Progress Mixed in Modernizing the Delivery of Services
RCED-00-43: Published: Feb 3, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2000.
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to modernize and reorganize its county-based agencies, focusing on: (1) identifying USDA's major reorganization and modernization initiatives for these agencies; (2) examining the progress USDA has made in completing these initiatives; and (3) identifying major issues impeding progress toward completing the initiatives.
GAO noted that: (1) since 1995, USDA has been engaged in a reorganization and modernization effort targeted at achieving greater economy and efficiency and better customer service by the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the agencies in the Rural Development mission area; (2) USDA's effort consists of five interrelated initiatives: (a) collocation; (b) administrative convergence; (c) business process reengineering; (d) information technology modernization; and (e) cultural changes; (3) USDA has spent over $380 million on these initiatives and estimates it will need to invest another $544 million through fiscal year 2004 to complete them; (4) USDA closed over 1,000 of its 3,726 county office locations and established collocated service centers throughout the nation; (5) it also deployed personal computers and a modern telecommunications network to most of its service centers; (6) despite the agencies' collocation, little has changed in how the three agencies serve their customers, and many modernization and reengineering projects have encountered delays; (7) USDA officials attribute the delays to: (a) program demands and funding constraints that have limited the agencies' ability to direct resources to the modernization effort; (b) limited cooperation among the agencies; and (c) some employees' resistance to change; (8) in addition, Congress stopped USDA from implementing the administrative convergence initiative; (9) however, USDA remains committed to obtaining approval for merging the agencies' administrative organizations; (10) three major issues have impeded USDA's progress toward completing its five initiatives: (a) a lack of a comprehensive plan to guide the modernization effort; (b) the lack of a management structure with the accountability and authority to resolve differences among the agencies; and (c) the need for a change in the existing culture; (11) in November 1999, USDA issued its final Service Center Modernization Plan, which lays out USDA's vision and goals for the service centers and the phases for implementation, and describes its management strategy and processes; (12) USDA plans to announce a new management structure for the initiatives by February 2000; (13) while USDA has recognized the importance of changing the existing culture by making it the focus of the five initiatives, it has not succeeded in overcoming resistance from the affected agencies and employees; and (14) without this support, progress on each of the initiatives is at risk.