Farm Programs:

USDA's Wheat Poll--The Results Are Not Reliable

RCED-88-6: Published: Oct 23, 1987. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service's (ASCS) design and implementation of its 1986 wheat poll to measure producers' reactions to the wheat production control program.

GAO found that: (1) ASCS complied with the Food Security Act requirement to conduct the poll by July 1, 1986; (2) although ASCS mailed ballots to all wheat producers, it included a question asking whether they were in the target group; (3) the poll results were unreliable, since ASCS did not verify whether the respondents correctly placed themselves inside or outside the target group; and (4) ASCS did not apply the act's legal definition of the target group to the years 1981 through 1985, since it believed the definition applied only to programs after 1986.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that the results from any future poll or referendum that the Secretary of Agriculture may be required to conduct are reliable, the Secretary should direct the Administrator, ASCS, to modify the ASCS Handbook Commodity Referendums to require that appropriate verification is made of the producers in the target group. The Administrator could: (1) determine which producers are in the target group prior to distributing the ballots and indicate it on each ballot; and (2) verify whether or not producers are in the target group for only those producers who return ballots.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ASCS has included procedures in its administrative manual to ensure that proper verification is made of producers in the target group.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the results from any future poll or referendum that the Secretary of Agriculture may be required to conduct are reliable, the Secretary should direct the Administrator, ASCS, to modify the ASCS Handbook Commodity Referendums to include policies and procedures to overcome the weaknesses identified in the administration of the wheat poll. The Handbook should include procedures that would: (1) treat producers and their spouses in noncommunity property states the same as those in community property states in any national poll or referendum; (2) minimize the possibility that producers with multiple-county farm operations would receive and cast more than one ballot in a national poll or referendum; and (3) require that the letter transmitting a ballot and the ballot be designed in accordance with accepted principles for conducting mail surveys and tested prior to distribution to ensure that the questions on the ballot are clear and unbiased.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ASCS has implemented part two of this reocommendation dealing with producers on multiple county farms. ASCS has verbally committed to part three of this recommendation; however, nothing has been documented. Regarding part one of this recommendation dealing with community property states, ASCS disagreed and plans to make no changes in its regulations or guidance.

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