Results Act:

Observations on USDA's Draft Strategic Plan

RCED-97-196R: Published: Jul 10, 1997. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) draft strategic plan, focusing on: (1) whether it fulfills the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act and provided GAO's views on its overall quality; (2) whether it reflects USDA's key statutory authorities; (3) whether it reflects interagency coordination for crosscutting programs, activities, or functions that are similar or complementary to other federal agencies; (4) whether it addresses management problems GAO has previously identified; and (5) the adequacy of USDA's data and information systems for providing information for measuring results.

GAO noted that: (1) overall, USDA's draft strategic plan does not fulfill the requirements of the Results Act; (2) the draft plan in many cases does not include the six elements required by the Results Act and generally lacks some key attributes necessary for a quality strategic plan; (3) USDA's overall mission and goals are contained in the Department-wide strategic overview; (4) the overview refers the reader to the subagency plans for information on the six required elements; (5) however, only one of the subagency plans GAO reviewed contains all six required elements; (6) USDA's draft strategic plan also falls short in several other areas necessary for achieving the purposes of the Results Act; (7) among other things, the draft strategic plan lacks an emphasis on externally focused goals and objectives, adequate, quantifiable performance measures, and good linkages between the subagencies' goals and the Department's overall goals; (8) USDA's draft strategic plan reflects consideration of the key statutes authorizing the Department's programs; (9) however, USDA's draft strategic plan does not generally contain clear linkages between the stated goals and objectives and the Department's relevant major statutory responsibilities; (10) GAO could not determine, from the information presented in the draft plan, the extent to which interagency coordination with federal agencies, both within and outside the Department, occurred in the strategic plan's formulation; (11) similarly, it is unclear whether an assessment of duplicative and overlapping functions was performed in developing the subagencies' goals and objectives; (12) USDA's Department-wide strategic overview acknowledges the roles of USDA subagencies that carry out similar or complementary functions, but it does not recognize the role of other federal agencies; (13) on the other hand, many of the subagency plans generically recognize the role of other federal agencies in accomplishing their missions; (14) USDA's draft strategic plan addresses some but not all of the high-risk issues and management problems GAO has previously identified; (15) generally, information on how USDA will address these high-risk issues and management problems, such as the need to reduce losses in the farm loan program, is included as goals and objectives in the subagency plans; and (16) USDA is not yet in a position to provide reliable data to measure some of its performance goals because many of its information, accounting, and financial management systems are inadequate, and long-standing problems with these systems have not been corrected.

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