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Highlights

GAO reported on those aspects of the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) three major conservation programs which deal with soil erosion, including: (1) the seriousness of soil erosion; (2) USDA bases for allocating resources to, and measuring the results of, the programs; (3) possible changes that could improve the programs' effectiveness; and (4) USDA follow up on previous report recommendations.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to reassess its research needs priorities regarding the relative position of soil conservation research within its overall research program as well as erosion/productivity research within the soil conservation program. Such a reassessment should: (1) ensure that allocated resources sufficiently address the severity of erosion's threat to the nation's long-term cropland and productivity; (2) consider and clearly describe how the ARS program will address the erosion/productivity research needs described in the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) January 1983 research needs report; and (3) address the need to resolve the issue concerning the degree to which various kinds of soils can tolerate erosion before degradation occurs.
Closed - Implemented
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Agriculture 2. The Secretary of Agriculture should establish a policy that will: (1) recognize that the USDA primary soil conservation objective is to reduce erosion's harmful effects as opposed to simply achieving reductions in soil displacement; and (2) require USDA agencies to allocate conservation funds according to a prioritization of erosion's harmful effects at the earliest possible time. Similar approaches would need to be followed in the allocation and use of conservation funds at state and local levels.
Closed - Implemented
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Agriculture 3. The Secretary of Agriculture should require that the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) provide local ASCS committees with the Conservation Reporting and Evaluation System (CRES) generated cost/benefit data, statistically significant at the local level, for all approved soil conservation cost-sharing practices as soon as these data become available and require that these data be used as a basis for future decisions on providing ASCS conservation assistance.
Closed - Implemented
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Agriculture 4. The Secretary of Agriculture should require that SCS test the feasibility of variable-rate cost sharing for its Great Plains Conservation Program.
Closed - Implemented
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Agriculture 5. The Secretary of Agriculture should require that SCS include in its report to the local ASCS committee, where applicable, a list of alternative practices that could effectively address an applicant's erosion problem.
Closed - Implemented
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Agriculture 6. The Secretary of Agriculture should expand ASCS variable-rate cost-share pilot project as quickly as practicable to: (1) obtain a representative sample of all counties where the Universal Soil Loss and Wind Erosion Equations' formulas can be used; (2) expand the variable-rate concept programwide if test results are favorable; and (3) reorient resource allocation at the local level using CRES cost-effectiveness as the short-term criterion and reductions in erosion's harmful effects as the long-term criterion.
Closed - Implemented
On November 2, 1984, ASCS advised GAO that it is continuing to explore ways to increase county participation in its variable-rate cost-share program. However, ASCS believes the program should remain voluntary and not be expanded nationwide as suggested in this recommendation.
Department of Agriculture 7. The Secretary of Agriculture should reassess research priorities concerning conservation tillage to ensure that allocated resources sufficiently address the needs identified in the January 1983 SCS research needs report.
Closed - Implemented
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Agriculture 8. The Secretary of Agriculture should revise CRES data analysis procedures to ensure that the combined soil erosion reduction benefits of several conservation practices are not attributed to a single practice when conservation practice cost/benefit tables are developed.
Closed - Not Implemented
On November 2, 1984, ASCS advised GAO that, where multiple components are installed, it is difficult to attribute specific reductions in soil loss to each individual components since the combined results are not the sum of applying the individual components.
Department of Agriculture 9. The Secretary of Agriculture should require that specific and detailed guidance, coupled with assistance approval certifications, be established and used at all state and local levels. This guidance should ensure that the government does not cost share practices primarily used to enhance production or defray costs that are, or should be, part of normal farming or ranching operations, rather than to provide enduring conservation benefits.
Closed - Implemented
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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