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Highlights

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) assists agricultural producers who install conservation practices, such as planting vegetation along streams and installing waste storage facilities, to address impairments to water, air, and soil caused by agriculture or to conserve water. EQIP is a voluntary program managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS allocates about $1 billion in financial and technical assistance funds to states annually. About $650 million of the funds are allocated through a general financial assistance formula. As requested, GAO reviewed whether USDA's process for allocating EQIP funds to states is consistent with the program's purposes and whether USDA has developed outcome-based measures to monitor program performance. To address these issues, GAO, in part, examined the factors and weights in the general financial assistance formula

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Natural Resources Conservation Service 1. To achieve EQIP's purpose of optimizing environmental benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to ensure that the rationale for the factors and weights used in the general financial assistance formula are documented and linked to program priorities, and data sources used in the formula are accurate and current.
Closed - Implemented
To address our recommendation, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) hired a consulting firm, which reviewed multiple conservation program formulas, including EQIP, and made recommendations for improvement. Based on this information and GAO's recommendations, NRCS modified its EQIP Fiscal Year 2009 financial assistance formula. The new formula and its rationale are documented in an NRCS publication available on its website. NRCS's modifications to the formula included changing and deleting factors, changing factor weights, and updating data sources. NRCS also took steps to identify the performance goals to which various factors relate.
Natural Resources Conservation Service 2. To achieve EQIP's purpose of optimizing environmental benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to continue to analyze current and newly developed long-term performance measures for the EQIP program and use this information to make any further revisions to the financial assistance formula to ensure funds are directed to areas of highest priority.
Closed - Not Implemented
Action not taken.

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