Watchdog Finds Efforts Lacking to Assess Accuracy and Effectiveness of Abstinence Programs
November 17, 2006
The government does not evaluate most taxpayer-funded abstinence-until-marriage programs to see whether they are effective and provide accurate information, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported Thursday.
Abstinence education programs receive about $158 million a year from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), mostly through its Administration for Families and Children (AFC). Just last month, a GAO report reminded administration officials that taxpayer-supported abstinence programs must contain medically accurate information about how well condoms prevent STDs. AFC has not been doing that, GAO reported. HHS-funded abstinence programs supported through the Office of Population Affairs are evaluated, GAO said.
"It is increasingly clear that [AFC's] strategy is to bury their heads in the sand and simply throw money at organizations that favor the social issue agenda of the Bush administration," said William Smith, vice president of public policy for Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which promotes sex education.
Of 10 AFC-funded states that GAO auditors contacted, only half reviewed materials for scientific accuracy, the report said.
In comments submitted to GAO, health officials questioned the meaning of "scientific accuracy" as used in GAO's report but said they would consider requiring written assurance from grantees that educational materials are accurate. The department maintains grant application data have to be "true and correct" -- a requirement that, by implication, would extend to curricular materials, HHS said.
The GAO report noted that most state and federal efforts to gauge the efficacy of abstinence-until-marriage programs are scientifically meaningless. The two HHS studies that may meet standards of scientific validity have not yet been completed, the report noted.
HHS said it is now requiring more program funds be spent on assessing abstinence-only interventions' impact. The department said there is a lack of valid and conclusive studies on the effectiveness of other sex education efforts, as well.
11.16.2006; Andrew Bridges