Worker and Family Assistance:

The Management System for Identifying and Correcting Problems in the Food Stamp Program Can Work Better

RCED-84-94: Published: May 30, 1984. Publicly Released: May 30, 1984.

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GAO reviewed the corrective action process used by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to encourage states to solve Food Stamp Program problems.

GAO found that FNS has taken some actions to help states develop and implement corrective action plans. However, FNS regions had approved some state plans which did not cover all major problems, or which proposed corrective actions which were inadequate for solving the problems that were identified. In addition, FNS and the states did not always analyze and summarize all available data to ensure that all identified problems were being addressed in the plans. Of five states reviewed, only one had developed corrective actions for solving most major problems. GAO found that, even when corrective action plans included major problems, the planned solutions were not always adequate. Furthermore, because states and FNS regional offices failed to analyze and summarize the results of local program evaluations, they were unaware of some problems which needed to be addressed. In addition, FNS did not ensure that states' plans were carried out in a timely manner or that the states monitored the effectiveness of planned actions. Three of the five states reviewed had inadequate procedures for monitoring corrective actions or improperly used such procedures. GAO also found that regional offices lacked clear-cut criteria for determining when to warn states that federal funds might be withheld due to errors. Finally, GAO found that FNS requirements for state management evaluations of local program operations were burdensome and did not cover all recent program changes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS published final rules in the February 4, 1987, Federal Register that addressed the corrective action plans and require that such plans be comprehensive and address all identified deficiencies.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to notify FNS regional offices and states that corrective action plans should be comprehensive. All major problems should be included in the plans, and proposed solutions should be sufficient to eliminate or substantially reduce the identified problems. Target dates for initiating and completing planned actions should reflect the relative priority for solving each problem.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to obtain and review all state management evaluation reports and the states' analysis of those reports to ensure that states do not omit major problems from their corrective action plans. Doing this should ensure that states follow regulation requirements to analyze results of management evaluations to identify problems that should be addressed in state plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to assist states to do the amount and type of analysis of program information needed to develop effective corrective action plans. One option might be to extend the Mid-Atlantic Region's error rate reduction analysis and research system to other FNS regions and to expand that initiative to include the results of management evaluation reviews, as well as quality control reviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The FNS final rule makes states responsible for implementation of state corrective plans. FNS regional offices provide technical assistance. States are required to update the plans twice a year and submit a revised plan to FNS regional offices. FNS headquarters receives information on completed corrective actions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to analyze, at the headquarters level, all approved state corrective action plans. Such analyses could give FNS a national perspective on the adequacy of state corrective action plans, offer ideas for further technical assistance, and provide FNS headquarters with the information needed to evaluate and guide regional approval of corrective action plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS regional offices monitor state semiannual correective action plans to verify that states implement corrective actions in accordance with the rule of February 4, 1987.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to notify the states that corrective actions are to be implemented in accordance with approved dates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to ensure that states adequately monitor and evaluate corrective actions, as required by FNS regulations. For particularly serious problems, FNS should consider requiring states to send it periodic status reports on actions not yet completed. States not having adequate monitoring and evaluation techniques should be required to include these as problems in their corrective action plans and correct them just as they would any other program problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to develop and issue policy guidance to regions on when to use the formal warning process. The policy guidance should include a list of the most appropriate program problems which FNS believes should be subject to this process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FNS fears that extensive reliance on formal warnings might strain federal and state relations. Therefore, FNS will focus on elminating the deficiencies, providing resources to correct the problem, versus striving to implement a formal warning process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to use the formal sanction warning process as needed to improve states' administration of the corrective action process. It could be used to encourage states to develop comprehensive plans, carry them out in an effective and timely manner, and monitor and evaluate progress toward eliminating or substantially reducing major problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS notified each of its regional offices to comply with this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to withhold approval of any state requests for establishing management units for review purposes, which would materially reduce a state's ability to identify statewide problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to revise FNS regulations to expand the definition of what constitutes a major program weakness that must be included in state corrective action plans. Dollar losses or the percent of affected cases could be a better benchmark in some situations than the number or percent of project areas involved, which is the present criterion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS revised the regulations which govern management evaluations to streamline the management evaluation requirements, but has not updated the manuals.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, to revise regulations and manuals to streamline and restructure management evaluation requirements and update review coverage. This guidance should help states target their management evaluations on those program areas needing the most attention while ensuring adequate review coverage and consistent review efforts among the states. FNS should, as part of this revision to regulations and manuals, add any review requirements originating from legislative changes adopted since 1980 when the most recent regulations and handbooks were issued.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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