GAO Study: Reported Federal Climate Change Spending Increased by $4.4 Billion Since 2010

On May 30, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued an analysis on reported federal climate change funding, prepared as a report to Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.  The analysis examined annual federal climate change funding reported by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) from 2010 to 2017; the extent to which such funding is clearly linked to federal fiscal exposure to climate change; the extent to which climate change funding is spent on programs where addressing climate change is the primary purpose; and the extent to which these primary-purpose climate change programs are fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative.

This report finds that OMB reported that annual climate change funding has increased by $4.4 billion from fiscal years 2010 to 2017.  According to GAO however, OMB reporting on climate change funding did not include information on climate related fiscal exposures (e.g., programs like disaster assistance where costs were likely to increase due to climate change) to assist policymakers in understanding budget trade-offs for climate change activities.  In addition, GAO reported that few government programs—18 of 533—that report climate change spending exist for the primary purpose of addressing climate change.  Those 18 programs are fragmented across four federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (in the Department of Commerce), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture.  Each agency’s programs serve different purposes, target different audiences, or operate at different time periods and scales, which minimizes potential overlap or duplication.  For example, 13 of these 18 programs focused on enhancing scientific understanding of climate change, while the remainder focused on other aspects of climate change, such as modeling and providing information to stakeholders to facilitate adaptation.

GAO’s report makes two recommendations to OMB:

  1. The Director of OMB should provide, concurrent with any future climate change funding reports to Congress, funding information for federal programs with fiscal exposure to climate change. This information should include costs to repair, replace, and improve the weather-related resilience of federally-funded property and resources; costs for federal flood and crop insurance programs; and costs for disaster assistance programs.
  2. The Director of OMB should provide, concurrent with any future climate change funding reports to Congress, a detailed analysis of federal climate change programs it considers to be fragmented, overlapping, or duplicative.
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