U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Administrative Streamlining Is Expected to Continue Through 2002

RCED-99-34: Published: Dec 11, 1998. Publicly Released: Jan 11, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) progress in streamlining its administrative operations, focusing on USDA's efforts to: (1) reduce the number of administrative staff departmentwide; (2) consolidate and streamline administrative support structures for seven field-based agencies, particularly at the state office level; and (3) measure the savings and efficiencies realized as a result of its departmentwide reorganization and streamlining efforts.

GAO noted that: (1) from fiscal year (FY) 1993 through FY 1998, USDA reduced its departmentwide administrative staff for four administrative functions--human resources, budgeting, accounting and auditing, and acquisition--from about 10,300 to an estimated 8,800, or by 15 percent; (2) USDA estimates that the number of administrative staff will decrease by an additional 250 by the end of FY 1999; (3) at that time, about 8,550 administrative staff will support approximately 98,500 program staff; (4) USDA has no estimates for further departmentwide reductions in administrative staffing beyond 1999; (5) as of November 1998, USDA had not begun to implement its plan to consolidate and streamline administrative functions at the state office level; (6) these new state offices will receive policy guidance from a newly created headquarters Support Service Bureau and report to a board of directors composed of the state leaders of the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Rural Development; (7) the plan, which is expected to be fully implemented by 2002, requires the completion of a number of time-consuming and potentially costly actions, including relocating offices, developing common policies and procedures, and instituting common computing systems; (8) furthermore, although it appears that administrative consolidation may provide long-term savings and efficiencies, USDA may incur additional costs to implement this consolidation in the short term; (9) USDA has no plans to develop performance measures to determine the economies and efficiencies realized as a result of its departmentwide streamlining actions; (10) USDA officials believe that a single measure--personnel reductions--serves as a sufficient indicator of the Department's overall performance; and (11) however, without additional performance measures, such as those that measure the quality of service delivery, USDA will not know the extent to which it has accomplished the 1994 act's overall objective of achieving greater efficiency, effectiveness, and economy in the organization and management of its programs and activities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA concurred with GAO's recommendation, but noted that the "dynamics of the organization make it difficult to establish performance measures at the Department level that apply equally to all mission areas." The response also noted that some mission areas were investigating the use of software packages to increase their administrative efficiency and have streamlined administrative processes. The Department thought it prudent to observe and document progress and results of ongoing efforts before attempting to develop Department-wide measures for administrative streamlining.

    Recommendation: To measure the economies and efficiencies gained by the departmentwide administrative streamlining, the Secretary of Agriculture should require the leaders for the seven mission areas, in consultation with the Assistant Secretary for Administration, the Chief Information Officer, and the Chief Financial Officer, to develop and implement performance measures for the Department's administrative operations that assess service delivery, efficiency, and quality.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USDA agreed to determine the total estimated cost for the implementation of the Support Services Bureau. However, on October 1, 1999, Congress passed a moratorium on the implementation of USDA's Administrative Convergence Plan for fiscal year (FY) 2000. The same language is also in the FY2001 appropriation bill. Therefore, no action has been or is likely to be taken on this recommendation through at least FY2001.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Undersecretaries for the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, Natural Resources and Environment, and Rural Development to develop cost estimates for the complete implementation of administrative convergence.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 3, 1999, the Secretary approved the Support Services Bureau Organizational Structure, naming an Acting Executive Director. Under the direction of the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, the Acting Executive Director directed the selection of key leadership and emphasized the importance of the team having the authority and responsibility to implement the new organization. A congressional moratorium on funds for the Support Services Bureau--initiated in the fiscal year (FY) 2000 appropriation, and continued in the FY2001 appropriation--prevented USDA from fully implementing this program.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the effective implementation of the Administrative Convergence Plan, the Secretary of Agriculture, after approving the implementation plan, should move quickly to fill key leadership positions for the Support Services Bureau and charge the appointed officials with the responsibilities to carry out the plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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