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The National Bureau of Standards, part of
the Department of Commerce, supports the
U.S. scientific and technical community by
setting standards for the nation's physical
measurement system and carrying out a num-
ber of scientific and technical services for
industry and government.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science
and Transportation and its Subcommittee on
Science, Technology and Space asked GAO to
provide information on Bureau activities
to assist in its consideration of legisla-
tion to reauthorize Bureau activities be-
yond fiscal year 1980.

EFFECT OF "LEAD AGENCY" POLICY

The Bureau's ability to do its job has
been hampered by the Office of Management
and Budget's (OMB's) implementation of
the "lead agency" policy. This policy re-
quires that an agency charged with a specific
mission be the primary source of funds to
support all activities contributing to that
mission, whether they are carried out by that
agency or by others.

OMB's implementation of the lead agency
concept has had a negative effect on the
Bureau. OMB has not recognized that mea-
surement is a Bureau lead agency respon-
sibility. It has taken the position that
if measurement is directly related to
another lead agency's mission, that agency
should fund it.

For example, the Bureau has established
an environmental measurement programas
part of its measurement science activi-
ties. OMB decided that this program
should be funded from Environmental

CED-80-49

Tear Sheet. Upon removal, the report
cover date should be noted hereon.

Protection Agency appropriations, rather than by direct appropriations to the Bureau, on the grounds that the environment is the Agency's responsibility.

In setting priorities, agencies tend to place at the highest level those tasks most closely related to their direct mission. Inevitably, funds to support measurement science, metrology, and standards development will rank low among another agency's priorities. Funds being considered by another agency for allocation to the Bureau are more likely to be cut or directed to higher priorities within the agency.

RECOMMENDATION

The Bureau's 1901 organic act imposes no mandatory requirements on the Bureau; it simply authorizes the Bureau to perform a variety of functions. If the Congress decides to amend or revise the Bureau's organic act, GAO recommends that the language make clear the areas in which NBS is to have lead agency responsibility. (See p. 13.)

MOST BUREAU CUSTOMERS SATISFIED

GAO sent a questionnaire survey to 838
users of Bureau services and interviewed
36 members of the Bureau's evaluation
panels and Statutory Visiting Committee.
Most of the individuals contacted gave
high ratings to Bureau services. (See
p. 17.)

MAJOR REPROGRAMING
BY THE BUREAU

Citing budget constraints, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Science and Technology directed the Bureau to develop a plan to reprogram about $11 million of current programs--about 13 percent of its basic program. (See app. VI.)

The programs terminated were worthwhile but of lower priority than the proposed programs.

About half of the reprograming took place in fiscal year 1979; the remainder is scheduled for fiscal year 1980. This was done because of the extent of the reprograming in relation to the Bureau's total budget and to minimize the impact on the Bureau's scientific staff.

Because the reprograming took effect so
recently, GAO was unable to evaluate its
impact on the Bureau's scientific work
or on the users of the programs which
were terminated. (See p. 26.)

ANALYSIS OF LEGISLATION
GOVERNING BUREAU ACTIVITIES

GAO found no inconsistency, conflict, or
substantial duplication among the acts
assigning responsibilities to the National
Bureau of Standards. The 1901 organic act,
as amended, provides broad authority to
the Bureau and gives it discretion to de-
termine its scientific activities. While
specific legislation has been enacted to
supplement this authority, setting forth
specific mandates, it does not give the
Bureau more authority than that provided
in the organic act. By enacting specific
legislation, the Congress has focused
attention on specific national problems
and made major policy decisions in the
areas of science and technology. (See
p. 27.)

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AGENCIES' COMMENTS
AND GAO'S EVALUATION

The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency generally agreed with GAO's conclusions and recommendations.

The Department of Commerce and OMB did
not believe that GAO's recommendations to
the Congress to clarify the areas in which
the Bureau is to have lead agency respon-
sibility would accomplish the intended
objective. GAO believes, however, that
by congressional designation of the Bureau

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as the lead agency for certain measurement sciences, metrology, and standards, the Bureau's difficulties with OMB's implementation of the lead agency concept will be substantially reduced. (See p. 13.)

In the draft report sent for comment to OMB, GAO proposed that the Director, OMB, take responsibility for seeing that lead agencies allocate enough funds to the Bureau so that it can carry out its functions related to the agencies' missions.

In its response, OMB said it recognized the problems associated with the lead agency policy and was attempting to clarify the appropriate Bureau role in various measurement programs.

OMB said it would prefer encouraging the Bureau and the agencies involved to establish interagency, long-range agreements so that the lead agency's needs are met and the Bureau is guaranteed some program continuity.

Accordingly, GAO is not making a recommendation to OMB at this time. (See p. 14.)

MATTER FOR CONSIDERATION
BY THE CONGRESS

In view of OMB's position, appropriate committees of the Congress may wish to consider authorizing and appropriating specific funding for those activities which should be considered as National Bureau of Standards lead agency responsibilities. (See p. 14.)

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NBS EFFORTS ARE HAMPERED BY

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LEAD
AGENCY CONCEPT

The lead agency concept
Effect of lead agency concept on NBS
Difficulties faced by NBS
OMB's position on the lead agency

concept
Conclusions
Recommendation to the Congress
Agencies' comments and our evaluation
Matter for consideration by the

Congress

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III

Letter dated October 10, 1978, from the

Chairman, Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science and Transportation, and the
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member,
Subcommittee on Science, Technology
and Space

31

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