USDA Restructuring:

Refocus Info Share Program on Business Processes Rather Than Technology

AIMD-94-156: Published: Aug 5, 1994. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Info Share Program, focusing on whether USDA has taken appropriate business process reengineering steps to improve the way its farm service and rural development agencies do business.

GAO found that: (1) USDA is attempting to revitalize and improve its operations and plans to establish one-stop field office service centers that incorporate new business processes to improve service to farm service and rural development agencies' customers; (2) USDA managers have not performed the key business process reengineering steps necessary to improve the way these agencies conduct business; (3) USDA manages Info Share primarily to acquire new information technology rather than to fundamentally improve business processes; (4) although USDA will probably spend significant funds to automate its business practices, these actions may not achieve the Secretary's vision of a reinvented USDA; (5) USDA may need to replace some of its aging and outdated computer technology so that its farm service and rural development agencies can continue to operate while USDA reengineers its business processes; and (6) USDA has not identified its technology needs for the interim period or the most cost-effective option for meeting its interim needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 1995, USDA first reported that it hired a senior program manager for Info Share who was responsible for day-to-day operation of this program, including reengineering. However, this person did not report directly to Under/Assistant Secretaries. USDA disbanded Info Share in December 1995, released the manager, and moved reengineering efforts under its Service Center Implementation initiative, which is under the responsibility of the Executive Officer of the National FAC . Later, USDA reported this recommendation was complete because the Executive Officer of the National FAC is responsible for managing the Service Center BPR program. While this individual is a senior manager, he is not responsible for managing the project on a day-to-day basis. USDA has since hired a manager who is responsible for BPR, but this person neither reports to the Under/Assistant Secretaries nor has responsibility for mission-related business processes.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should designate a senior manager who would be responsible for managing the business process reengineering effort on a day-to-day basis and would report directly to the Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has established an interagency BPR working team under the overall reorganization implementation structure. Also, the Deputy Secretary directed USDA officials to identify and appropriately reengineer business processes to achieve the goal of one-stop shopping in USDA county-based service centers.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should direct that the business process reengineering effort be linked to the Department's reorganization initiative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has developed budgets for the BPR efforts with funding to provide reengineering training to BPR team members on a just in time basis and to acquire consultant expertise. So far, BPR teams have received such training before key BPR activities took place. Also, each BPR effort is being facilitated by a contractor with proven expertise in BPR methodology.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should identify and provide the necessary business process reengineering skills, training, and expertise for a team that will reengineer business processes and, if necessary, acquire needed business process reengineering expertise from external sources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA reported that no decision has been made on whether to proceed with establishment of an advisory committee. Given that about 2 years have passed since the report, it appears unlikely USDA will implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should establish an independent advisory group comprised of private and public sector representatives, including customer representatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA initiated 4 reengineering teams to focus on Customer Service, Customer Referral and Information, Administrative, and Geospatial Information. Only a few of these teams analyzed as-is processes for only a few of the programs. In August 1997, these teams collectively developed 17 recommendations for business improvements. USDA says that it intends to measure the results of these recommendations in testing and post-deployment against Service Center, agency, and departmental goals. This will be difficult to do as USDA has not developed measures that could be used to track processes' quality, cost, and service. GAO issued a report in August 1998 (AIMD-98-168) that includes recommendations for USDA to develop performance measures. GAO will now monitor USDA's progress to meet the new report's recommendations and therefore this recommendation is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should direct the reengineering team to identify and analyze existing business processes and work flows and apply quality, cost, and service measures to determine how effectively USDA is currently meeting customer needs, and to establish measurable, mission-driven goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA initiated 4 reengineering projects, but these only resulted in recommendations in August 1997 for business improvements. USDA's plans show that it will be reengineering mission-related business processes during fiscal years 1998 and 1999. In August 1998, GAO issued a report (AIMD-98-168) that found that USDA has acquired IT and plans to acquire even more IT prior to defining new business processes. In the new report, GAO therefore recommended that USDA first develop the new mission-critical business processes necessary to provide one-stop service before investing additional money to modernize IT for the service centers. Consequently, this recommendation is no longer applicable, as GAO will monitor USDA's efforts to reengineer processes in response to AIMD-98-168.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should determine, after analyzing existing processes and setting goals, how: (1) existing processes can be redesigned or eliminated altogether to reduce costs, improve quality, and better meet customer needs; and (2) systematic changes can be made to the organizational structure, culture, roles, and responsibilities in order to support the reengineered processes and implement the new processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Accomplishments reports were prepared after USDA deferred awarding nationwide contracts in fiscal years 1994 and 1995. However, the action taken was not fully responsive because in FY 1996, USDA obligated $70 million to implement LAN/WAN/Voice equipment in all 2,500 of its new Service Centers, even though it was before business process reengineering was completed. Therefore, not all nationwide contracts had been deferred. USDA's plans show that it expects to award additional nationwide contracts for new servers and other technology in fiscal years 1998 and 1999. GAO's August 1998 report (AIMD-98-168) again made recommendations to USDA that it complete business process reengineering before acquiring additional IT for the service centers. Consequently, GAO will monitor USDA's efforts to purchase new IT in response to AIMD-98-168.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should defer the award of planned nationwide Info Share contracts for the farm service and rural development agencies until after USDA has: (1) defined and tested new business processes; and (2) determined new information needs, application system requirements, and technology requirements necessary to support the new business processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA reported that it has completed this and has met its emergency and critical IRM requirements. In this regard, USDA has acquired new IT equipment on an ad hoc basis to replace much of its existing equipment. However, no evidence exists to show USDA has directed the agencies to systematically determine and document critical technology needs, and agencies do not have documentation to show that they did this. Nevertheless, purchases were made to meet technology needs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA can continue to operate while reengineering business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries for the farm service and rural development agencies to determine and document their agencies' critical technology needs for continuing to operate until business process reengineering is completed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA reported that this recommendation is completed. However, USDA does not have Under and Assistant Secretaries personally and directly involved and responsible for directing reengineering efforts. Rather, the four reengineering efforts that USDA initiated are headed by Deputy Administrators acting as executive sponsors. Also, these officials do not appear to be directly and personally involved. The extent that the Secretaries participate is limited to a broad policy level role for BPR, and even though USDA reports it has a BPR Management Review Board, this board consists primarily of the Deputy Administrators for Program who only play an advisory and assistance role, rather than being directly and personally involved. Consequently, the action USDA has taken is not fully responsive to the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA takes appropriate steps to reengineer business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should refocus the Info Share program to ensure that business process reengineering is properly planned, conducted, and implemented. At a minimum, the Secretary should require that the Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries for the farm service and rural development agencies be directly and personally involved and responsible for directing the business process reengineering effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA reported that it has completed this recommendation. However, USDA's actions were not fully responsive. USDA agencies moved ahead to purchase personal computers, servers, and mini-computers to replace existing equipment. However, USDA did not complete analysis and documentation to show that it had pursued the most cost-effective options.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA can continue to operate while reengineering business processes, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries for the farm service and rural development agencies to determine, document, and pursue the most cost-effective options for meeting these needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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