Federal officials should be doing more to monitor and coordinate efforts to address the needs of those with autism, government investigators say.

With 19 different agencies conducting autism activities ranging from research to prevalence tracking, education and employment, it is up to the National Institutes of Health to ensure that they are working together and not duplicating work. That is largely managed by the national autism coordinator and the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, or IACC, a panel comprised of government officials and members of the autism community.

Investigators with the Government Accountability Office reviewed documentation and interviewed officials from federal agencies as well as private autism organizations to determine how effective the current system of coordination is.

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The GAO found that while the NIH followed most of its recommended practices for collaboration, there is room for improvement, according to a new report. Specifically, investigators said that there is work to be done in defining common outcomes and ensuring accountability.

“We found that IACC strategic plans have established goals; however, the IACC does not break down the goals into tangible, measurable objectives, nor does NIH or the national autism coordinator,” the report indicates. “Additionally, NIH coordination efforts also partially followed the leading practice of ensuring accountability because although some NIH and IACC reports describe federal and non-federal autism activities, they do not clearly track or report progress toward goals in a way that ensures accountability.”

While the GAO said that the NIH has taken steps to prevent unnecessary duplication across federal autism activities, investigators determined that a lack of documentation on the procedures used to assess this means there’s no way to determine if these efforts are adequate.

The GAO is recommending that the NIH establish a process for tracking and reporting progress on IACC goals that includes information on where performance is lacking and why desired results were not achieved. In addition, the NIH should document its procedures for ensuring that autism efforts across federal agencies are free of duplication, investigators said.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the NIH, concurred with the GAO’s recommendations and indicated that the agency is working to implement them.

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