Conservation Reserve Program:
Funding Requirements for the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Technical Assistance
RCED-99-247R, Aug 5, 1999
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the funding requirements for the technical assistance that the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides to the Conservation Reserve Program, focusing on: (1) the nature and costs of the Conservation Service's technical assistance; (2) the reasons the Conservation Service suspended its technical assistance for the program; (3) budgetary authorities and other statutory requirements that constrain the Conservation Service's performance of technical assistance for the program; and (4) the potential to use contractors to provide this assistance in lieu of the Conservation Service.
GAO noted that: (1) the Conservation Service provides technical assistance to support the Conservation Reserve Program, including evaluating the environmental benefits of the land offered for enrollment and preparing conservation plans for the land accepted into the program; (2) the Commodity Credit Corporation reimburses the Conservation Service for this assistance in accordance with the provisions of a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Corporation, the Conservation Service, and the Farm Service Agency (FSA); (3) FSA makes the final decisions on which land will be enrolled in it; (4) the Conservation Service charges $98 to evaluate each parcel of land offered by farmers for enrollment and $465 per parcel to prepare conservation plans for land accepted for enrollment; (5) the total cost of the Conservation Service's technical assistance for the Conservation Reserve Program was $38.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 1997, $49.2 million in FY 1998, and an estimated $46.9 million in FY 1999; (6) the Conservation Service suspended most of its technical assistance for the Conservation Reserve Program for about 6 weeks during the spring of 1999 because the Commodity Credit Corporation lacked sufficient funds to reimburse the Conservation Service for this assistance; (7) however, follow-up work on land already enrolled in the program continued uninterrupted because the Conservation Service had already received its reimbursement; (8) the funds used to reimburse the Conservation Service were derived from unobligated funds appropriated for the Conservation Reserve Program prior to FY 1997; (9) the Conservation Service resumed providing technical assistance for this program on May 17, 1999, because of the imminent enactment of an emergency supplemental appropriations act; (10) this act became law on May 21, 1999; (11) among other things, the act provides up to an additional $28 million for technical assistance for the program in FY 1999; (12) according to Department of Agriculture officials, the Conservation Service was constrained from continuing its technical assistance for the program by limitations on budgetary authorities and other statutory requirements after the unobligated funds previously appropriated to the Conservation Reserve Program ran out; (13) in late 1998, FSA examined the potential to use contractors to provide technical assistance; and (14) FSA identified a variety of farming and conservation organizations as potential contractors.