U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Strengthening Management Systems to Support Secretarial Goals

RCED-91-49: Published: Jul 31, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1991.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) financial, information, and human resources management systems to identify ways in which they could be improved.

GAO found that: (1) internal control and accounting weaknesses in USDA financial management systems limit its capability to produce accurate financial information for its managers and report on the financial conditions of its programs, and increase the risk of mismanagement, fraud, waste, and abuse; (2) USDA lacks a senior department-level manager responsible for overseeing improvements in financial systems and plans for improving systems across agencies; (3) information systems do not provide USDA managers and decisionmakers with the critical information needed to enhance program operations; (4) without more attention to program managers' information needs, USDA-planned information resources management (IRM) expenditures of nearly $4 billion over the next several years will only meet a limited number of managers' needs; (5) a lack of data-sharing between agencies, poor agency IRM plans, and limited IRM expertise compounded management information problems; (6) USDA recognizes the need for better information management, and has developed a strategic IRM plan to address those issues; (7) human resource management systems lack a comprehensive departmental approach to personnel issues, which prevents USDA from addressing its work-force problems effectively; (8) USDA lack of central leadership and direction sometimes causes duplication of efforts by individual agencies carrying out work-force management activities; and (9) USDA has taken action to improve its management systems, but without strong central leadership and more solutions, those efforts will not adequately address underlying IRM weaknesses.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary recognizes that stronger administrative management systems are needed. USDA is modernizing the accounting system at its National Finance Center, as well as specific agency systems. As part of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, USDA is a pilot agency preparing consolidated financial statements for audit. In November 1993, USDA's new CFO was confirmed by the Senate.

    Recommendation: To strengthen individual agency financial management, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct agency heads with major financial operations to: (1) establish an agency-level chief financial officer (CFO) position that reports directly to the agency head and has only financial management functions; and (2) provide the agency-level CFO with overall responsibility for an agency's financial management systems operation and improvement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 1993, OIRM issued USDA's IRM Strategic Plan. In September 1993, Secretary Espy announced a major reorganizational plan for the entire department. This plan will affect services provided to farmers and rural development customers. As part of both plans, USDA established Info Share, a consolidated, multiagency program to improve operations and delivery of services to farm service and rural development agency customers. USDA designed this program to make improvements by reengineering business processes; and developing integrated information systems. This program is the biggest and most challenging modernization effort in USDA's history. The Reorganization Plan notes that Info Share is critical to enabling the farm service and rural development agencies to reorganize while improving service. Part of the multiyear IRM and reorganization plans are being implemented under existing authority. In October 1994, USDA reorganization legislation was signed into law.

    Recommendation: To help develop better information for program management, the Secretary of Agriculture should charge the Office of Information Resources Management (OIRM) with responsibility for overseeing completion of the strategic IRM initiative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary directed that departmental oversight of automated systems be strengthened. OIRM has initiated a number of actions to improve program delivery in USDA by enhancing the use of IRM technologies and practices. These include the liaison office program, the field office system program, and comprehensive data-sharing activities. In January 1993, USDA's IRM Strategic Plan was issued. In September 1993, Secretary Espy announced a major reorganizational plan for the entire department. As part of both plans, USDA established Info Share, a consolidated, multiagency program to improve operations and delivery of services to customers of farm service and rural development agencies. USDA designed this program to make improvements by: reengineering business processes; and developing integrated information systems. GAO will continue to monitor USDA's implementation of its IRM and reorganization plans.

    Recommendation: To help develop better information for program management, the Secretary of Agriculture should hold agencies accountable for adopting the IRM strategic planning initiative.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. 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. The Department's federal employment is expected to be reduced by over 13,000 staff years by 1999.

    Recommendation: To develop a strong workforce that will meet current and future challenges in USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Assistant Secretary for Administration should actively support the Office of Personnel as the central body responsible for ensuring a quality workforce departmentwide by reaffirming the Office of Personnel's leadership role for human resource management departmentwide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. 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. The Department's federal employment is expected to be reduced by over 13,000 staff years by 1999.

    Recommendation: To develop a strong workforce that will meet current and future challenges in USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Assistant Secretary for Administration should actively support the Office of Personnel as the central body responsible for ensuring a quality workforce departmentwide by holding agency heads accountable for compliance with standards and personnel orders, such as mandatory use of the USDA training information system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. 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. The Department's federal employment is expected to be reduced by over 13,000 staff years by 1999.

    Recommendation: To develop a strong workforce that will meet current and future challenges in USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Assistant Secretary for Administration should actively support the Office of Personnel as the central body responsible for ensuring a quality workforce departmentwide by holding agency heads accountable for compliance with standards and personnel orders, such as mandatory use of the USDA training information system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Office of the Secretary: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. 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. The Department's federal employment is expected to be reduced by over 13,000 staff years by 1999.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to establish agency accountability for maintaining a quality workforce through tracking and reporting of evaluations of program effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. 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. The Department's federal employment is expected to be reduced by over 13,000 staff years by 1999.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Assistant Secretary for Administration to assume responsibility for addressing common workforce problems in areas such as training, recruiting, and workforce planning to avoid duplication and to provide centralized services when most efficient.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. 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. The Department's federal employment is expected to be reduced by over 13,000 staff years by 1999.

    Recommendation: To develop a strong workforce that will meet current and future challenges in USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Assistant Secretary for Administration should actively support the Office of Personnel as the central body responsible for ensuring a quality workforce departmentwide by reaffirming the Office of Personnel's leadership role for human resource management departmentwide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Office of the Secretary: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration

 

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