U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Improving Management of Cross-Cutting Agricultural Issues

RCED-91-41: Published: Mar 12, 1991. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1991.

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GAO assessed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) effectiveness in managing cross-cutting issues, focusing on ways to improve USDA management of such issues as: (1) food safety; (2) agricultural biotechnology; and (3) water quality.

GAO found that: (1) USDA lacked an approach for managing cross-cutting issues and management typically relied on ad hoc groups or individual agencies to develop policies and plans; (2) the three issues had narrowly focused or insufficiently defined policies and fragmented planning and monitoring efforts; (3) USDA instituted the Secretary's Policy Coordination Council to formulate departmental policy on issues requiring coordination across two or more agriculture agencies or areas; (4) USDA implemented the President's management-by-objectives (MBO) system; (5) limited Council staff support and difficulties in defining Council, MBO, and other coordinating mechanisms' roles prevented USDA management from fully developing those initiatives into an integrated, comprehensive approach for managing multi-agency issues; (6) the lack of a comprehensive food safety policy and plan prevented the addressing of food safety concerns and duplicated efforts; (7) insufficient USDA guidance clarifying how agencies could balance researchers' and regulators' biotechnology views caused difficulties and delays in developing biotechnology research guidelines; and (8) the USDA broad water policy did not ensure agency actions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is developing a major initiative in food safety and is placing renewed emphasis on its biotechnology and water quality initiatives. It is developing a strategic framework in food safety that includes a departmentwide policy, long-range goals, an implementation plan, the President's Plan for Food Safety, a food safety information database, and a new initiative to improve water quality. In addition, as a result of the October 1994 Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act, USDA is restructuring the Department along mission lines. Under the reorganization, USDA agencies are reduced from 43 to 29 and administrative support units are consolidated for each mission area. Along with the headquarters restructuring, actions are under way to restructure the field offices over the next several years.

    Recommendation: To solve specific problems identified in food safety, biotechnology, and water quality, the Secretary of Agriculture should develop departmentwide food safety and agricultural biotechnology plans that articulate more specific USDA goals and policies. This effort could serve as the model for developing an integrated departmental approach to managing cross-cutting issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has acted to strengthen its management of cross-cutting issues and has provided needed staff support to the Policy Coordinating Council.

    Recommendation: To develop a comprehensive and integrated approach for addressing cross-cutting issues, the Secretary of Agriculture should enhance USDA capacity for strategic action by providing enough staff support for the Secretary's PCC to carry out its departmentwide responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is actively pursuing initiatives to restructure and streamline the Department. In addition, recent legislation may be helpful in guiding federal agencies in strategic planning and performance measurement of agency goals and objectives, including cross-cutting issues. In 1993, Congress enacted the Government Performance and Results Act establishing a systematic approach for all federal departments for setting and carrying out strategic goals and objectives and for measuring and reporting achievements toward meeting those goals. USDA is in the midst of developing its plans for implementing GPRA. As of September 1994, USDA has selected six agencies to pilot test GPRA initiatives. Although the act is in the early stages of implementation, it may prove to be helpful in establishing an approach that may be useful in managing cross-cutting issues. GAO will continue to monitor the Department's efforts.

    Recommendation: To develop a comprehensive and integrated approach for addressing cross-cutting issues, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen USDA monitoring and evaluation capability by integrating existing reporting and monitoring activities, such as the MBO system, PCC, and multiagency committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Responsibilities for the existing cross-cutting issues have been assigned, and initiatives have been developed for these issues. In October 1994, USDA reorganization legislation was signed into law. Under this act, USDA is restructuring the Department along mission lines. Under the reorganization, USDA agencies are reduced from 43 to 29 and administrative support units are consolidated for each mission area. All restructuring and streamlining actions are under way and are expected to occur over the 5-year period ending in 1999. This restructuring will affect this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To develop a comprehensive and integrated approach for addressing cross-cutting issues, the Secretary of Agriculture should strengthen coordination among USDA agencies by defining and clarifying the roles and relationships of PCC, USDA coordinating committees and offices, and the MBO system in setting policy, planning and implementing activities, and monitoring progress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Responsibilities for the existing cross-cutting issues have been assigned, and initiatives have been developed. In addition, recent legislation may be helpful in guiding federal agencies in strategic planning and performance measurement of agency goals and objectives. In 1993, Congress enacted the Government Performance and Results Act establishing a systematic approach for all federal departments for setting and carrying out strategic goals and objectives and for measuring and reporting achievements toward meeting those goals. USDA is in the midst of developing its plans for implementing GPRA, including undertaking pilot projects to test and demonstrate annual performance plans, reports, and managerial accountability and flexibility. Although the act is in the early stages of implementation, it may prove to be helpful in establishing an approach that may be useful in managing cross-cutting issues.

    Recommendation: To develop a comprehensive and integrated approach for addressing cross-cutting issues, the Secretary of Agriculture should define clear and comprehensive goals and policies for all major cross-cutting issues to provide a basis for developing strategies for achieving the goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has placed renewed emphasis on its biotechnology initiative. Senior officials are working to further clarify USDA goals and policies for biotechnology. Department-wide initiatives are being developed, including reporting on the progress of biotechnology research programs, developing an information plan for the general public, and ensuring coordinated Departmental participation.

    Recommendation: To solve specific problems identified in food safety, biotechnology, and water quality, the Secretary of Agriculture should expand the role of the USDA biotechnology committee to monitor and report on USDA overall progress in biotechnology. This expanded role could provide a model for other departmental efforts to create an integrated monitoring system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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