Budget Directors Signal Probable Cuts for Youth Programs

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The president’s budget director fired a warning shot at federally funded youth programs today, saying the government wastes money on too many similar and overlapping programs that are funded through a confusing plethora of uncoordinated budget streams.

In a speech at the Center For American Progress, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration will cut back on duplicative programs and those that are the least effective.

“There are over 110 funded programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in 14 departments and agencies across the federal government; over 100 programs that support youth mentoring scattered across 13 agencies; and more than 40 programs located in 11 departments with responsibility for employment and training,” Orszag said.

“This redundancy wastes resources and makes it harder to act on each of these worthy goals. … We cannot afford to waste money on programs that do not work, that are out-dated or that are duplicative of one another.”

In tadem with Orszag’s speech, the White House directed federal agencies to make plans to cut at least 5 percent from their budgets. In addition, Orszag said, “We are asking each agency to develop a list of their bottom 5 percent performing discretionary programs, as measured by their impact in furthering the agency’s mission.”

What all this means for youth programs remains to be seen.

“I think it’s a shot across the bow,” said Larry Wright, CEO of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Mentoring Partnership.

While Wright said he favors “effieciency” in times of tight budgets, he cautioned that different mentoring programs aren’t necessarily doing the same thing. “They treat these youth support serivces as though they could fall into any one category,” Wright said. “Juvenile justice mentoring is different than academic mentoring in the Departmet of Education.”

Similar messages about duplicative federal funding of youth services have been heard for years. “This is a familiar refrain, and I don’t know what it signals at this moment,” said Dorothy Stoneman,  president of YouthBuild USA, which provides advocacy, training and support for the YouthBuild programs funded through the Department of Labor ($102 million in fiscal 2010).

In 2003, the White House Task Force on Disadvantaged Youth issued a report saying that federal youth programs were too fragmented among agencies, with frequent overlaps and almost no coordination. It said federally funded youth programs waste money and manpower through “overlap and duplication,” and called for the creation of a Disadvantaged Youth Initiative to coordinate it all. A summary of that report is here.

Many in the youth field agree that federal youth programming should be consolidated. The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was created in 1974 in large part to coordinate federal services and resources dealing with youth crime and delinquency. The Younger Americans Act, introduced in Congress nearly a decade ago but never enacted, sought to create a Federal Youth Development Council that would, according to a website for the Act, “facilitate interagency collaboration, coordinate federal research, and identify and replicate model programs, federal youth policy and funding under a single entity.”

Today’s statements by Orszag, coupled with Obama’s budget-trimming directive, signal that cuts to many programs, including those for youth, are imminent.  In February the president released a proposed budget for fiscal 2011 that would boost funding for some youth programs – including AmeriCorps, Youth Build and the Teen Pregnancy Initiative – while cutting funds for others, such as mentoring through the Justice Department, and Missing Children/Child Exploitation programs..