Farm Programs:

Impact of the 1996 Farm Act on County Office Workload

RCED-97-214: Published: Aug 19, 1997. Publicly Released: Aug 19, 1997.

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Robert A. Robinson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the impact of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 on the Farm Service Agency's county office workload.

GAO noted that: (1) because of the limited availability of the Farm Service Agency's fiscal year (FY) 1997 actual workload data and changes in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's program and organizational structure resulting from the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994, it is not possible to determine the impact of the 1996 act on the workload of the Farm Service Agency's county offices; (2) the agency's workload system reflects workload data at the end of the fiscal year in which the work was performed; (3) however, because only 6 months of data were available for FY 1997 at the time of GAO's review, GAO could not measure the impact of the 1996 act on county office workload; (4) furthermore, the 1994 act generated a number of changes affecting the agency's staffing and responsibilities; (5) because these changes were being implemented at the same time as the changes directed by the 1996 act, it is not possible to isolate the impact of either set of changes on the resulting workload; (6) the 1994 changes include the addition of responsibilities for agricultural credit and crop insurance programs and changes to the Department's county office structure; (7) at the 16 county offices GAO visited, county executive directors believed that the overall workload per employee has increased since the passage of the 1994 act; (8) they stated, however, that a number of factors have affected staffing and workload during this period and that the role of the 1996 act on the perceived workload increases is indeterminable; (9) because of the absence of a full year of 1997 data and additional issues identified at the county office level, GAO cannot confirm the county executive directors' observations or isolate the impact of the 1996 act on any workload changes that may have occurred in these offices; (10) while the results of GAO's work concerning the impact of the 1996 act on workload levels are inconclusive, available information generally confirms the observations of the agency's budget officials that each county office requires about 2 staff years to handle the basic administrative functions associated with keeping the office open and functioning during the day; and (11) accordingly, unless additional offices are closed, any future staff reductions will probably be concentrated in the larger offices, which, unlike smaller offices, allocate a higher proportion of their total costs for service to farmers than to overhead.

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