USDA Electronic Filing:

Progress Made, But Central Leadership and Comprehensive Implementation Plan Needed

GAO-01-324: Published: Feb 28, 2001. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2001.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David L. McClure
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

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

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made progress in implementing the Freedom to E-File Act and has partially met the act's initial deadlines for providing agricultural producers with access to forms via the Internet and submitting required reports on initial e-file activities and plans to Congress. However, implementing full e-filing capabilities for all its farm service customers by the deadlines set by the act poses a far more complex and difficult challenge. Critical to the success of any such initiative is the necessary authority and responsibility to manage it across different departmental entities. Yet no single official has been so designated. Also, a comprehensive implementation plan--one that addresses both the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA), the Freedom to E-File Act requirements, and Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) implementation guidelines--is critical to help USDA achieve a more consistent approach in its entire e-government transformation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2001, GAO reported that USDA's e-file agencies lacked a comprehensive implementation plan for addressing both Freedom to E-File Act and the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) requirements. Having such a plan is an important step to better coordinate actions across agencies and apply a more consistent approach for addressing both of the act's mandated requirements and deadlines. Therefore, in developing USDA's comprehensive implementation plan, GAO recommended that the department should address both e-file and GPEA requirements. USDA agreed and included steps to address both requirements in its May 2001 implementation plan. According to USDA's Associate CIO for e-Government, doing so helped consolidate the e-government transformation efforts across the agencies and, as stated in USDA's May 2002 e-Government quarterly progress report to the Deputy Secretary, the integrated planning has enabled USDA to think and act corporately about delivering information and services through electronic alternatives.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the assigned senior official to include both e-file and GPEA requirements in the department's comprehensive plan to help better coordinate actions across USDA agencies and apply a consistent approach for addressing all mandated requirements and deadlines during USDA's e-file government transformation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2001, GAO reported that USDA did not have a comprehensive plan for implementing E-File Act requirements. Without such a plan, USDA risked not being able to successfully carry out the many complex cross-agency tasks that needed to be done in time to meet the act's final June 2002 implementation deadline. GAO recommended that the plan should be developed to document and track all critical activities and milestones, dependencies among major activities, and resources needed to complete these efforts. USDA agreed with GAO's recommendation and completed development of a comprehensive plan in May 2001. As GAO recommended, the plan described project tasks and priorities, identified time frames and milestones, assigned task responsibilities and showed critical dependencies among tasks, defined required staff/budget resources, and documented contingency actions planned to address unforeseen work delays or problems. USDA used monthly updates of the plan to direct activities and track progress against milestones. By the June 20, 2002 E-File Act implementation deadline, USDA had successfully established a new process that allows farm services customers to electronically submit to the appropriate service center office many of the forms they need to transact business with USDA.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA fully meets its E-File Act mandates, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the assigned official, in cooperation with the undersecretaries for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service, Natural Resources and Environment, and Rural Development, and the Office of the Chief Information Officer, to develop and document a comprehensive plan for implementing all E-File Act requirements. In developing the department's comprehensive plan for implementing all E-File Act requirements, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the assigned senior official to document and track all critical activities and milestones, dependencies among major activities, and resources needed to complete these efforts. In addition, the plan should clearly: (1) describe all project tasks, their priorities, and time frames and milestones for their completion; (2) assign task responsibilities to staff and show critical dependencies among these tasks; (3) identify required staff/budget resources for completing the plan; and (4) document contingency actions planned to address unforeseen work delays or problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2001, GAO reported that USDA had partially met the Freedom to E-File Act's initial December 18, 2000, deadline by successfully giving farmers Internet access to 52 Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service electronic forms used to collect program participant information. However, none of the 100-plus Rural Development mission area forms planned for deployment by the deadline were available because of problems found by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in its review of these forms. GAO therefore recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture direct departmental officials to work with OMB to expedite resubmission and approval of all appropriate Rural Development mission area forms to ensure that they were made available over the Internet as soon as possible. USDA took immediate action on GAO's recommendation and, by March 12, 2001, all the remaining forms had been made available over the Internet. As a result, more farmers and other USDA program participants were able to submit required information electronically over the Internet without having to travel to service center offices.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA fully meets its E-File Act mandates, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the assigned official to work with Rural Development (RD) and OMB to expedite resubmission and approval of all appropriate RD forms and ensure that these forms are made available over the Internet as soon as possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2001, GAO reported that no single official had been designated with responsibility, accountability, and authority for implementing the Freedom to E-File Act; an essential step necessary to successfully manage implementation of new electronic filing services across different departmental entities, as mandated by the act. Therefore, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture should assign a senior-level official to be responsible for this important work. In response to GAO's recommendation, USDA delegated responsibility and authority for USDA's e-Government program, including achieving the requirements of the E-File act, to the Office of Chief Information Officer and the Associate CIO for e-Government. By establishing department-wide leadership for the e-file implementation activities, USDA has better ensured the chances of success in meeting all of USDA's e-file implementation goals.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USDA fully meets its E-File Act mandates, the Secretary of Agriculture should assign a senior-level official with overall responsibility, authority, and accountability for managing and carrying out implementation for both county-based agencies and Risk Management Agency E-File Act requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2001, GAO reported that USDA had made progress implementing the Freedom to E-File Act, but that the department faced formidable challenges carrying out many complex tasks to meet the act's final deadline in June 2002. To better ensure USDA's success, GAO recommended, among other things, that the Secretary of Agriculture hold a senior-level accountable for carrying out the department's e-file implementation plan and require the official to provide periodic progress reports. In response to GAO's recommendation, USDA delegated responsibility and authority for USDA's e-Government program, including achieving the requirements of the E-File act, to the Office of Chief Information Officer and the Associate CIO for e-Government. Also, as GAO recommended, USDA began providing quarterly progress reports to the Secretary in May 2001. By taking these steps to better manage and monitor the e-file implementation effort, USDA was able to successfully complete tasks necessary to begin to deliver e-filing services to the public by the June 2002 date prescribed by the act.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should hold the senior official accountable for carrying out the comprehensive plan and require that this official provide quarterly reports to the Secretary describing the results of USDA's efforts to implement each of these actions and all e-file requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 18, 2014

Nov 13, 2014

Oct 10, 2014

Sep 30, 2014

Sep 22, 2014

Jul 9, 2014

May 14, 2014

Apr 30, 2014

Mar 26, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here