Food Assistance:

USDA's Implementation of Legislated Commodity Distribution Reforms

RCED-90-12: Published: Dec 5, 1989. Publicly Released: Dec 5, 1989.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) implementation of legislated commodity distribution reforms at the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS).

GAO found that: (1) USDA had implemented 25 of 31 legislated reforms by May 1989; (2) USDA attributed delays in 10 of 16 mandated reforms to time-consuming regulatory clearance procedures, unrealistic implementation dates, reform complexities, difficulties in matching the reforms with differing program requirements, and efforts to ensure regulatory consistency; (3) USDA procedures and guidance for four of the six reforms that were not implemented were incomplete; (4) the USDA reform completion plan was outdated and its expectations for finalizing some reforms were unclear; (5) no adverse impact was apparent from implementation delays, but some participating organizations cited concerns with USDA evaluation practices regarding inventory management and program monitoring; and (6) USDA cited staffing shortages, resource limitations, and an increasing program work load as constraints to evaluation guidance development.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has published interim rules and a final rule has been developed which amends the interim rules based on public comments received. The final rule has been cleared through the agency and is currently being reviewed at OMB.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FNS, in concert with the Administrators, AMS and ASCS, to develop a revised work plan for completing section 3's full implementation under the 1987 act. The plan should detail how and when USDA intends to complete all remaining actions that involve the full implementation of the commodity distribution program reforms required under section 3 of the act in a manner that provides for: (1) uniform and consistent application of the reforms at the federal, state, and local levels; (2) developing and issuing all USDA guidance needed by state distributing agencies to meet their responsibilities under the reforms, including their conduct of required testing and monitoring activities; (3) specifying the responsibilities of FNS, AMS, and ASCS for any actions needed by these agencies to complete USDA formalization of procedures relating to its commodity field testing and recipient agency needs assessments; and (4) specifying deadlines for those agencies to complete their respective responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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