariat regarding proposals for new discretionary advisory committees. These changes will improve procedural compliance with the Act by further standardizing GSA's business processes.

Second, the Secretariat has launched the second version of its new Internet-based reporting system which serves as the centerpiece of its efforts to assist Federal agencies in providing annual data required by FACA. The Secretariat, during fiscal year 1998, added features to allow CMOs, Designated Federal Officers (DFOs), and support staff to contemporaneously add data on committee costs, meetings, and subcommittee activities. These features will eliminate the need to prepare all required materials at the end of the fiscal year and will, accordingly, reduce the time required to complete the Annual Report of the President on Federal Advisory Committees.

Mr. Chairman, you asked us to address the status of actions to implement the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 1997 (Public Law 105-153; December 17, 1997). The Act specifies that GSA may issue regulations to effect its requirements (section 2(c)) and that GSA must prepare a report covering the Act's implementation by December 16, 1998 (section 3).

The Director of the Committee Management Secretariat has met several times with senior representatives of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) since our last appearance before the Subcommittee on November 5, 1997. Both Academies have established internal procedures and controls for certifying compliance with relevant portions of FACA's section 15 and are providing information to the public relating to their committee's activities and membership via the Internet.

GSA and the Academies have agreed to exercise the option contained in section 3 of the Amendments that permits the development of governmentwide regulations. GSA believes that the inclusion of new section 15's requirements within its revised regulations is essential in achieving maximum compliance with the Act. In addition, it is necessary for CMOs governmentwide to understand how to conduct business with the Academies should they be called upon for advice.

GSA will continue to conduct a dialogue with NAS and NAPA in order to fulfill its reporting obligations to the Congress.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, that concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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