Estimated Personnel Needs of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service--Are They Reliable?

FPCD-80-5: Published: Nov 26, 1979. Publicly Released: Nov 29, 1979.

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The Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) administers farm commodity and land-use programs through a network of service offices in States and counties. Each State has an administrative office to provide oversight and support to county offices, but most services to the farmer take place at over 2,700 federally funded county offices. The ASCS budget request for personnel increased significantly after fiscal year 1977 due to the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 and other Department of Agriculture policy decisions. A request was made for GAO to review the validity of ASCS work measurement and workload forecasting systems for determining staffing requirements.

Weaknesses found in ASCS systems include: ASCS work measurement standards are based on past data and, therefore, include whatever inefficiencies may result from the way work is actually done. Too often ASCS changes its definitions for units of output, which makes determining the accuracy of its workload projections impossible. Statistical sampling procedures need to be changed to conform to accepted practices and assure that the sample of work measurement counties accurately represents the work done by all county offices. Recording of workload information is poorly controlled. Finally, documentation is lacking to support assumptions about increased work resulting from the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 and the Secretary of Agriculture's policy changes. Top management support is the key to implementing needed improvements. While field managers should have flexibility to manage day-to-day operations, headquarters top management has a vital role to assure that ASCS is operating effectively. ASCS headquarters need improvement in several areas, such as proper analysis, adequate direction to county offices, evaluation of alternative possibilties, balancing the number of staff in State offices, and combining some county offices that have small workloads.

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