Continuation of the Resource Conservation and Development Program Raises Questions

CED-81-120: Published: Aug 11, 1981. Publicly Released: Aug 14, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program and the administrative and legislative changes needed to improve the control and operation of the program.

GAO was unable to develop a clear picture or measure of overall benefits under the program because program accomplishments are not clearly distinguishable at either the project or measure level. The principal problems involved lack of useful data, the intangible nature of some benefits, and varying or unknown degrees of project involvement. GAO was able to obtain cost information on the program overall and on each project but not on individual project measures. Pertinent technical assistance costs were not shown for individual measures. The omission of technical assistance costs in reporting completed measures seriously limited any attempt to evaluate the program's benefits in relation to its costs. Funds appropriated for cost sharing with local sponsors under the program have been used to finance many measures for which other federal programs have been established. Once projects are authorized, they remain on the rolls indefinitely. Federally assisted sub-state planning organizations have the potential to become an alternative delivery system for activities carried out under the program because they perform many of the same functions. Some projects' area plans which specify goals, objectives, and measures to be undertaken have not been updated as required by program procedures.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-98) established an RC&D program and provided for the deauthorization of projects and for cooperative agreements with states and local units of government.

    Matter: If Congress decides to continue the RC&D program, it should legislatively direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish several pilot projects where sub-state organizations would assume the functions of RC&D projects. Upon completion of such tests, the Secretary should be required to provide Congress an evaluation of the test results with such recommendations as may be indicated for transferring additional RC&D project functions to sub-state organizations or the reasons for retaining the functions within the existing RC&D program structure.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: If Congress decides to continue the RC&D program, it should legislatively require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish procedures for periodically reviewing project operations and deauthorizing projects which are no longer active or have developed the capabilities necessary to continue operating without federal involvement.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-98) established an RC&D program and provided for the deauthorization of projects and for cooperative agreements with states and local units of government.

    Matter: If Congress decides to continue the RC&D program, it should legislatively discontinue the use of program funds for installing project measures currently authorized for financing under cost-sharing arrangements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Soil Conservation Service to monitor the program more closely to ensure that the projects' area plans are up-to-date and reflect any changed conditions in project circumstances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Soil Conservation Service to improve its program information system to provide data which would permit better assessment of project benefits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Soil Conservation Service to account for and identify the costs of providing technical assistance for each project measure.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Soil Conservation Service to develop and incorporate an approved evaluation procedure into the program's management process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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