USDA Telecommunications:

Strong Leadership Needed to Resolve Management Weaknesses, Achieve Savings

AIMD-98-131: Published: Jun 30, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1998.

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Linda D. Koontz
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to improve its management of telecommunications resources and act on opportunities to achieve savings.

GAO noted that: (1) USDA has taken positive steps to begin correcting its telecommunications management weaknesses--improvements that the department says could reduce its $200 million-plus reported annual investment in telecommunications by as much as $70 million each year; (2) for example, USDA conducted a departmentwide reengineering study and is beginning to test a redesigned approach for managing telecommunications resources; (3) USDA has also taken action to eliminate some redundant services and reduce costs; (4) however, USDA has not achieved significant cost savings or management improvements because many of the department's corrective actions are incomplete or inadequate; (5) specifically, USDA has not: (a) established the sound management practices necessary for ensuring that telecommunications resources are cost-effectively managed and payments for unused, unnecessary, or uneconomical services are stopped; (b) consolidated and optimized telecommunications to achieve savings where opportunities exist to do so; (c) adequately planned integrated networks in support of information sharing needs; and (d) determined the extent to which the department is at risk for telephone abuse and fraud and acted to mitigate those risks nationwide; (6) further, it is unclear how and when these needed corrective actions will be implemented because the department has not established an effective action plan or strategy for addressing GAO's recommendations with timeframes, milestones, and resources for making improvements; and (7) a major factor contributing to this situation is that no one at USDA has been given overall responsibility, authority, and accountability for fixing USDA's long-standing telecommunications management problems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Between February 2000, and August 2001, USDA developed a corrective action plan, as GAO recommended, and took steps that resulted in the closure of two telecommunications audits (AIMD-95-97 and AIMD-96-59), and all but three remaining recommendations in a third audit (AIMD-95-203). In August 2002, GAO closed the remaining three recommendations based on actions taken by USDA to establish a telecommunications compliance program, corporate telecommunications inventory system, and Universal Telecommunications Network.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct that the Chief Information Officer (CIO) complete and implement a departmentwide corrective action plan that fully addresses all of GAO's recommendations for resolving the department's telecommunications management weaknesses and achieving savings wherever possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA agreed and, in June 1998, assigned the department's Deputy CIO with this responsibility. Under the Deputy's direction, USDA began implementing an action plan for improving USDA's telecommunications management and addressing the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with the CIO, should assign a senior-level official with day-to-day responsibility and requisite authority for planning, managing, and overseeing implementation of this plan and for ensuring that all telecommunications management improvements and cost-savings activities are effectively and fully carried out.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Acting Chief Information Officer (CIO), within the first six months of Secretary Veneman's arrival at USDA, the Secretary was briefed on the status of telecommunications in USDA. Through Weekly Activity Reports for the Secretary, also in line with GAO's recommendation, the Acting CIO has kept the Secretary apprised of progress on the closure of GAO's recommendations on a monthly basis. In March 2002, USDA also began providing semi-annual reports to Congress on the status of the department's telecommunications program and efforts to address GAO's recommendations. Although the estimate of $70 million in annual savings for telecommunications GAO reported is no longer valid under USDA's new FTS2001 service-based contract, the department continues to achieve cost savings through its efforts to implement GAO's recommendations for improving department-wide telecommunications management. Specifically, in August 2002, USDA reported (1)$12 million per year in savings from migrating domestic long distance circuits from the FTS2000 volume-based contract to the new FTS2001 contract, (2) $4.5 million per year in savings as a result of Forest Service efforts to compare FTS2001 pricing to alternative telecommunications contracts, and (3)$3.5 million per year in savings as a result of APHIS efforts to move telecommunications traffic from commercial to FTS2000/2001 services, disconnect circuits no longer needed, and identify and use more economical volume-based contracts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the CIO to periodically report to the Secretary on the department's progress: (1) implementing this corrective action plan; and (2) achieving the estimated $70 million in annual savings identified by the department.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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