USDA Telecommunications:

Better Management and Network Planning Could Save Millions

AIMD-95-203: Published: Sep 22, 1995. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) management and planning of its telecommunications resources, focusing on whether USDA is: (1) managing its telecommunications resources cost-effectively; and (2) planning telecommunications networks to support its information sharing needs.

GAO found that: (1) USDA is not cost-effectively managing its annual $100 million telecommunications investment; (2) USDA agencies waste millions of dollars each year paying for unnecessary telecommunications services and equipment, because the Office of Information Resources Management (OIRM) has not fulfilled its responsibility to manage and oversee USDA telecommunications resources; (3) USDA is not effectively planning its telecommunications networks and ensuring that they can support its information sharing needs for the future; and (4) OIRM continues to approve the acquisition and development of costly new agency networks that overlap and do not support interagency information sharing.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the under secretaries and assistant secretaries to immediately conduct, in cooperation with the USDA Chief Financial Officer, the National Finance Center, and OIRM, a one-time review of commercial telephone bills for accounts over 3 years old to identify instances where USDA may be paying for telecommunications services or leased equipment that are unnecessary or no longer used. Further, all accounts associated with any USDA office that has closed or moved within the last 3 years should also be reviewed to identify telephone services that private vendors may still be providing to closed offices. Based on this review, USDA should take appropriate action with vendors to disconnect any unnecessary or unused telecommunications services and terminate leases for equipment no longer needed or in use by agencies, and seek recovery of expenditures for any vendor charges deemed inappropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1996, USDA began a one-time audit of all commercial telephone invoices to identify duplicate services, unnecessary services, and services billed but not provided. Based on its review of about 90 percent of the audited invoices, USDA eliminated unnecessary commercial services, thereby reducing the department's annual telecommunications costs by a total of $470,000. In addition, USDA achieved additional savings of about $3.3 million by eliminating thousands of unused FTS2000 e-mail accounts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the under secretaries and assistant secretaries to establish and implement procedures for reviewing telecommunications resources at offices USDA plans to either close or relocate to ensure that: (1) all unneeded telecommunications services are terminated promptly and vendor accounts closed; and (2) telecommunications equipment is properly accounted for and reused where it is practical and cost-beneficial to do so.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2001, USDA reported that it was committed to closing this recommendation and discussed surveys being done at the farm service agencies to help better track telecommunications activities, office closures, and use of telecommunications equipment. In July 2002, USDA issued policy guidance to the three agencies with procedures and checklists to be followed when terminating telecommunications services at offices that close or relocate. In addition, USDA established a centralized Office Information Profile database that it now uses to identify and track telecommunications equipment and services at these agency offices. These steps will help better ensure that telecommunications services are properly terminated at offices that close or relocate and, where it is cost-beneficial to do so, that associated telecommunications property is reused in other offices.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to require OIRM to revise departmental policies to require USDA agencies to establish and maintain agencywide telecommunications inventories that contain, at a minimum, circuit information, equipment and service types, network usage levels, costs, and other information agencies need to effectively manage and plan telecommunications resources in accordance with federal requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 20, 1996, USDA implemented Departmental Regulation 3300-1, directing agencies to establish and maintain such agency-wide telecommunications inventories.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to require OIRM to develop additional departmental policy requiring agencies to establish management controls over the acquisition and use of telecommunications resources and assist agencies to carry out these requirements by completing a systematic review of the agencies' current telecommunications management practices to: (1) identify and correct telecommunications management deficiencies that exist; and (2) establish an agency telecommunications management program that sets performance expectations over agency telecommunications activities and assigns responsibility and accountability necessary to ensure these activities are effectively carried out.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1999, USDA revised its department-wide telecommunications policy requiring agencies to implement adequate management controls over telecommunications resources as GAO recommended. To systematically review agency management practices, USDA has established a telecommunication inventory system that records and tracks resources, and requested that USDA state offices complete telecommunications management questionnaires to assess current compliance with policies. According to USDA, OCIO will also begin conducting on-site inspections no later than October 30, 2002, to assess compliance and ensure that the agencies have established management programs that will better ensure performance and accountability over telecommunications activities.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to require OIRM to provide USDA agencies with explicit guidelines that include, at a minimum, procedures to: (1) monitor acquisitions of telecommunications services and equipment and coordinate purchases with other agencies to ensure that resources are cost-effectively obtained; and (2) implement call detail programs and other necessary procedures to regularly review vendor-provided bills for telecommunications services and leased equipment to verify the accuracy of these charges and ensure the proper use of Federal Telecommunications System 2000 and other government-provided resources and services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 23, 1999, the OCIO issued an updated and expanded Departmental Regulation 3300-1, Telecommunications and Internet Services and Use. This and other related regulations provide policy guidance and procedures for monitoring the acquisition of telecommunications services and equipment, coordinating purchases with other agencies to ensure that resources are cost-effectively obtained, and implementing call detail programs and other necessary procedures to regularly review vendor-provided bills for telecommunications services and leased equipment, verifying the accuracy of these charges, and ensuring the proper use of government-provided resources and services.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to require OIRM to strengthen oversight by conducting periodic reviews of agency telecommunications management activities in accordance with federal requirements to ensure that: (1) inventories of telecommunications equipment and services are properly maintained; (2) sufficient management controls exist over telecommunications resources and expenditures; and (3) redundant or uneconomical services are eliminated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 1997, USDA instituted its Telecommunications Network Stabilization and Migration Program (TNSMP), which requires mission areas/agencies to establish inventories of telecommunications equipment and services, effective management controls over telecommunications resources and expenditures, and processes for identifying and eliminating redundant or uneconomical services. Under the TNSMP, USDA believes that oversight of all telecommunications management processes across the department has been strengthened and significantly improved.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to require OIRM to determine, with assistance from the under secretaries and assistant secretaries for USDA seven mission areas, interagency information sharing requirements necessary to effectively carry out USDA cross-cutting programs and include these data sharing requirements in departmental and agency strategic IRM and telecommunications plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2000, USDA's Executive Information Technology Investment Review Board, chaired by the Deputy Secretary and composed of the CIO and Under and Assistant Secretaries, approved the initial fiscal year (FY) 2001 investment for the development of USDA's Universal Telecommunications Network (UTN). In line with GAO's recommendation, UTN is a systematic approach by USDA to manage its telecommunications resources in a coordinated, corporate, and cost-effective manner to meet growing and changing business requirements and quality of service demands. Continuing funding was provided through FY2002, and work is underway to capture agency business and networking requirements. USDA expects to complete UTN implementation in FY2004.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to require OIRM to enhance the Agency Liaison Officer and technical approval programs by increasing the technical focus of reviews of agency telecommunications strategic plans and network acquisition plans, and providing explicit implementing guidance to ensure that information sharing requirements and opportunities to share network resources are identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA requirements for the Agency Liaison Officer program and technical approval process were eliminated with the passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. USDA efforts to implement the Clinger-Cohen mandates are ongoing.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should report USDA management of telecommunications as a material internal control weakness under the Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act. This weakness should remain outstanding until USDA fully complies with federal regulations for managing telecommunications and institutes effective management controls.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its May 6, 1996, statement of actions taken on the recommendations, USDA said that it was reporting telecommunications management as a material internal control weakness in accordance with OMB Circular A-123. In addition, USDA said that it established an Internal Control Program process to document material weaknesses and track corrective actions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to require OIRM to preclude USDA component agencies from developing networks that do not address departmentwide sharing needs by requiring that OIRM technical approvals be made contingent on the component agencies having considered and sufficiently addressed information sharing requirements and opportunities to share network resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA revised its department-wide telecommunications policy (Departmental Regulation 3300-1, Appendix G) to preclude component agencies from developing networks that do not address information sharing needs. Under the revised policy, component agencies are required to: (1) make maximum use of all telecommunications resources to achieve optimum configurations of service; (2) promote actions to ensure that telecommunications resources are shared, optimized, and consolidated where it is determined to be technically feasible; and (3) procure or use information technology in a manner that promotes information sharing among agencies. Through the periodic IRM review and internal technical approval process, USDA's OIRM will ensure that these requirements are met.

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