A Framework and Checklist for Evaluating Soil and Water Conservation Programs

PAD-80-15: Published: Mar 31, 1980. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 1980.

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As a part of its continuing oversight assistance, GAO developed a checklist of questions for Congress to use in the oversight of the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) soil and water conservation programs. These questions and guidelines provide a systematic framework which can be used by USDA in conducting evaluations and for reporting information which is relevant in determining that soil and water conservation programs are meeting needs in an effective and efficient manner. Although this framework was developed with particular programs in mind, it is believed that this approach can be applied to other USDA programs and to programs of other departments and agencies.

The evaluation framework lays out questions and guidelines for identifying program purposes and objectives based on the problems which the programs are intended to solve. The questions and guidelines are intended to be based upon decisions that must be made regarding soil and water conservation programs by Congress and its committees, the Office of Management and Budget, USDA, and other groups and individuals who must decide whether to install or adopt a conservation practice. Ideally, the guidelines and any answers would first be used for program management and then in the budget process. The questions and guidelines were designed to establish a long-term framework for evaluating the performance of soil and water conservation programs. Because the questions are so complex, the framework will have to be adopted gradually, after a systematic analysis of the value and validity of each question. This analysis should determine what data is required, how it will be gathered and used, and how much the data-gathering system will cost.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Where evaluations are needed, Congress should work with agency officials to seek a common understanding on program objectives and acceptable performance measures and data for each program. In view of the complexity of this evaluation framework, implementation of the recommended evaluation plan will be incremental and can be expected to undergo many evolutionary changes. Therefore, Congress should review the evaluation plan and any reporting specifications so that information reported is as useful as possible in making decisions and setting budgets for these programs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: USDA should develop a plan leading to an evaluation system covering all soil and water conservation programs. In developing this plan, USDA should determine the relevance of the questions included in the evaluation framework. In particular, the evaluation plan should identify the importance of these questions for program management and reporting program progress. USDA should also include in its annual report required by the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 statements on its progress and difficulties in trying to incorporate evaluation concepts into its management and reporting processes.

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