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General Accounting Office, Computer Matching: Assessing Its Costs and Benefits (GAO/PEMD-87-2) (Nov. 10, 1986) (full-text).


In response to a congressional request, the GAO identified several methods federal agencies should consider using in computer-match cost-benefit analyses.

The GAO found that: (1) agencies can perform computer-match cost-benefit analyses prospectively, assessing whether a match should be initiated, or concurrently, to decide whether to continue a match, or retrospectively, to determine whether a match was successful; (2) accuracy in measuring the costs and benefits of a computer match depends on identifying all the activities associated with its performance, from its initial phase of planning and development to the completion of verification and follow-up activities on the individuals or organizations identified as positive matches; (3) since cost-benefit analysis involves a comparison of total costs with total benefits, agencies must recognize and measure all costs and benefits; and (4) to the extent that it is feasible, agencies should assign all costs a monetary value, and then aggregate and compare them.

The GAO identified six key entities in government cost-benefit analyses, including the matching agency, the source agencies, the justice system, the agencies' clients, third parties, and the general public. The major costs of computer-match cost-benefit analyses to matching and source agencies and the justice system are personnel salaries and fringe benefits, time, and resources. The costs to program clients and third parties include the time and resources spent responding to agency requests for verification. The costs to the general public include potential encroachment on constitutional and legal rights and privileges.