U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Analysis of Budgets, Fiscal Years 1997-98

RCED-97-135R: Published: May 5, 1997. Publicly Released: May 5, 1997.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) appropriation for fiscal year (FY) 1997 and budget request for FY 1998 for selected budget accounts, focusing on potential rescissions to USDA's appropriation for FY 1997 and potential reductions or deferrals to USDA's budget request for FY 1998.

GAO noted that: (1) about $3 billion of the budget authority appropriated for the Food Stamp Program in FY 1997 will remain unobligated at the end of the FY, including $100 million that agency records indicate will not be needed for a contingency reserve fund; (2) accordingly, a rescission of up to $3 billion in budget authority currently available to USDA for this program may be possible; (3) USDA is seeking $2.5 billion in new budget authority in FY 1998 for a contingency fund to cover unexpected expenses that may occur in the Food Stamp Program; (4) however, this fund may not be needed; (5) USDA's records show that participation rates in the Food Stamp Program have steadily declined in recent years, and, as a result, the budget authority appropriated for the contingency fund in each of these years was returned to the U.S. Treasury; (6) thus, a reduction of up to $2.5 billion in USDA's FY 1998 budget request may be possible; (7) about $675,000 of USDA's FY 1997 appropriation for the Census of Agriculture may remain unobligated at the end of the FY, primarily because of lower-than-expected printing costs; (8) these funds will be carried over to FY 1998 and will remain available for obligation; (9) however, USDA did not consider the availability of these funds in formulating its FY 1998 budget request for the agriculture census, and, therefore, a reduction or deferral of up to $675,000 to this request may be possible; (10) about $58 million of the funds appropriated for major construction projects administered either by the Agricultural Research Service or by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will remain unobligated at the end of FY 1997; (11) GAO noted that a number of these projects are on hold because of such factors as unresolved environmental, siting, funding, and/or legal and procedural issues; (12) thus, USDA will not be able to utilize the associated unobligated funds until these issues are resolved; (13) USDA estimates that these projects will carry an unobligated balance of about $20 million at the end of FY 1997; (14) GAO also noted a number of projects with surplus funds remaining that USDA tentatively plans to redirect for other purposes; (15) USDA estimates that these projects will carry an unobligated balance of about $11 million at the end of FY 1997; and (16) accordingly, a rescission of up to $31 million, the unobligated funds associated with projects either on hold or with surplus funds that will not be used for the original purpose intended, may be possible.

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