U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Farm Agencies' Field Structure Needs Major Overhaul

RCED-91-9: Published: Jan 29, 1991. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 1991.

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GAO provided information on the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) management operations and practices, focusing on identifying incremental and structural ways to improve the overall management of the decentralized USDA field structure.

GAO found that: (1) although USDA initiated many agency-specific programs to improve government financial management, enhance productivity, and provide better service through technological innovation, procurement reform, and the effective management of government operations, it did not aggressively pursue field office collocation, consolidation, or reorganization; (2) USDA could make incremental improvements compatible with its existing field structure by collocating farm service agencies, and could save millions of dollars through resource sharing at collocated sites; (3) USDA neither tracked cost savings achieved through initiatives at collocated sites nor vigorously promoted additional initiatives at collocated offices; (4) consolidation of local office operations could result in additional cost savings and the same or more efficient service delivery; (5) farm agency managers believed that the benefits provided by incremental measures only marginally affected existing operations; (6) USDA believed that task force recommendations to integrate farm agencies nationally were too difficult to implement locally; (7) some efforts to coordinate farm programs at collocated sites were not successful and could cost the federal government millions of dollars in improper payments; and (8) many state and local food and agriculture councils were unable to coordinate field activities.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During 1992, 1993, and 1994, Congress held several hearings on USDA reorganization proposals. On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. USDA reorganization is now a reality. USDA estimates approximately $4.1 billion in savings over 5 years from the reduction in staff, consolidation of agencies and offices, and other administrative changes connected with the reorganization. Employment is expected to decline by 13,000 in 1999.

    Matter: Congress should consider working with USDA to take greater advantage of opportunities to consolidate local offices where farm clients may be served through a multicounty operation as or more efficiently and at less cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During 1992, 1993, and 1994, Congress held several hearings on USDA reorganization proposals. On October 13, 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. USDA reorganization is now a reality. USDA estimates approximately $4.1 billion in savings over 5 years from the reduction in staff, consolidation of agencies and offices, and other administrative changes connected with the reorganization. Employment is expected to decline by 13,000 in 1999.

    Matter: Now that Congress has completed its work on the 1990 farm bill, it should hold hearings to: (1) determine why USDA has not implemented its own task force's recommendations for integrating the farm agencies; and (2) explore the prospect of reorganizing those agencies in conjunction with congressional deliberations on the program and policy provisions of the 1995 farm bill.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is actively pursuing initiatives to restructure and streamline the Department. In October 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. USDA is restructuring along mission lines, reducing its agencies from 43 to 29 and consolidating administrative support units for each mission area. Actions are under way to restructure field offices. USDA one-stop Field Office Service Centers will be established as 1,170 field offices are closed or consolidated. USDA customers will be served through about 2,500 locations housing the Consolidated Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Other agencies may be collocated in the centers. USDA's federal employment will be reduced by over 13,000 staff years and non-federal employment by more than 1,100 staff years by 1999. By 1999, USDA will achieve savings of $2.8 billion in personnel costs and $1.3 billion in other administrative costs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that field office consolidations are undertaken where feasible in terms of cost savings and without disrupting program delivery, the Administrators of the Farmers Home Administration, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, and Soil Conversation Service, as well as other USDA agencies with significant field presence, should prepare annual reports to the Secretary of Agriculture and Congress identifying potential consolidation candidates on the basis of work loads and other relevant criteria. The Secretary should then use this information in working with Congress and other interested parties in carrying out consolidations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Soil Conservation Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is actively pursuing initiatives to restructure and streamline the Department. In October 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. USDA is restructuring along mission lines, reducing its agencies from 43 to 29 and consolidating administrative support units for each mission area. Actions are under way to restructure the field offices. USDA one-stop Field Office Service Centers will be established as 1,170 field offices are closed or consolidated. USDA customers will be served through about 2,500 locations housing the Consolidated Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Other agencies may be collocated in the centers. USDA's federal employment will be reduced by over 13,000 staff years and non-federal employment by more than 1,100 staff years by 1999. By 1999, USDA will achieve savings of $2.8 billion in personnel costs and $1.3 billion in other administrative costs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that field office consolidations are undertaken where feasible in terms of cost savings and without disrupting program delivery, the Administrators of the Farmers Home Administration, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, and Soil Conversation Service, as well as other USDA agencies with significant field presence, should prepare annual reports to the Secretary of Agriculture and Congress identifying potential consolidation candidates on the basis of work loads and other relevant criteria. The Secretary should then use this information in working with Congress and other interested parties in carrying out consolidations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Farmers Home Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is actively pursuing initiatives to restructure and streamline the Department. In October 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. USDA is restructuring along mission lines, reducing its agencies from 43 to 29 and consolidating administrative support units for each mission area. Actions are under way to restructure the field offices. USDA one-stop Field Office Service Centers will be established as 1,170 field offices are closed or consolidated. USDA customers will be served through about 2,500 locations housing the Consolidated Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Other agencies may be collocated in the centers. USDA's federal employment will be reduced by over 13,000 staff years and non-federal employment by more than 1,100 staff years by 1999. By 1999, USDA will achieve savings of $2.8 billion in personnel costs and $1.3 billion in other administrative costs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that field office consolidations are undertaken where feasible in terms of cost savings and without disrupting program delivery, the Administrators of the Farmers Home Administration, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, and Soil Conversation Service, as well as other USDA agencies with significant field presence, should prepare annual reports to the Secretary of Agriculture and Congress identifying potential consolidation candidates on the basis of work loads and other relevant criteria. The Secretary should then use this information in working with Congress and other interested parties in carrying out consolidations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is actively pursuing initiatives to restructure and streamline the Department. In October 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. USDA is restructuring along mission lines, reducing its agencies from 43 to 29 and consolidating administrative support units for each mission area. Actions are under way to restructure field offices. USDA one-stop Field Office Service Centers will be established as 1,170 field offices are closed or consolidated. USDA customers will be served through about 2,500 locations housing the Consolidated Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Other agencies may be collocated in the centers. USDA's federal employment will be reduced by over 13,000 staff years and non-federal employment by more than 1,100 staff years by 1999. By 1999, USDA will achieve savings of $2.8 billion in personnel costs and $1.3 billion in other administrative costs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that field office consolidations are undertaken where feasible in terms of cost savings and without disrupting program delivery, the Administrators of the Farmers Home Administration, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, and Soil Conversation Service, as well as other USDA agencies with significant field presence, should prepare annual reports to the Secretary of Agriculture and Congress identifying potential consolidation candidates on the basis of work loads and other relevant criteria. The Secretary should then use this information in working with Congress and other interested parties in carrying out consolidations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA is actively pursuing initiatives to restructure and streamline the Department. In October 1994, the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 was signed into law. USDA is restructuring along mission lines, reducing its agencies from 43 to 29 and consolidating administrative support units for each mission area. Actions are under way to restructure the field offices. USDA one-stop Field Office Service Centers will be established as 1,170 field offices are closed or consolidated. USDA customers will be served through about 2,500 locations housing the Consolidated Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Other federal agencies may be collocated in the centers. USDA's federal employment will be reduced by over 13,000 staff years and non-federal employment by more than 1,100 staff years by 1999. By 1999, USDA will achieve savings of $2.8 billion in personnel costs and $1.3 billion in other administrative costs.

    Recommendation: To encourage collocated offices to provide convenient service to farmers and rural residents at the least cost to USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture should implement the necessary management controls to ensure that: (1) cost-savings data are maintained on resource-sharing initiatives undertaken at each collocated office; and (2) the potential for additional cost savings at those locations is reported annually through the food and agriculture councils to the Secretary. The state and local food and agriculture councils should then work with USDA top management to develop strategic plans for implementing additional initiatives at the 2,040 USDA collocated offices nationwide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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