ASCS Needs Better Information To Adequately Assess Proposed County and State Office Automation

IMTEC-84-11: Published: May 25, 1984. Publicly Released: May 25, 1984.

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GAO examined the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service's (ASCS) cost-benefit analysis to determine whether ASCS adequately justified the automation of its state and county offices.

Before automating the state and county offices that administer ASCS commodity and land use programs, ASCS tested the idea in seven county offices. The ASCS cost-benefit analysis shows greater estimated benefits than costs. GAO determined that the ASCS analysis may be overly optimistic. GAO found that the estimates are uncertain because ASCS relied on judgment rather than historical data to project many costs and benefits, and available evidence does not support some of the projections. Most of the estimated benefits are based on projections of saved staff time and improved accuracy. Further, the accuracy improvement is not substantiated by evidence, and other benefits are overstated. Estimated costs for equipment and maintenance appear to have been understated. Finally, ASCS plans to use untested technology for the implementation phase, which increases the risk of unforeseen expenses.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct ASCS to proceed with the prototype project in three states and defer the planned nationwide automation of state and county offices until the prototype has provided credible cost-benefit information and tested the technology.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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