Federal Agricultural Research Facilities Are Underused

RCED-83-20: Published: Jan 14, 1983. Publicly Released: Jan 14, 1983.

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GAO reviewed the underuse of Federal agricultural research facilities operated by the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and its effect on ongoing research.

GAO found that, despite the underuse of existing laboratories, new laboratories are under construction and others are being planned. These additional facilities could further reduce the overall rate of use because the ARS personnel ceiling is not expected to rise in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, staffing for new laboratories may be at the expense of existing ones. To fully use its existing research facilities, ARS would require a substantial increase in its annual appropriations and higher personnel ceilings. ARS has closed some facilities and transferred staff to other locations to improve facility use. In response to the administration's directive to all civil departments to identify low priority activities for elimination, ARS has developed plans, still under internal discussion, to close up to 12 research facilities. Long-term planning and good justification for closures are necessary before research laboratories can be closed. New facility construction or major expansion of existing space should be tied to long-range research goals and objectives.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA has developed a long-range plan for in-house agricultural research which consists of a strategic plan and a 6-year implementation and operation support plan for the period 1984-1990. Laboratory needs, including suggested consolidations and closures, were considered as part of the overall plans and submitted to Congress, making the recommendation invalid.

    Matter: Congress should not consider authorizing or providing funds for additional research facilities until ARS has completed its planning process and Congress has had an opportunity to study those plans given the currently underused research facilities, the unlikely prospects for personnel ceiling increases for ARS, and the congressional mandate to conduct a long-range needs assessment and determine the research necessary to meet those needs.

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 develop a plan to consolidate agricultural research activities at fewer locations, thereby allowing greater scientist interaction and more efficient use of equipment, facilities, and administrative resources. The plan also needs to address research priorities, personal and career plans of ARS employees, the costs of relocating employees, and the potential sales values of unneeded laboratories.

    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 submit the plan to the appropriate committees of Congress for their review and comments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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