GAO Report Slams Federal Mental Health Agency

A new Government Accountability Office report has slammed the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for doing a lackluster job in coordinating treatment for individuals with serious mental illness.

SAMHSA, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has responsibility for coordinating federal efforts to combat mental illness. However, despite 112 programs spread over eight federal agencies — with a combined budget of $5.7 billion in 2013 — that might help those with severe mental illness, only 30 are specifically targeted for this population.

In addition, of the 30 programs, less than half were evaluated or scheduled to be evaluated for effectiveness. Also, few agencies were found to be tracking their mental illness programs, and many were not able to say how much money was being spent or if individuals were actually enrolled in the programs.

For example, the GAO found that some of those programs were in agencies like the Department of Justice or the Veterans Administration, whose missions do not include mental health. And the majority of these programs addressed broad issues, such as homelessness, that may or may not include individuals with serious mental illness.

“Although SAMHSA is charged with promoting coordination across the federal government regarding mental illness, its efforts to lead coordination – specifically on serious mental illness – across agencies have been lacking,” the report, titled, “Mental Health: HHS Leadership Needed to Coordinate Federal Efforts Related to Serious Mental Illness,” concluded.

The report was requested by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The subcommittee is holding a hearing on Feb. 11 on the matter. Witnesses slated to testify are Linda T. Kohn, PhD, director of health care at the GAO, and Richard G. Frank, PhD, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at HHS.