Cooperative Extension Service's Mission and Federal Role Need Congressional Clarification

CED-81-119: Published: Aug 21, 1981. Publicly Released: Aug 21, 1981.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Cooperative Extension Service is the largest education system of its kind in the world. It is active in rural, suburban, and urban communities and, in addition to agricultural and home economics programs, offers programs in social and economic problems and cultural, recreational, and leisure-time activities. The Extension Service was established in 1914 primarily to provide farmers with information from agricultural research and to encourage them to adopt improved farming methods. Recently, its programs have expanded to include instruction in arts and crafts, recreation, creative and performing arts, and mental and emotional health. GAO reviewed the Extension Service to determine whether its programs were meeting their basic missions.

As more programs vie for Extension Service resources, disagreements have occurred over what its mission should be. Some groups feel that it is ignoring their needs; others say it is trying to be all things to all people. GAO stated that, because the demands for the Extension Service's programs are great and its resources are limited, its available resources need to be used as efficiently as possible. GAO also stated that the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Federal Extension Service, the Federal agency involved, should assume a more active leadership role in the Extension Service program development. GAO concluded that improved performance and impact measurement is needed to determine whether extension programs are effective. There are no comprehensive Service-wide evaluation requirements due to a lack of a central office to clearly define such standards. GAO believes that USDA is the natural place within the organization from which to provide leadership and direction in evaluation.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The appropriate congressional committees should examine the Cooperative Extension Service's mission. As part of this process, the committees could direct the Secretary of Agriculture to prepare, in cooperation with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, an updated statement of the Extension Service's mission. The committees could require this statement to contain explicit mission objectives and priorities and to be submitted to them for their information and review. The committees could also require the Extension Service to provide periodic progress reports on meeting its goals and objectives. In addition, the committees could also hold oversight hearings on the Cooperative Extension Service to review current extension programming and to consider and focus on the mission that the committees want carried out. The hearings could provide the basis to develop legislation, if necessary, to more clearly define the Cooperative Extension Service's mission.

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The appropriate congressional committees should consider the role that they want the USDA Federal Extension Service to play in providing extension program leadership and guidance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Federal Extension Service to become more involved with the States in the total extension program development process. This includes: (1) determining, in cooperation with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, national extension program priorities and goals; (2) providing leadership in getting States to implement extension programs which address national extension priorities; and (3) interacting with States in developing as well as reviewing work plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should assume leadership, in cooperation with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, for developing and implementing a uniform accountability and evaluation system for the Cooperative Extension Service. The system should include provisions for planning and coordinating accountability and evaluation activities throughout the Extension Service.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Jun 9, 2016

May 26, 2016

May 19, 2016

Apr 14, 2016

Jan 14, 2016

Jan 8, 2016

Jul 9, 2015

Jun 18, 2015

May 26, 2015

May 20, 2015

Looking for more? Browse all our products here