GAO seeks abstinence accountability in programs for young people
The federal government can do more to monitor whether taxpayer-funded abstinence education programs are medically accurate and effective, a watchdog agency said in a new report.
Both federal and state agencies say they have found at least a few “inaccuracies” in abstinence education materials, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the two agencies that award abstinence grants, can do more to “assure the accuracy” of materials used in such programs.
The GAO also found numerous efforts to measure the effectiveness of abstinence programs. But many of these evaluations aren’t “scientific” enough, and “a number of factors limit the conclusions that can be drawn about” the programs, it said.
The federal government spent about $158 million on abstinence education in 2005.
In response to the GAO findings, HHS Assistant Secretary for Legislature Vincent J. Ventimiglia said the agency might ask its Administration for Children and Families (ACF) — which awards the bulk of abstinence grants — to have its grantees sign written assurances that their materials are accurate.
However, HHS “does not agree with key claims” in the GAO report, Mr. Ventimiglia said. All federal grant applicants must attest that “all data in their applications are true and correct,” and abstinence applicants also must submit curricula that “conform to and are thoroughly grounded in” scientific literature. ACF reviews these applications, including curricula, “to ensure compliance with these scientifically valid standards,” he said.
William Smith of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States cheered the GAO report.
The new Democratic-led Congress ought to “enforce accountability” in abstinence fund- ing, Mr. Smith said. He noted that Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee and one of those who requested the GAO report, already has found misinformation in some abstinence curricula.
“Ignorance is nobody’s ally in the era of AIDS,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, another critic of abstinence-only education.
But abstinence supporters said they welcome the oversight — and they expect it to apply to other sex education programs, too.
“Project Reality is happy to have our curricula reviewed for scientific accuracy,” said Libby Macke, director of the Illinois group, adding that its materials are “frequently updated and reviewed by medical personnel.”
Mrs. Macke urged the GAO to offer a “timely” response to a request, filed in March by 21 House Republicans, for an investigation into the “medical accuracy” and unbiased evaluation of federally funded HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy prevention programs.