In sum, numerous federal agencies fund multiple research, intervention, and technical assistance efforts to reduce underage drinking. Although coordination mechanisms are in place for specific initiations, and agency staff report regular staff-level communication, the committee is not aware of any ongoing effort to coordinate all of the various federal efforts either within or across departments. The multitude of agencies and initiatives involved suggests the need for an interagency body to provide national leadership and provide a single federal voice on the issue of underage drinking.
Recommendation 12-1: A federal interagency coordinating committee on prevention of underage drinking should be established, chaired by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Membership on the coordinating committee should include senior officials from each of the agencies included in the GAO report. The coordinating committee also should periodically consult with the range of national nongovernmental organizations—including National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Century Council, National Beer Wholesalers Association—who sponsor initiatives aimed at preventing underage drinking to facilitate a coordinated, research-based approach by all key players. Once the recommended nonprofit foundation is established, the foundation should also be regularly consulted.
The committee recommends that the secretary of HHS chair the coordinating committee for several reasons. First, HHS plays the federal government’s lead role in the prevention of substance abuse. Although other agencies have programs that target underage drinking, their primary missions are not related to substance abuse. The initiatives funded by and evaluated by HHS have the widest scope. HHS also administers the major national surveys that are likely to be used to monitor changes in the prevalence or intensity of youth drinking and has the greatest resources available to fund the research necessary for continued improvement of the strategy. Which HHS agency should have operational responsibility for the coordinating committee should be determined by the secretary.
Recommendation 12-2: A National Training and Research Center on Underage Drinking should be established in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This body would provide technical assistance, training, and evaluation support and would monitor progress in implementing national goals.
To the greatest possible extent, interventions aiming to prevent or reduce underage drinking should be science based. In addition, as discussed in Chapter 11, community efforts are most likely to succeed if they have