SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE'S GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE AND RESULTS ACT
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
NUTRITION, AND FOREIGN AGRICULTURE
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
OCTOBER 1, 1997
Serial No. 10527
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
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ROBERT F. (BOB) SMITH, Oregon, Chairman
LARRY COMBEST, Texas,
BILL BARRETT, Nebraska
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
JOHN T. DOOLITTLE, California
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
RON LEWIS, Kentucky
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
JOHN N. HOSTETTLER, Indiana
ED BRYANT, Tennessee
MARK FOLEY, Florida
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
JO ANN EMERSON, Missouri
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
ROY BLOUNT, Missouri
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHARLES W. (CHIP) PICKERING, Mississippi
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GEORGE E. BROWN, Jr., California
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
DAVID MINGE, Minnesota
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
EARL POMEROY, North Dakota
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SCOTTY BAESLER, Kentucky
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
SAM FARR, California
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
VIRGIL H. GOODE, Jr., Virginia
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDEBBIE STABENOW, Michigan
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
CHRISTOPHER JOHN, Louisiana
JAY W. JOHNSON, Wisconsin
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
PAUL UNGER, Majority Staff Director
JOHN E. HOGAN, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
VERNIE HUBERT, Minority Counsel
DAVID S. REDMOND, Communications Director
Subcommittee on Department Operations, Nutrition, and ForeignAgriculture
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia, Chairman
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
CHARLES T. CANADY, Florida
NICK SMITH, Michigan
MARK FOLEY, Florida
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
GEORGE E. BROWN, Jr., California
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
C O N T E N T S
Clayton, Hon. Eva M., a Representative in Congress from the State of North Carolina, prepared statement
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the State of Virginia, opening statement
David, Irwin Ted, Acting Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Robinson, Robert A., Director, Food and Agriculture Issues, Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division, General Accounting Office
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE'S GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE AND RESULTS ACT
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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 1997
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Nutrition, and Foreign Agriculture,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:10 a.m., in room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bob Goodlatte (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Ewing, Smith, LaHood, Thune, Clayton, and Berry.
Staff present: John Hogan, chief counsel; Kevin Kramp, Bryce Quick, John Goldberg, Stacy Carey, Brian Hard, Callista Bisek, Wanda Worsham, clerk; and Julia Paradis.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINIA
Mr. GOODLATTE. Good morning. This hearing of the Subcommitte on Department Operations, Nutrition and Foreign Agriculture to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Government and Performance and Results Act statement will now come to order.
Four years ago, Congress revolutionized how Government was to conduct its business by passing the Government Performance and Results Act, GPRA. Every major Federal agency must now ask itself some basic questions: ''What is your mission? How can we measure performance? What are your goals? And how can that information be used to make improvements in our delivery of service?''
GPRA forces a shift in the focus of Federal agencies away from such traditional concerns as staffing and activity levels and toward a single overriding issue: results. GPRA, also known as the Results Act, requires agencies to set goals, measure performance, send reports on their accomplishments. Apparently, not everyone got the message.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Without aggressive congressional oversight and intervention, we should not be surprised to discover Federal agencies, USDA in particular, using their strategic plans to justify their current mode of operation, or even worse, attempting to expand their authority and budgets. The purpose of this hearing is confirm that USDA believes in good government and the intent of the Results Act which is to make the Federal Government more accountability and responsible to the American public and that that isn't just a waste of time.
I have considerable doubt. So far what we have produced in response to the Results Act has been a waste of time. The three or four iterations of USDA's GPRA strategic plan all lack substantial cross-talk between the agencies. The stovepipe mentality that is the root of many management problems at the Department, and the target of the Results Act, still exists. This committee must exercise its oversight authority to ensure USDA is defining in clear terms the mission and objectives for the agency and that these are consistent with Congressional intent. We cannot and will not accept strategic plans that by everyone's standards are insufficient or deficient in any way. In the same way we can't accept strategic plans defined by mission-creep, vague objectives, and inappropriate performance measures.
If USDA's statement doesn't meet the requirements of the law, I support using our power over their purse strings to hold them accountable for their performance or lack thereof. Anything less would give an implicit stamp of approval of current operations at USDA, something that I am not willing to give.
American taxpayers want good government, strong leadership, less politics, more effective management, and better expenditure of their money. We can use the Results Act to guide Federal decision-making based on what is actually working in Government and what is wasted in Government. The Results Act is a tool to shape a smarter, smaller, common-sense Government of which we can all be proud.
The ranking member is not yet with us. If she has a statement, we will certainly recognize her at the time of her arrival or shortly thereafter. And if other members have opening statements, we will certainly make them a part of the record.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We would now like to invite our first witness to the table. We are pleased to have with us Mr. Robert A. Robinson, Director of Food and Agriculture Issues, Resources, Community and Economic Development Division at the General Accounting Office.
Mr. Robinson is accompanied today by Ms. Anu Mittal, who is also with the General Accounting Office.
Mr. Robinson, you may proceed when ready, and as always, we welcome you back to our committee.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT A. ROBINSON, DIRECTOR, FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ISSUES, RESOURCES, COMMUNITY, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIVISION, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. ROBINSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to be back.
We are pleased to be here today to discuss our evaluation of USDA's strategic plan mandated by the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act.
While the subject of today's hearing may not attract the attention of the headline writers, it has considerable practical significance to USDA's operation and the return taxpayers receive from the nearly $60 billion they provide to the Department each year. In terms of potential to fundamentally alter the way Government programs are conducted and assessed, I can think of few initiatives in recent years that have the potential for greater substantive impact than the Results Act.
Our testimony here today is based primarily on our July review of USDA's draft strategic plan submitted in May 1997. The plan was over 700 pages in length and was comprised of a departmental overview plan and 30 individual agency, mission, area, and office plans. We evaluated the overview plan, the 16 agency and mission area plans and the plans for the CFO and the CIO. Let me just quickly summarize what we found.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Speaking plainly, the May draft of USDA's strategic plan was not very good. In some ways I suppose this result was not all that surprising in that agencies in preparing their plans were being asked to leave their old ways of thinking behind. Thinking where success was determined by how much was spent or by how many units of work were performed. The Results Act demands more. In fact, much more. It demands that agencies clearly establish what is to be achieved with the funds provided by the taxpayers and to measure performance in meeting the targeted results.
In this context, our review of USDA's plans found that only one agency plan contained all of the six key elements required by the act. The plans in May were generally characterized by an absence of strategic thinking, a fuzzy understanding of why taxpayer resources deserve to be spent on the programs and a basic misconception of what the Results Act was all about.
Too often the plans were internally focused and process oriented. For example, a number of the agencies said that one of their strategic objectives was to provide a healthy and safe workplace environment for their employees. While certainly a reasonable management expectation, this is not why taxpayers should be asked to devote millions of their tax dollars to the agency's activities and misses the fundamental point of the Results Act.
Likewise, the plans that we reviewed were generally quite weak in laying out program evaluation approaches, a clear linkage between agency goals and USDA's goals, and how their programs fit in the context of related programs being conducted by other Federal agencies. Most agency plans also had performance measures that were either missing, not useful or not complete. Relatedly, we found that USDA was not yet in a position to provide reliable data to measure some of its performance goals because many of its management information systems are inadequate.
While our report certainly pulled no punches, and I have pulled no punches in these remarks, I think it is fair to point out, and important to point out, that the act anticipated that it might take several iterations before a quality strategic plan was put in place. USDA emphasized this point in their official comments on our report and expressed the view that improvements would be made before the September 30 deadline for final strategic-plan submission.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Accordingly, since our report's issuance, we have worked extensively, franklyalthough on an informal levelwith numerous USDA agencies to explain their plans' weaknesses in more detail and to offer possible approaches for addressing those weaknesses. And we are also aware that Congressional staffs have devoted a great deal of energy working with USDA to generate improvement.
To their credit, many USDA agencies have taken the criticisms and suggestions to heart and, to our way of thinking, have made a concerted effort to address their plans' weaknesses and make them more responsible to Results Act requirements. Based on our informal review of USDA's August 1997 draft plans, they are much improved over the May versions. We, of course, are not in a position to comment on the final plans that were submitted yesterday.
In particular, the August plans have a clearer focus on mission-related goals and objectives, better linkages between the agency's goals and the Department's mission, more detailed descriptions of the external factors that could effect goal achievement and better information on the resources needed to achieve the goals. A number of problems linger in the August plans, however.
We remain concerned that some of the agencies' plans continue to lack information on the relationship between long-term goals and annual-performance goals, and provided limited information on program evaluation of their approaches. Also some agencies' plans lack clear strategies to be used in achieving goals or adequate performance measures. And finally, as this subcommittee is all too aware, USDA financial management and information systems are certainly not in the best condition.
Let me close by elevating one thought for your consideration. The Results Act has the potential to initiate a sea-change in the conduct of Federal programs by changing the administrative mindset from doing to accomplishing. It is a uniquely clear mandate for substance over form, for results over process. The Congress' review and consideration of the agencies' strategic plans is a critical part of that process. And while USDA unquestionably got off to a rocky start in its strategic-planning effort, its plans are now approaching the point where they can provide a workable vehicle for debating and agreeing upon program goals and provide a much more informed basis for Congressional oversight.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thanks for the opportunity to talk about what we believe to be a very important issue.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Robinson appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Robinson.
How would you sum up the USDA's approach to the requirements of the GPRA?
Mr. ROBINSON. I guess I would have to say that the initial version was not as responsive to the essence of the Results Act requirements as it should have been. Too many of the plans were restatements of old think. The kind of information it presented in budget justifications without a true focus on the results that we think are the essence of the act and I think increasingly being demanded by the taxpayers.
Mr. GOODLATTE. So we've now seen three versions of that. Do you see any change in thefirst of all, have you seen the one that was delivered to us this morning?
Mr. ROBINSON. Only in passing. We have, as I have stated earlier, we have certainly focused on the May version because that was what was available when we were asked to assess plans Government-wide in July. We have subsequently looked at the August versions, and I think they show a large measure of improvement. We have not, frankly, seen the ones that appeared yesterday. We have seen them, but we haven't had any chance to look at them in any depth.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Will you please let us know if you find any significant changes that you think would change any of the opinions that you have expressed to us this morning?
Mr. ROBINSON. Absolutely. And I might also mention that we have been formally requested by, I think, most members of the leadership; Budget Committees and Appropriations Committees and oversight committees to formally evaluate all the final plans submissions, and I think that that report is due in 10 days, 12 days, something like that.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Very good.
Would you say that there is any reason why GPRA implementation at the USDA would be tougher than at other agencies?
Mr. ROBINSON. Oh, I don't know that it's uniquely difficult. We are aware that I think three agencies use a somewhat different approach than the other agencies. USDA, Interior and Labor, I believe, used an approach of preparing an overview plan and then separate individual plans for each of its agencies. So that may have complicated and added to the volume of paper. But as to the essence of the mission, I can't imagine why it would be inherently more difficult.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Why did they receive one of the lowest scores in the Government for their Results Act statement?
Mr. ROBINSON. Mr. Chairman, we didn't assign those scores, so I guess I'd prefer not to comment on how those scores were assigned. We did provide the Congress with a plan and a guide to evaluating plans, but we didn't actually assign scores themselves.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The ultimate test of a strategic plan is whether it clearly communicates the goals, priorities, and strategies of the department to its component programs, and therefore its user base. If the document becomes the evidence of yet another exercise in bureaucracy which bears no relevance to how the department goes about its day-to-day operations it will unfortunately be no more than another waste of the taxpayers' dollars.
Based on your review of USDA's GPRA statement, is the mission statement clear enough and comprehensive enough to fully explain what the USDA does?
Mr. ROBINSON. Again I'm going to have to emphasize or talk about the May version unfortunately because we haven't had a chance to analyze the one submitted literally just a few hours ago.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, we'll go back to the one that you have had the opportunity to review.
Mr. ROBINSON. Yes, the May version, I think, we thought had at least the essence of a sound mission for the Department. We had some difficulty with including management improvements as an essential mission of the Department. But I guess our trouble was not so much with the Department's overall mission as it was in the translating from the Department's overall mission to the individual agency plans.
The overview plan, if you will, the departmental plan essentially referenced the specific agency plans for greater clarity and greater precision on what the objectives and the goals of the Department's agencies would be. It is in those more specific level presentations that we found the greatest degree of difficulty, and as I mentioned, fuzziness and just frankly inappropriate objectives and goalsinternally focused goals and objectives. The taxpayers aren't paying millions of dollars to make sure Government employees and agencies are safe and warm as they conduct business. They pay for a service.
Mr. GOODLATTE. If a manager of one of these agencies took this document and wanted to understand from it specifically what they had to do to meet their mandates under the plan and as required by the law, does it tell each program what it specifically will be held accountable for?
Mr. ROBINSON. Why don't I let Anu answer this question. Anu worked a lot more over the details and I think she could be pretty instructive on some of the specific examples of what we're talking about here.
Ms. MITTAL. I think you raise a good point. The plan should have allowed a manager anywhere in the Department to be able to pick up the document and know exactly what it is that he needed to do. And I think that was definitely lacking in the plan partly because the plan did not include adequate strategies on how to go about achieving the goals that had been laid out in the plan and the plan definitely did not document how managers would be held accountable for results.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. OK, so in terms of attempting to fulfill the name of this legislationor the shorthand name for it, the Results Actwould you say that this plan is clear enough and sufficiently focused on results to have any meaningful impact on decisions made at the program level? Will theyif they don't know what their directive is as a result of this survey, what will be the result of that?
Mr. ROBINSON. Too many of the plans were not clear on that in their May iteration. I would say, and I do want to bring you back to the notion that I think the August plans made a move toward being much more responsive to the essence of the act. I think that it's important to look at the September versions to see if they made further improvements.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, I realize that you didn't do these gradings for the different agencies and you may not be able to compare one to another, but if you were to put a grade on this particular performance, what would it be?
Mr. ROBINSON. Mr. Chairman, we scrupulously avoided assigning a single grade. The magnitude of this effort is too complex to assign a specific grade. I think it would be inappropriate and an overly simplisticI think that we made it pretty clear that we thought their effort was pretty weak the first time around, at least in the May version.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, let's focus on their latest effort.
Mr. ROBINSON. Their latest effort is better.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How much better?
Mr. ROBINSON. Appreciably better because the first version was so poor.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, but, getting back to my question
Mr. ROBINSON. You're not going to let me get away with this are you?
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Getting back to mywell, I'm not so much interested in a grade as in trying to get a perspective on whether you think they have accomplished what was intended under the act, not under their original effort, but under their more recent August effort, to give the folks who are responsible for bringing about change at the agency level within the Department sufficient guidance to know what their goals are, No. 1, and No. 2, how to implement those goals in a way that brings about the kind of change, the kind of results that the Congress intended when this legislation was passed. And let me point out that this was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by a Democratic President. So this is a very bipartisan effort to improve performance. This is not in any way a partisan thing.
Mr. ROBINSON. Right. And an event of 4 years ago.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Right.
Mr. ROBINSON. Well, I'd to say that they are getting a lot closer. They still have a ways to go. And we point out in our statement and in our prepared statement some of the areas that still need to be worked on. But it is getting a lot closer to putting the agency employees and you in a position to know pretty clearly what it is that we are actually driving towardwhat result we are trying to achieveand putting the Congress in a better position, maybe than ever before, of exercising oversight because at least everybody is operating toward the sameor will be operating toward the same objective and with performance measures that will be indicative of whether sufficient progress is being made toward that objective. Getting better, a lot better than it was in May, but not all the way there.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentleman from Arkansas.
Mr. BERRY. No questions, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Smith.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. Mr. Chairman, maybe some questions to help me better understand how the USDA is developing their goals and objectives and in some way measuring those goals and objectives. And I would just like for a moment to look at the goals and objectives, how you evaluate them in terms of excess property, in terms of disposal of excess property. How is there going to be a look-see at looking at the efficiency of the operation and the cost of the operation in terms of the results?
Mr. ROBINSON. I'm thinking that those questions might be more appropriately addressed to the USDA witnesses who can talk to you in much more detail about the specifics of an individual plan.
Our review of the plans was at a level where we were trying to determine what the agency's mission was, what its broad objectives were, what results it was trying to deliver. That's what these plans are intended to be focused for, to lay out, for all concerned, ''What are we trying to achieve with the money that we're spending here? Not what we're doing, not counting the things that we're doing, but what are we trying to achieve. What result are we anticipating?'' Setting up mechanisms for reaching those objectives and goals through well understood strategies and importantly, setting up performance measures to know whether they are reaching or making proper progress toward those ultimate objectives.
The kind of specificity of issue that you are talking to, I really think that the USDA witnesses would be in a better position to answer this question.
Mr. SMITH. But do I understand that the Results Act, then, isn't as interested in the efficiency of accomplishing those goals as simply are they accomplishing the goals? What are the goals and objectives and are they achieving that?
Mr. ROBINSON. Certainly the Results Act, by its very name, focuses on results. USDA and its plan has a substantial component on management initiatives and management focuses which would be part of the strategies for achieving those objectives. Clearly, part of their strategy is to deliver services efficiently and effectively with a minimum level of resources.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The guts of the plan, however, is an agreement of what results you are trying to achieve, the strategies that you are using to get there and measuring your progress toward achieving those objectives. That's the gutsthere is a separate whole component, and the USDA witness, I'm sure, can talk about that in great depth, on the management side of this.
Mr. SMITH. And explain to me how it is broken down. Do you go Under Secretary by Under Secretary? Agency? Department? Division?
Mr. ROBINSON. Sure. There is an overview plan for the whole Department that lays out the Department's overall mission.
Mr. SMITH. And how many pages would that be, for example, in the USDA plan?
Mr. ROBINSON. About 20. Collectively, the May version was 700 pages. Followingor below that top level, if you will, there were 30 separate plans for each one of the major agencies. Some were grouped by mission area, and then the staff offices. So that is ultimately how they broke down. And each one of those plans, theoretically now, would have goals and objectives that feed toward the Department's overall mission and objectives.
And then each one of those has a management component.
Mr. SMITH. It just seems to me that as a farmer and as a person that worked in USDA for 5 years that there are conflicting goals within USDA. Did you find that?
Mr. ROBINSON. I guess one of our bigger problems in examining the plans is that the goals were so fuzzy that in many cases it would be hard to ever know whether you had achieved success or not. So we're obviously pushing and have worked with the Departmentand again, to their credit, again, they have been responsive. So we're trying to make these things more precise, more results oriented, more measurable.
But, yeah, you're right, I guess some of them would have been conflicting.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. Does GAO have the authority to say, ''This is too fuzzy. Redo it again.'' Are you going to say that in this latest effort by USDA?
Mr. ROBINSON. I don't know what we're going to say because we haven't looked at the September plan in any depth yet. We'll be reporting on that in 2 weeks.
We have no authority to direct action, of course. We recommended, and quite frankly, I think that we went maybe much farther than normal in working informally with agency staffs to point out in detail, and in a very constructive fashionand I think that the agency would agree that we were quite constructivein working with the precisely, ''This is why this is too fuzzy. This is why this isn't responsive to the act.'' These are the kinds of things that I think would be helpful, that we thought would be helpful toward making the plan a more meaningful document. And it currently, at least the August version, was far more meaningful than the May version.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman thank you. Is this availabledoes our staff have the September plan now?
Mr. GOODLATTE. Yes we do. We got it a few minutes before the hearing started.
The Chair recognizes the ranking minority member, Mrs. Clayton from North Carolina. And if you have an opening statement you are welcome to give that or put it in the record, and also for questions. We'll give you additional time as you need it.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you very much.
First, Mr. Chairman and the committee, I want to apologize for being late, but I was unavoidably detained. And I will ask that my statement be put into the record.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection.
[The prepared statement of Mrs. Clayton follows:]
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF HON. EVA M. CLAYTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
I believe strongly in the merits of the Government Performance and Results Act. As a private consultant, I helped many businesses and corporations to create long-range strategic plans and mission statements. It is integral to the future success of an agency to do the critical thinking required to formulate a strategic plan.
In the long run, GPRA will have definite benefits not only for the agencies, but also for all Americans who are served by these agencies.
In light of these facts, I feel that it is a shame that we must hold a hearing ostensibly to review USDA's GPRA statement, the day after the final strategic plan was released. I know that I have not had enough time to read it and be familiar with the material as I would like. I also know that GAO could not have had ample time to review the documents.
Although I hope that today's testimony will prove to be informative, I feel all of us involved, including the American public, would have been better served if we had delayed the hearing a week or two after the October 1 submission deadline.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I am, though, concerned that this hearing would be held so immediately, given that the plan was just put out. And Mr. Smith was asking if he's had it, and then you stating that indeed you just received it. And to extract that the GAO would be in a good position to review their plan, as his statement indicated, he is not in a position to do that.
Mr. GOODLATTE. If you would yield?
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We have had two previous versions of the plan, and the understanding was that they would get their most recent version to us earlier than they actually did. So we scheduled the hearing in anticipation of that rather than the other way around. I mean, this is something where we were promised something and it wasn't delivered when it was promised.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. I see. Well, we want these hearings to be as productive as possible, and so we want to have a full availability of the most complete information, so that the hearing and the response of the individuals reviewing it can be as complete and that this doesn't get to be an empty gesture.
After reviewingI think that Mr. Smith has almost asked the same question that I was going to ask youif you would indeed make recommendations, and I gather that your comment is that you would after you had a chance to review it?
Mr. ROBINSON. Mrs. Clayton, we, in our review of the May planwhich was the basis for our July reportwe pointed out a number of areas where the plans, in our view, were weak. We also pointed out that the act fully anticipated the need for a number of iterations. Following that, I think that we tookI guess it is not unprecedented, but it is certainly not routinewe sent a number of our staff members over to USDA and worked with, I believe, 14 or 15 agencies on an agency-by-agency staff-by-staff basis providing as much guidance as we knew how to provide on this subject to try to be constructive and help the plans develop to the point where we thought they needed to be. And I think that the August versionwhich would have had time to reflect some of the input that we providedfrankly is much better. It still has a ways to go, but it is much better.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, did you think that the agency actually responded to your input and that there is some evidence of their coming forth and trying to meet those requirements?
Mr. ROBINSON. I would have to say yes. And I think that full disclosure mandates that the Congress, that the Congressional staffs have also hadI know that particularly on the Senate-side, there were 3 weeks of relatively intense discussions on how to make the plans better, and I'm sure that a lot of input was being received at the
Mrs. CLAYTON. Was that at the Senate level in terms of review of the plan that they had in plan or was that
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROBINSON. I think that everyone was looking at the May version. I'm speaking without complete information, but I believe that they were looking at the May version as we were.
Mrs. CLAYTON. As you were.
Mr. ROBINSON. Right.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And so some of their review would have had some of the same comments that you might have been offering after you had looked at the May version, right?
Mr. ROBINSON. I think that the House staff may have also done this, but I know I have seen the Senate letter that went up there expressing many of the same concerns that we had expressed over the May plan.
So there was a variety of input feeding into this, and I think that USDA has been responsive.
Mrs. CLAYTON. One is struck by the fact that this is not an empty gesture. I mean having the requirement for these plans makes some sense. And I must say that I state a bias, I come from a planning background. So I think that it makes some sense to go through this process to have a plan. But it is not just to have a plan to one spot in life, it is a continuum.
Mr. ROBINSON. True.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And you have to have all the players in there and you have to find out how that strategy applies to a given situation. So in some sense having the evolution of this is how plans work if one understands that it is not just something written on paper and another day you get a scorecard. That scorecard has to be related to resources, implementation of a variety of experiences, and then that has some relevancy as to the efficiencyor the effectiveness of an agency meeting the results of their stages and their plans.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROBINSON. I think you are right. The full potential of GPRA is in its substance. It asks the agencies and their staffs to leave the old world behind, if you will, where you count how many inspections and count how many books you put out and count how many manuals you rewrote. And that is the way that budgets used to be justified. It asks to leave all that behind and say, ''What are we trying to achieve here with the taxpayers money, and are we getting there and do we have an effective strategy to get there?'' To have the Congress and the executive branch on the same page. Yes, this is where we're trying to get to. This is how we're trying to get there. Let's debate whether the goals are appropriate. Let's debate whether the strategies are appropriate. And let's conduct oversight and measure whether we are making adequate progress. And if we are not, as you point out, let's make some adjustments. I mean, that is common sense, but it is relatively foreign to the way that business has been done.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Especially foreign to Government where Government is usually in the businessand having been a business management consultant, that is what I did.
I just got the plan as well, also, so forgive me for not knowing, but could you just from your review remember what was in the credit section wheredid they incorporate the goals to make sure that their credit and their services were as open to everyone? Could you help me? Do you remember that well enough?
Mr. ROBINSON. I don't know.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Maybe I'd better ask the next panel.
Mr. ROBINSON. It would have been in the RDA plan.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Maybe I'll ask the next panel because they have had some time to regurgitate that, I've had some planning in that. Since May to now, that should be reflected in something. And, obviously, what I'm referring to is the whole issue of discrimination in terms of the use of the credit systems and since the system is going through some internal adjustment to make sure that never happens again, that ought to be reflected in a goal or mission or in a strategy and it ought to be reflected. Otherwise you are doing parallel adjustment outside of your mission plan, and I can tell you have relevant that mission plan is if it doesn't have that kind of conflict resolution in it.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MITTAL. Based on our review of both the May and the August plan, that was an important goal and in some cases an objective that was stated in some of the plans. I don't know what the final plan that you just received says and how it is stated in there.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I don't either. I must say that I got it last night, and I didn't get home until 1:15 a.m.
Ms. MITTAL. But it is an important objective. I believe that in certain cases it is an objective and in other cases it is laid out as a strategy.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentleman from South Dakota, Mr. Thune.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity about USDA's efforts to implement the Government Performance and Results Act.
I think that in many respects this isobviously this is a very well intended thing to provide the accountability in Government that I think that the people in this country expect from Government, and I would hope that it doesn't simply encourage creative attempts by agencies to, you know, justify programs in existence and preserve their own jobs. Instead I guess it's my hope that this will encourage agencies to determine on an objective basis the validity and I think relative effectiveness of each of theand every of the functions of the programs and so forth that the agency performs.
I just have a couple of questions if I might, this morning. And having reviewed a little bit of the informationand I apologize for not hearing your entire testimony, and so if I'm covering old ground, bear with me. In your opinion and based upon GAO's reviews of the various of the USDA statement, is the current administrative structure there at USDA capable of effectively administering all of the programs under their jurisdiction?
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROBINSON. That is a real interesting question. It brings to mind a conversation that we had with a former Secretary a number of years ago where he talked to us about how utterly powerless he was as a Secretary of Agriculture and that the real power and the real authority was in the component agencies. That they were in factUSDA was sort of a commonwealth of independent states, if you will. Each agency was where the real power was. He was commenting about how this was driven home to him when he asked to get a van to come up to the Hill, and they said ''Mr. Secretary, you don't have a van. You'll have to get the FSA van, or the RMA's van.''
I tell this storyI think it has a pointto give you a perspective on USDA'sthe history of USDA is one where the real power isit has grown up with the real power basis being in those individual agencies. So wrapping and folding and establishing a department mission where everybody is pulling in the same direction, or at least in the same agreed upon direction, is bucking a substantial history. I think we probably all agree with that.
Mr. THUNE. This is sort of a related, maybe follow-up to that, and again referring to your conclusion that you look forward to working with the Congress and USDA to ensure that the requirements of the Results Act are metgiven that current administrative structure at USDA, in your opinion can the individual short-term and annual goals of the various divisions within USDA be reconciled with the overarching long-term goals of USDA?
Mr. ROBINSON. It has to be. It has to be, and I think one of the principle failings of the May version that we looked at was the really poor linkage there. The linkages are getting better. They have to be if we're going to operate the Department of Agriculture as a coherent unit aimed at delivering results and delivering service to the taxpayers in a coherent way. It has to be, and I see no reason why it can't be. Although, again, you know you are bucking a substantial history here, a 100-year-plus history of doing business.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And GPRA, frankly, that is one of its advantages to provide a vehicle to accomplishing something very substantive. I mean, it is not a paper exercise likewhen it was first being debated and first being implemented, a lot of people were saying, ''Well, we'll just slap some old plans together and throw in a package and we'll set them up there, and that will be that.'' I mean it requires a wholly different mindset, and that is one of its prime values, and that is why we are very supportive of its passage in 1993.
Mr. THUNE. Well, and I guess it seems to meI would hope at least that that is what we in fact accomplish with this and that it won't be the deal where you submit something to satisfy the letter of the law, but in fact we are able to analyze as you said, histories and traditions and cultures within the Federal bureaucracy that perhaps are not working well in terms of actually doing what they were intended to do and see what we can do to rectify that.
You referenced in this mid-term report card issued to various Federal agencies, specifically a grade of 11 out of 100 given to USDA. Has GAO graded later drafts of USDA's statement, and if so, how did they fair?
Mr. ROBINSON. We did not issue that grade. That was a grade applied by and developed by Congressional staff, and I think we're not in a position to support it or refute it. It was not something that we did.
Mr. THUNE. But have you since done anything with respect to USDA's statement?
Mr. ROBINSON. As I said earlier, I think that the May version of the plan was not very good. They've made it a lot better, and I guess we talked some specific areas of weaknesses and some specific areas where things are getting better, and I think that we'd like to leave it at that rather than trying to condense a very complex issue down to one letter or number. I just don't think that it is fruitful, at least for us.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. THUNE. Well, and I understand that it is a work in process, but I hope that you can work with us and with the agency, with USDA to get at the nut of why that was insufficient in the first place. But I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to working with you, Mr. Robinson.
Mr. ROBINSON. I might mention that for your benefit that again in 2 weeks we will be issuing our assessment of the final version, the September 30 version.
Mr. THUNE. Very good. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. We'll have some additional questions, and I will first recognize Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The discussion prompted some other thoughts in my mind. Part of what we want to doon page 3, as you said, your view is not only to look at resources, but external factors that could affect achievement of their goals and objectives. And we've just gone through what we call the Freedom to Farm, and we've just gone through a new way of beginning to look at our agriculture and the whole globalization of our effort.
At the same time we are going through some recognition that small farmers as we have known them are under decline, and in some way globalization and small farmers are not necessarily in contradiction, but many small farmers cannot keep up because of the globalization and the other technologies. Can you see, within Agriculture's plan, a recognition that they must do something different in order to reach that small farmer to integrate that entityfamily farmers, I'm talking about, small unitin a different approach? Here before, how we did that in many ways was through the subsidies and our programs. We now have Freedom to Farm, which means that at least the cash assistance is not there, and yet the technical assistance will be there. The only programs that are left are perhaps peanut and some others.
So there is a new responsibility in terms of assistance. Can you see a mind set in USDA that they now feel that they must not only do things differently, but now a new strategy of information and output to engage in and save family farms particularly in the light of globalization and the vertical integration of agriculture and justagriculture is changing tremendously and very successfully. But at the same time that success is not always available to the benefit of a large number of farmers who are small. And the smaller family farmers are dwindling. The successful farmers are the larger ones who are vertically integrated, respond to globalizationis there anything that you see that they are doing differently or set out a goal or strategy to respond to those two different objectives?
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROBINSON. In keeping with my history so far on all the truly difficult questions, I hand it to my colleague here.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I see.
Ms. MITTAL. I think you're referring to the Farm Service Agency plan. That would be the plan where we would expect to see the type of issues that we are raising.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes, right.
Ms. MITTAL. We were disappointed with the Farm Service Agency plan for a lack of strategic thinking along those lines. The only recognition that we see in the plan of the changes that were brought about by the Fair Act were the fact that they were going to ensure that participation rates stayed high. That doesn't get at the type of issues that you are raising.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Right.
Ms. MITTAL. And we continue to be concerned about the Farm Service Agency's plan for that reason.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK. I think I'll pass.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Ewing.
Mr. EWING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
You mentioned in your statement that USDA's goals and objectives are not as result oriented as they should be. Would you be able to give us an example or two of how specific goals could be more results oriented?
Ms. MITTAL. The plans that we looked at in May had a very heavy focus on internal processes, and therefore they were not thinking in terms of results. The new plan that we've seen in August does a much better job of that.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One way that they have been able to do that is by eliminating all of the management and internal process-oriented goals and moving them into a section called ''management initiatives.''
In particular we could use the example of the Rural Development Agency. They stated that one of their goals was to ensure that their programs are managed economically and efficiently. Well, that is a goal and it is a good goal, but we couldn't really see the results behind it.
Mr. ROBINSON. It is much like we talked about earlierlike one of the strategic objectives in the AMS plan was to make sure that the employees had a healthful and safe environment to work in. That's not a strategic objective. It is certainly a management expectation, but it is not something that we think the taxpayers probably had in their mind when they send the money into here, that that is something that we really should be focused on as our strategic objective for an agency. It doesn't have a results orientation to it.
Mr. EWING. Was there any consultation with the stakeholders, the ones that are most affected by the performance measures? Did you find that?
Mr. ROBINSON. We found some weakness on the consultation front, yes.
Ms. MITTAL. In the May plan we found that very little information was provided in the plans that would indicate that any sort of consultation or coordination existed. In the August version we see a much better linkage between cost-cutting issues and agencies that are going to be responsible for ensuring that program results are achieved. But there is still very little information to indicate that any sort of consultation or coordination efforts took place.
Mr. EWING. Could you identify what type of consultation you did find? You say you didn't find much.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MITTAL. The Food Safety Inspection Service is probably the best example of a plan that actually identifies the governmental as well as non-governmental entities that it would be working with in order to achieve its goals. And they actually have listed throughout their plan how they went about consulting with the FDA and the CDC and other agencies both within the Government as well as outside the Government.
Mr. EWING. Was that consultation with the people being regulated?
Mr. ROBINSON. I don't think so.
Mr. EWING. Do you think that is part of what is required?
Mr. ROBINSON. I'm trying to relate this to achieving results. I suppose that in developing strategies that would certainly be a reasonable component in terms of a strategy for achieving whatever is a result that we agree that we're trying to achieve through the program activity.
Mr. EWING. What do you believe is good consultation? What would you recommend to any agency as being good consultation?
Mr. ROBINSON. The concept we're thinking about here is if you were trying to set objectives where you were only one player among the various players that are central to the achievement of the result that's being soughtit seems common sense to consult with all the parties that would be involved in achieving that objective to make sure we're all pulling the wagon in the same direction, that we're all seeking the same target, that we have a common-sense and consistent strategy toward achieving it. So that, off the top of my head, that is what constitutesthat is what the root of consultation would be.
Mr. EWING. Do you believe in the legislation that we're trying to provide oversight for here and the creation of these plans that there isis there a specific requirement that those that the agency deals with, the people they deal with, the citizens they deal with, the taxpayers they deal withthat they be consulted? That they have input on these plans?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROBINSON. I'm not sure that the law itself talks directly about that subject, but certainly through the Congressional process we envision agencies and the Congress working together to craft the objectives, to craft the strategies. And through Congressional representation I would certainly think that would be an inherent part of the process. I don't know that the act mandates that the agencies go seek out the various affected parties in developing their plans. I could be mistaken on that.
Mr. EWING. There is no requirement in the act?
Mr. ROBINSON. I don't believe it is in the act itself, no, sir.
Mr. EWING. Well, I would just conclude by saying that I sat in on a meeting with your agency and another agency, not USDA, the other day, talking about their plan. And it just seems to me that there is a real chance here for us to write very bureaucratic, high-sounding, well-flowing plans that no one will be able to understand or that it will help implementation. And I think that that is very important that we watch that. That wasn't the purpose of the law, but I think it is certainly something that people in the bureaucracyit is easy to do.
Mr. ROBINSON. Well, and I think that our assessment of the May planthere was a lot of that flowery, relatively meaningless language in there. Particularly what good is it to have goals that you don't know whether you've achieved them or not because they are so broad and so vague that you can argue that you are already there even before you started or that you never could get there.
Again, I guess I'm approaching this with perhaps too much of Messianic zeal, but this Results Act is a great tool. It would be a shame and a tragedy if the real message of this act and the real force behind this act and the real objective of this act was wasted because it says things that make so much sense. And I think that with effort and elbow grease these plans can be made real working documents to help everyone agree on what objectives are, and everyone agreein precise termsand everyone to know whether we're making progress toward achieving them. To measure our progress toward that, that is the essence of the act. I don't see any reason why it can't be done.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EWING. Well, you said it better than I did, but that certainly was our goal, and I hope it is what we can achieve with this.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentleman from Michigan.
Mr. SMITH. A question on plan in relation to the law. Are you examining if the law setsif they are consistent with the parameters of the law, and how is this committee going to find out specifically the extent to which USDA has possibly expanded upon or exceeded the more exact parameters of the law or promulgated rules? How are you examining this, and in some way are you passing it on to this committee?
Mr. ROBINSON. We are, have and will evaluate the USDA plans in terms of their compliance with the basic mandates of the act. We are also, on a supplemental leveland frankly obviously a more judgmental levelassessing the, if you will, quality of the effort, the degree to which it is more or less meaningful in its ability to show everybody where we're headed and show everyoneand give everyone the basis for conducting informed oversight.
Mr. SMITH. And what have you found so far in terms of their plan and their objectives and goals and operation in relation to the parameters of the law?
Mr. ROBINSON. We found that, certainly in the May version, that almost none of the plans complied with the precise requirements of the law. The August versionagain given that there is less time to assess hereit was much closer and many more of the agencies were complying with the precise requirements. There were still some quality issues that we would want to continue to work with. We have not looked at the final version. Keep in mind, these were all drafts that we were looking at. We have not looked at the final version because it was only released yesterday.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SMITH. And Mr. Chairman, one final question
Mr. ROBINSON. And again we are reporting to our Congressional requestors on all the plans Government-wide and will be issuing a new round of reports on the September plans in 12 days.
Mr. SMITH. In terms of promulgated rules, are you in any way looking at those regulations in relation to the parameters of the law?
Mr. ROBINSON. Issued rules and
Mr. SMITH. Promulgated rules and regulations as simply an expansion of law assuming that they are part of law.
Mr. ROBINSON. To date, sir, we have not reached that level of detail, no sir. We're not reviewing the CFR, for example, for new rules, new proposed rules and the degree to which they exceed agencies' authorities. That has not been part of this process.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentleman from South Dakota.
Mr. THUNE. Just a couple of follow-ups if I might.
I'm trying to see the connection here. You talk about something that is measurable, something that might be quantifiable, and relate that to USDA. And my impression isand I have worked at a Federal agency, so I speak with some experience with thisbut much of what drives it is sort of a bureaucratic inertia. You know ''We've always done it this way.'' And I think it is to the advantage a lot times when you are trying to articulate these things to be somewhat innocuous and vague because then you can always exceed expectations.
I'm trying to think in terms ofyou mentioned FSA and RDA, and those are programs obviously that most of us are familiar with because people in our parts of the country go to those agencies for delivery of services. Any thoughts from your analysis of this as to how you might come up with a specific, tangible, quantifiable, measurable type goal or objective for an agency like FSA?
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROBINSON. The act iswell, the act gives a lot of room for flexibility. Let me answer it by talking about a subject that has been before this subcommittee a year or so ago, and that is on the whole Team Nutrition initiative. It is not on your agenda, but I think it is an instructive case.
The agency came up and said, ''We are really doing a great job with this Team Nutrition initiative because we issued 12,000 handbooks and we enrolled X-number of schools.'' Well, and? The question is, ''And did that reach the end objective or how do we measure whether indeed the kids' knowledge of nutrition and nutrition education issues were being advanced?'' You have to asses that by actually going out there and measuring whether the kids involved actually knew more.
So again, it changes the mind set that you were talking about where ''We've historically done things bywe've signed up this many farmers. We issued this many contracts. We issued this many regulations. We got a real achievement here. The new rules have been put in place, and they are much better rules than the old rules.'' There is a long distance between that and actually getting to whatever the objective or the real goal of the Department would be.
I've talked the long way around the bush. I guess I would have to think more about the FSA specifics. Unless you can offer something?
Ms. MITTAL. I think the one thing that we have to remember is that we're trying to measure outcomes. What the act intended was that there would be an outcome to a goal. Now to measure outcomes, sometimes you can't come up with quantitative measures, but you can measure outputs. And when you measure outputs, as long as you can make the relationship between the output and how it will ultimately result in an outcome, I think you have done what the Results Act intended.
So if to provide a safety net for farmers is the main goal of FSA, there are two or three different things that they can do.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC They can provide the income support. And they have a number of programs that provide income support.
They can provide farm credit to farmers who cannot qualify for credit elsewhere, and there are a number of performance measures that they can measure there.
And the third thing would be to support the commodity programs by purchases.
So there are a number of different things that they can do to provide that income support or that safety net for farmers. Not each and everyone of these things has to be an outcome. Some of them can be outputs, but ultimately they have to be able to relate how those outputs go back to the outcome.
Mr. ROBINSON. And as Mrs. Clayton talked about earlier, one objective might beand I'm not suggesting that this is what it should beone objective might be that we would stem the tide in the loss of farmers to the industry. That is an outcome that we could all debate whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, and you would construct programs along those lines. Not, ''We've signed up'' or ''we've had this many people show up at our job fair.'' You know, something along those kind of lines. It's, just a sea difference. I guess I'm stumbling a bit here, but hopefully you are getting the essence of it.
Mr. THUNE. Just in that vein, and I think you could probably articulate all those things, but is there some assessment given to as well the benefits versus the costs? I mean, is there any benefit-cost analysis that's done in that. All the things that you have saidI'm thinking as you're saying this about FSA, ''Yes these are all things that would be needed and perhaps measurable.'' But at the same time to address the issues of efficiency, et cetera. In most of the plans that you have seen put into place or when you have done consultation with us, is that something that isbecause to me ultimately that is what we are really trying to achieve is not only outcomes but outcomes where the benefits outweigh the costs, exactly.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ROBINSON. Yes, I think that the May versions were pretty skimpy on the resources that would be required. The August versions are a little bit better.
But again, you see again, here is the GPRA providing the vehicle for Congressional debate. If this objective or this goal is a good one, but it's going to cost $50 billion to achieve, do we still want to go with it. It provides an opportunity for a much more focused debate. And that's why I think that the act has so much, virtually landmark significance if things are implemented properly.
Mr. THUNE. I think it has a lot of potential. I hope that it is used in that context and that we look at it in the light of relative value, benefit cost, and so forth, because I think ultimately again that is the objective. And in the interests, the best interests of making efficient use of taxpayer dollars, that is the goal that we certainly want to strive towards.
I thank the Chair.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentleman from Arkansas.
Mr. BERRY. Mr. Robinson, how long has the Department been working on this document?
Mr. ROBINSON. Of course, the act was passed in 1993. Ted is probably in a better position to answer that when he comes up here. We only started in the process with the May document. So, how long it took them to arrive at the May document, I guess that Ted would be in a better position to answer than I. I'm just not sure.
Mr. BERRY. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The gentleman from Illinois.
Mr. EWING. I have before me the GAO book of May 1997 dealing with the GPRA and its strategic planI'm sure you have many copies around. And on page 1 it talks about ''For strategic planning to be done well, we found that three practices appear to be critical. Organizations must'' and No. 1 is the one that we are talking about ''involve their stakeholders.'' And then skipping on down, it says ''Stakeholder involvement is particularly important for Federal agencies because they operate in a complex, political environment in which legislative mandates are often broadly stated, and some stakeholders may disagree strongly about the agency's mission and goal.''
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To me that says that myself as a Member of Congress, we're not the source of stakeholder input because we may believe one way, and maybe not all of our constituents agree with us. And that the agency needs to look to the people that they are dealing with.
Mr. ROBINSON. As part of their strategy, you make a good point.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
I have just one final question, and that is what recommendations would you make to this committee to better enforce the goals and the spirits of the Results Act?
Mr. ROBINSON. I think that what you are doing right now is a very good step. I think that it is going to require constant attention. The difference between normal business and the way GPRA wants business to be doneor mandates that business be doneis so farthere is such a wide gulf between that and constant attention and constant working together with the USDA agencies is going to be essential, and I
Mr. GOODLATTE. What about enforcement mechanisms?
Mr. ROBINSON. Well, ultimately you have the final card in your hand, the dollar card. So I guess that is the ultimate hammer.
Mr. GOODLATTE. That's a good observation to close on. We thank you very much for your participation, and we would, as I indicated earlier, like to hear your comments on this latest draft after you have had the opportunity to review those. If you could submit a written statement comparing it to the August draft and letting us know if you think that there are additional improvements or additional deficiencies in this most recent draft.
Mr. ROBINSON. We'll make sure that you get copies.
Is it the chairman's desire that we remain in the room for USDA's testimony for potential call back, or
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. I think that would be a good idea if you have the time to do so.
Mr. ROBINSON. OK.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Hopefully, we won't be too long.
We would now like to invite our second witness to the table. We are pleased to have with us Mr. Irwin Ted David, Acting Chief Financial Officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mr. David, again, welcome. We have just had a buzzer indicating a vote, but we won't have to leave for about 5 minutes, so if you could give your statement. Summarize it. We'll certainly put the entire statement in the record, and if you could summarize it in 5 minutes or less, we'll then go vote, come back and have questions for you when we get back.
STATEMENT OF IRWIN TED DAVID, ACTING CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. DAVID. Thank you very much, and good morning, Mr. Goodlatte, Mrs. Clayton, and members of the subcommittee.
I am Irwin T. David. I am the Acting Chief Financial Officer of USDA, and I very much appreciate the opportunity to appear before you to discuss GPRA implementation in USDA.
I do have a longer statement for the record, and I will try to summarize it here this morning.
USDA did initiate its implementation activity shortly after passage of the act in 1993. The Secretary recognized the importance of the act. The Secretary appointed the Chief Financial Officer to coordinate the implementation of the GPRA, the Results Act, in USDA.
The CFO formed an implementation committee and initiated training for all levels of the organization. Training continues even today as the requirements of the act cascade throughout USDA. In addition, eight USDA agencies were accepted by the Office of Management and Budget to be performance-measure pilot projects.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Each USDA agency developed its own plan based on the Secretary's strategic goals using a process most suitable to its organization and to its planning experience. Agencies consulted extensively with employees, with customers, and with other interested parties through meetings and forums, listening sessions and one-on-one discussions, and the agencies shared freely of their plans within the Department working together to address cross-cutting issues. The Department and agency officials at the highest levels participated in these consultations.
USDA agency representatives together developed a single Department-wide mission statement encompassing the broad scope of responsibility of all seven program mission areas. That mission statement is as follows:
To enhance the quality of life of the American people by supporting production agriculture, ensuring a safe, affordable, nutritious and accessible food supply, caring for agricultural, forest and rangeplans, supporting sound development of rural communities, providing economic opportunities for farm and rural residents, expanding global markets for agricultural and forest products and services and working to reduce hunger in America and throughout the world.
The agency mission statements support this Department-wide mission.
Developing strategic plans, as you've heard, has been an iterative process in USDA with multiple drafts reviewed internally, by OMB, and by the Congress. Each iteration reflected reviews and comments within and across agencies as we sought to improve and coordinate our plans and our planning processes. This process was especially challenging because the plan was initiated prior to the 1996 farm bill which made massive changes in the USDA farm programs.
The first formal Congressional consultation followed submission of our draft plan in May 1997. Since that time, agencies have had extensive consultations with various committees. The House Committee on Resources held a hearing on the Forest Service Plan. And we've received written comments from both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees. Comments and suggestions received at each meeting were incorporated into the plan, as appropriate.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The draft plan, as you've heard, was also reviewed by the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Service. Each suggested changes that made our plan stronger. We also coordinated our efforts with other Federal departments and agencies with whom we work on a routine basis. The consultation process has strengthened our plan, and we expect to continue our consultations with Congress, with our stakeholders, and with other Federal entities.
USDA's final strategic plan includes the Departmental overview and the plan of each USDA agency. The overview defines and demonstrates the relationship between the Department's missions and the agencies' goals and initiatives. The overview also describes the role of USDA agencies and other participants in achieving the Department's mission. Agency plans detail the operation of programs and initiatives to achieve the Department's goals and incorporate the elements required in the Results Act. The plan also discusses management initiatives to provide effective customer service and efficient program delivery.
Each of our experiences has convinced us more strongly that the key to successful strategic planning is viewing USDA as having one mission based on a shared vision. Our agencies are diverse, but our responsibilities are interrelated, and those relationships are revealed in the goals and strategies which agencies have developed to achieve the Department's mission.
The Results Act has enabled USDA agencies to focus on results. Most important, strategic and performance planning processes provide a vehicle for us to discuss our goals with employees, customers, and other interested parties, including the Congress. The disciplines of strategic and performance planning are being institutionalized in the management and operation of individual agencies. That is the ultimate test of the success of strategic and performance planning. We do not intend for our plans to gather dust on a shelf.
Our next step is to complete the annual performance plans to accompany the fiscal year 1999 budget request. Annual performance planning and reporting against those plans will become an ongoing activity as we move toward accomplishing our strategic goals. Our strategic plan is a living document that will evolve and mature as over time we complete initiatives and new initiatives take their place.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC USDA views strategic and performance planning as a dynamic interactive process. Our objective is to provide the American people with the results that they expect from the Department of Agriculture. The processes laid out in the Results Act will help us to achieve that objective.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here and would be pleased to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. David appears at the conclusion of this hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. David.
And the subcommittee will stand in recess until we complete this vote. And I don't know if there is another one following it. We'll take up as soon as we're done.
Mr. DAVID. Thank you, sir.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The subcommittee will be in order. We'll go ahead and start the questions that I have, and then as others return, we'll get to their questions as well, and try to be as expeditious as possible.
Mr. David, I understand you have been the Acting Chief Financial Officer of the Department for the past year-and-a-half; is that right?
Mr. DAVID. Going on about 2 years, sir.
Mr. GOODLATTE. All right. Was there anybody working on this plan prior to that?
Mr. DAVID. Yes. When the act was first passed, the Secretary appointed the Chief Financial Officer, who at the time was Tony Williams, to be responsible for the implementation of the act. And as I mentioned, Mr. Williams organized a committee, task force, made up of representatives of each of our operating agencies to lead the implementation of the act. So the answer is, yes, sir.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. What authority were you given by the Secretary to develop this plan?
Mr. DAVID. The broad authority was to coordinate the overall implementation of the plan, to assure that our agencies met the requirements of the act, and, as importantly, that we began to build in the disciplines of strategic and performance planning into the ways in which we do business. There were no specific authorities related to that, other than the responsibility to work closely with the individual agencies to assure that the requirements of the act were met and that the spirit of the act was met.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Did you feel that you had been given adequate authority to carry out the requirements of the law?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, sir.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Would you explain the process that you used to develop this plan?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, sir. As I mentioned, there was a task force, a committee, formed that included representatives of each of the mission areas and each of the agencies in USDA. That committee worked collectively to prepare the guidelines for how, in fact, USDA would implement the act, because, as you know, the processes for implementing the act are not spelled out in the law, nor were they spelled out in any specific guidance. The committee worked together to collectively determine how USDA would implement the act.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, in that regard, what policy guidance and process direction did you or your office provide each component agency within the Department during the process?
Mr. DAVID. We provided them, basically, the result that we were looking for. We identified what the plan from each agency should contain and what should be included in each one of those. We provided them with opportunities for training, and opportunities for education. We provided them with opportunities to obtain technical assistance and provided the technical assistance. We provided feedback, comment, input, commentary on the plans and on the various drafts as they were developed.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Who was involved in setting policy and determining the relative priorities among these functions?
Mr. DAVID. When you say, ''among the functions,'' you mean among the agencies or
Mr. GOODLATTE. Yes.
Mr. DAVID. Well, the overall strategic direction for the Department was developed by the Secretary. With his counsel of his chief aides, he identified the major
Mr. GOODLATTE. Did you have input in that process?
Mr. DAVID. I hadI was solicited. I provided input into the process, but I didn't
Mr. GOODLATTE. Did you attend the meetings in which that took place?
Mr. DAVID. I attended some meetings, but certainly not all of the meetings, no, sir.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The Results Act requires that, in addition to consulting with Congress, that the Department involve stakeholder groups in the development of the strategic plan. This requirement is important not only because these groups are interested in the issues of the Department of Agriculture, but because the presence of these groups in the planning process will keep policymakers focused on results. What role did relevant stakeholders, including Congress and the public, play in the development of the Department's plan?
Mr. DAVID. The stakeholders played a major role in the development of the plan. Each of our agencies met extensively with their stakeholders, with their employees, with their customers, with other interested parties. For instance, the Farm Service Agency met with over 400 customers in 19 States. They met with a number of the associations that are interested in Farm Service Agency activities. NRCS met with the various state conservation agencies. They met with their customers. They commissioned polls and surveys. Other of our agencies posted their draft plans to the World Wide Web. They published their plans in the Federal Register, and they mailed out copies of the Federal Register. Agencies which had partnerships with universities met extensively with the university communities and their university partners. Many of the agencies held what we would call visioning conferences and listening conferences, both at the state level as well as the national level.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Would you call those public hearings?
Mr. DAVID. Some of themyes, they were.
Mr. GOODLATTE. With notice to the public?
Mr. DAVID. Yes.
Mr. GOODLATTE. What kind of attendance did they get?
Mr. DAVID. Well, I can't tell you in all cases, but I know that, for instance, the Rural Development held 39 listening sessions around the country at most of their States; that agencies had attendance from 300 and 400 people collectively at their various sessions. FSIS met with 49 different groups, as they went through their planning process. So there was extensive interest, and we know that several of our agencies plan to continue those listening sessions, now that they do have a first plan that has been submitted to Congress, to continue those listening sessions both with employees as well as with their other constituents.
Mr. GOODLATTE. And prior to the first draft being submitted to the Congress, what involvement did the Congress have in this process?
Mr. DAVID. I would say it was an informal process. Many of our agencies did meet with the committees that had jurisdiction and interest, and did have informal discussions about the interest of Congress, where they wanted to see the agencies go, on specific items that related to those particular agencies and the interests of those particular committees or subcommittees.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I'm informed that staff discussions of this committee with representatives of OMB indicate that there weren't any meetings with stakeholders other than the process that was already in place and already ordinarily followed by the agency; nothing special was done to implement this law.
Mr. DAVID. Well, I don't know the source of that, but many of our agencies, as I mentioned, did meet with their customers and their stakeholders and other interested parties in relationship to developing input for developing their strategic plans.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. And these were not meetings that had already been scheduled or took place in the normal course of operations of the Department?
Mr. DAVID. Well, there may have been some that fell in that category, but there were also a great number that were held to implement this particular act.
Mr. GOODLATTE. OK. Would you be able to submit to the committee a list of these meetings that took place that involved the stakeholders?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, I would be happy to submit that to the committee.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We would appreciate having that list.
[The information is on file with the committee.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. David, by law, the Results Act planning should have started 4 years ago today. At what point over the past 4 years were stakeholdersi.e., Congress, the public, outside agencies, sister agencies at the Departmentinvited into the Department's Results Act planning process?
Mr. DAVID. I do not know the exact date, and it would probably differ by different agencies. So I will try to find that out and try to provide that
Mr. GOODLATTE. We would appreciate having that, too.
[The information is on file with the committee.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Did your office direct or oversee this process?
Mr. DAVID. We provided guidance. We recommended to the agencies; we directed the agencies they should have those meetings, but we did not direct the individual meetings, nor did we participate in all of the meetings.
Mr. GOODLATTE. There was not a representative of your office monitoring the efforts made by the individual agencies who held these meetings?
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. No, sir. Given the size of USDA, there were a number of meetings that took place. We could not possibly be at all of the meetings of all of the stakeholders with all of our agencies.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How would it be possible to come up with a coordinated plan between the agencies to eliminate duplication, to see that services are provided to farmers and other constituents of the USDA in the most efficient manner, if you didn't have anybody coordinating the input going into one agency's meetings with stakeholders relative to the input going into another agency's meeting with stakeholders?
Mr. DAVID. Well, the input from the stakeholders is just one of the many inputs that agencies received as they were developing their plans. We worked, representatives of my office, together with representatives of other offices, worked with the agencies as they were developing their plans, as they went through the planning process. The agencies, more importantly, sat down together to talk about what the contents were of their plans and how they could better coordinate their missions, their goals, their objectives, and their strategies, and their performance measures, so that they had a better understanding among and between the agencies as to what each was doing and how those related.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, taking that a step further, was there an organized effort by your office to bring together various stakeholder agencies inside and outside the Department to discuss common and cross-cutting policy purposes?
Mr. DAVID. There was not an effort by my office to bring together outside stakeholders; there was an effort by my office to bring together the agencies to assure that they did talk about the common issues among those agencies.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, but that's kind of like the folks who have set up and carried out the current operation of the Department getting together to talk about how to change it without the critics being in the room to do so.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Well, the process of bringing the agencies together, in addition to the agencies themselves, it also brought together the representatives of our office. It did not bring the stakeholders necessarily into those individual meetings at which the plans were formulated together.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
The gentlewoman from North Carolina is recognized.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
Mr. David, how long have you been engaged in this process yourself? Were you initially assigned this position or what? Did someone precede you?
Mr. DAVID. I have been personally engaged in it since the passage of the act. I am the Deputy Chief Financial Officer and currently the Acting Chief Financial Officer. As I mentioned, it was our responsibility to coordinate the development of the strategic plan department-wide.
Mrs. CLAYTON. So you have had that responsibility continuously or in your new role as acting?
Mr. DAVID. No, I have had it, working with the CFO, I have had it continuously.
Mrs. CLAYTON. All the time? Well, do you sense that the Department of Agriculture understands the value of this Results Act and they are engaged in this as an opportunity to reflect and to plan for the future or is this seen as an extra burden, given all the other things they have to do? Which would you say?
Mr. DAVID. Bottom line, I believe that the Department of Agriculture does believe that the Results Act will provide us with benefits that we have talked about, that the GAO and several Members talked about previously. It has been a great deal of effort to develop the strategic plan, but it alsoand it is beginning to result in changes in the way in which we operate, in the focus on the results, in the focus on impact, in the focus on goals, in the attempt to identify relevant and useful performance measures that will help us to be able to demonstrate to Members of Congress, to our various stakeholders, and to the public what it is we are doing, what we are trying to do. So, yes, I think it is not only being taken very seriously, but it is beginning to have an impact in the Department.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Do you take it seriously?
Mr. DAVID. Do I take it seriously?
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes.
Mr. DAVID. I am a zealot.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, part of that is to recognize strategical planning is a new approach, so it requires new ways of thinking and new inputs for managers to begin to reflect on using other managers in order to sharpen the sauce, sometimes we have to get away from what we do, and sometimes that requires us withdrawing and looking introspectively, and that takes a commitment from the top saying that people will have enough time to do this. If you overlay this and say, we've got to do this strategical plan because the act is there, and you've got to do everything else, and there's no time and new resources, finally, you wonder if there is a real commitment. And I'm not questioning your commitment, by any means, but if there is no recognition that this new effort takes new time, new capacity, another way of thinking, then one can almost predict, with not absolute certainty but with some certainty, that you're going to have less than the useful document, unless there are people engaged.
And that would require not only time, but also training. Can you help me understand what sort of training your newthe managers of the various agencies got about this? Was there any way of instructing them as to what was required?
Mr. DAVID. Training is an ongoing issue when it comes to strategic and performance planning and the requirements of the Results Act, because it is a new discipline and a new requirement. We provided internal training to familiarize our personnel at all levels of the organization as to the requirements of the act, but we also looked for outside training vehicles that could provide us training on how one goes about doing strategic planning, since there is not a great deal of experience in doing the kind of strategic planning called for in the act. So many of our agencies have used various sources to obtain that kind of training, and that kind of training continues, particularly as we have reached one plateau and are embarking on other aspects of the implementation of the act.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I agree totally; the training and doingbecause merely sitting in a training program and coming back and just doing what you've done before is not sufficient. One must not only receive the training, but must apply that training, and some of that training is going to be a learning experience as we begin to implement more of the features of the act. We will be continually training. We will be continually reinforcing, and we will be learning about some of what we have done that maybe we want to change as we go through time. So there is a continuing learning process.
Mrs. CLAYTON. The goal that you set, was this missiononce this mission statement is done, and I'm assuming it's done collectively
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. What did they take? They took this goal and individual departments then did what, strategies based on input with all the stakeholders? And I would imagine stakeholders initially would be the internal, but there are also some external, too.
Mr. DAVID. It was very much of a parallel and an ongoing, iterative kind of process. Some of our consultations with both internal and external stakeholders began before we had really put together the overall mission, and some of it continued thereafter. The mission itself was developed by the Department, by Department agencies working together, and to the extent that the agencies had strategies and had plans that were not in conformance with that mission, they began to think through how to change their mission. At the same time, we articulated, the Secretary articulated his major strategic goals, major strategic objectives, which formed an additional basis for the agencies to be thinking through what it is they wanted to accomplish and where they wanted to go, and how they wanted to assure that their missions and their goals fully complemented the mission and goals of the Department. So it was very much of an ongoing kind of process.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, in 1996, as I mentioned earlier, we implemented reform from the Fair Act.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. So I'm assuming at that point you were a good way along in your plan, so you had to incorporatethat's an external force, and part of the analysis is to not only look at internal resources, but external force. So once there is now a new law that gives the operational culture for which you must work, that has to be integrated into that system. Just walk through with me how that might have stimulated a conversation or new activities, and what process did that stimulate as a result of that? And give me an example where you can point to where something is now in your objectives that would not have been there prior to 1996.
Mr. DAVID. Well, the 1996 farm bill certainly did stimulate a great deal of thinking and discussion and interaction among the folks within the USDA, as well as interaction among the folks in USDA with members of the Congress, as well as with members of the public who are interested in the shape of the farm programs. I think there is a lot more emphasis in our strategic plan on our conservation activities, partially as a result of the farm bill. There is a great deal of emphasis on safety net kinds of activities to provide the safety net for the farmers, and to assure, as you mentioned before, that the smaller farms can be properly covered by some of those activities. So there was a great deal of change, and as I mentioned in my testimony, the farm bill did come while we were in the midst of developing our strategic plan, and there was a great deal of change in our strategic plan, in our draft strategic plans at that time, because of the farm bill.
Mrs. CLAYTON. One final question. You direct the finances for the agency?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Part of strategical planning is not only in identifying the mission, but to also identify the necessary resources. How do you find that process for you? We have a budgeting process which is an annual process. You know, we set caps, and then there's the appropriation process. Appropriately so, someone internally knows that this plan should go to OMB; that's why it went there. But, for instance, this went, I guess, in September; we just finished our budget. So your plan reflects not the appropriation, I gather, we are now dealing with, but something less current; right?
Mr. DAVID. Well, our plan reflects what we think will happen. Again, this is a strategic document that looks at the 5-year goals and objectives and performance
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, our budget is a 5-year budget.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am. And it does reflect, as best we can, what the future appropriations might look like, but certainly we do not know what that will be. We are currently engaged in developing the annual performance plan, which is the next step of strategic planning or of GPRA, and those annual performance plans will accompany the 1999 budget submission. The annual performance plans will incorporate performance measures which are consistent with the strategic plan, and will identify those activities that we plan to accomplish in 1999, to accomplish our longer-term strategic objectives.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Would it be fair to suggest, to conclude, that your September submission included the Budget Act that was approved in August?
Mr. DAVID. As of yet, there has not been an approved appropriation for USDA.
Mrs. CLAYTON. The budget, just the projection.
Mr. DAVID. We have incorporated in the strategic plan our 1997 appropriations, and we have indicated, as required by the act, where we anticipate what resources might be required to fulfill the requirements of the act, but we have not incorporated any specific budget dollars in the plan itself.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. So given that, do you find that you're having to catch-up in terms of resources of missionI'm just trying to see what the need drives the mission. The overall mission for creating the Agriculture Department has certain provisions we have to achieve. But how you achieve those goals, or to what extent, has to have integrated in there resources.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And, obviously, it's projected, as you indicated, but do you find now that, as you are trying to move to evaluate your capacity to deliver on those goals, either applying the cost-efficiency test or the sufficiency of resources or the training of staff or the number of staff or the various skills, given what you want to achieve, do you find that that resource that you are required to manage is sufficient to meet those goals?
Mr. DAVID. Well, I think in some respects the resources that will be needed to entirely implement GPRA, we will have to continue to evaluate what those resource needs will be. We don't know exactly what the resource needs are, but we continually evaluate that both on an ongoing basis as well as part of the budget process.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Of course, the other part of that evaluative process is to see if we've gotten sufficient results, given the resources that we have expended for those activities.
So the evaluation will have some criterion in there that would identify that?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, and included in our budget submissions will be the anticipated results that we think we can provide, given the amount of resources we think we're going to need.
Mrs. CLAYTON. As you well know, some of you know, I have a profound interest in hunger. I did not seeand I think correctly soany measurable result as I looked at the Nutrition Goals II up here, and I gather there is just no way of doing that, but Goals II is to ensure food for the hungry and a state of affordable and nutritious and accessible food supply.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Then it goes into various programs. Is there at any point the number of families and individuals? Is this the SeptemberI guess this is the latest. I must confess, I did not read this as carefully as I should, but it's on page 1, if the enumeration is alike, this says ''141''.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I'm missinghow would I read that? How would I find something I could figureappendix 4 it's called.
Mr. DAVID. In appendix 4, what we have attempted to do is to provide a relationship between the departmental goals and sub-goals with the goals of the individual operating agencies. And if you look at page 141, goal 2.4, the Department goal 2.4I'm sorry, 2.5''Enhance world security and assist in the reduction of food hunger,'' and 2.1, ''Reduce hunger by assuring low-income households access to adequate to supplies of nutritious food,'' that will identify the specific goals that are included in the agency plan that support those overall departmental goals. And so there are the individual goals and the performance measures that are included in the agency plans that support those departmental goals.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Right. If you could just move me down to the objectives and the strategiesI'm missing something. I'm sorry, I don't have your plan.
Mr. DAVID. I'm sorry.
Mrs. CLAYTON. What they gave me was just the appendix. OK, no wonder it's missing. So the only thing here are just goals and sub-goals?
Mr. DAVID. These are the goals and sub-goals and they tie into the detailed
Mrs. CLAYTON. So I have not been provided that. I gather somebody will get around and give me that?
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Well, that's included in the plans of the individual operating agencies, which identifies the individual objectives and the performance measures by which we will accomplish those goals and those sub-goals.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Chairman, I hope you'll bear with me. I just wantwould you move to the agency Farm Service and go toin your plan, because I don't have it before mego to goal 3?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And it has the overall goal is to enhance economic and trade opportunities for agricultural producers and other rural residents. Then goal 3 under Farm Services is ''Farm loans. Assist eligible individuals and families in becoming successful farmers and ranchers.'' What do you have as your sub-goals and objectives for that?
Mr. DAVID. Goal 3 is, as you say, to assist eligible farmers and families in becoming successful farmers and ranchers, and in the
Mrs. CLAYTON. How do you plan to do that?
Mr. DAVID. In the plan for the Farm Service Agency, on page 216 of the Farm Service Agency plan is a more complete discussion of that goal 3 that identifies the goals
Mrs. CLAYTON. Would you say that again? It would be helpful, and I guess the committee may want that. I don't know, but I don't need it right this moment. If you could see that I got that.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
[The information is on file with the committee.]
Mrs. CLAYTON. My point in raising it, it does appear that you will have program evaluation and you establish baselines, and I guess they would be established based on 1998. You have to overlay the budget, as you well know, with these, and I just am trying toif we are serious about this, and again I don't question your comments or suggest anything otherwise, other than to press the point, this can be a very useful document, but it can't be seen as an additionalit has to be seen as a driving document that kind of precedes the other requirements. Because then that dictates what kind of information requirements you need. That also suggests what you should be coming to us, as a committee, and recommending that are barriers in achieving the goals, not only the results, but the goals of your overall mission statements of the various agencies. It may not be all the time just resources; it may be in the conflicting statutes or laws.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One of the things I just have got the feeling is that Agriculture is a well-established Department. It has many little fiefdoms within its Department. It is hard to get a management tool that inspires and guides that kind of uncoordinated agency. You know, each agency has its little king and its own unwritten rules. So if you're now trying to have an entity that you're bringing into the 21st century, and you're responding to the new agricultural kind of global market, and you also want to be faithful to being that agency in rural America that stimulates economic development and provides opportunities, you have to think differently. If anyone doesn't understand the inconsistencies of those two statements, they don't understand what new goals.
So I'm hopeful you use this in a way that will be useful, first, to the Department to serve the American farm community, rural communities, and agriculture in general in a better way, a more effective way.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
Mr. David, at any point in the results planning process, did your office direct the agencies to put their draft strategic plans and mission statements out for public and agency comment?
Mr. DAVID. We did. The draft strategic plans were put out on the World Wide Web that was available to anybody who wanted to see it, and we made the availability of the World Wide Web strategic plan known to as many people as we could, both formally and informally.
Mr. GOODLATTE. When was that done?
Mr. DAVID. That was done in, I believe it was, in May of this year.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Right after the first draft came out?
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Right after the first draft, yes.
Mr. GOODLATTE. How did the development of the strategic plan lead the Department to change the way it will go about its day-to-day activities?
Mr. DAVID. Well, I think that what it is doing is it is enabling and forcing people to talk and to communicate more among themselves, both within the Department as well as with our customers and our stakeholders and with Members of Congress. It is enabling us to have the dialog with our partner agencies outside of USDA to talk about the areas in which we collaborate and the areas in which we can work better together.
Mr. GOODLATTE. But can you cite some examples where change has occurred because of the Department's Results Act planning?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, sir. It is occurring in a number of agencies are beginning to focus more on the performance and the strategic planning. They are beginningsome agencies have reorganized. Some agencies are beginning to look at the ways in which they organize their budget structures. Agencies have changed some of the focus on what they're looking at.
For instance, some agencies, like APHIS, as a case in point, is looking at more involvement in the international area for international plant and animal safety, working with the Foreign Agricultural Service. The rural development agencies are focusing more on becoming more rural economic development agencies, rather than just lending agencies. So there are changes that are taking place within the Department as a resultor at least partially as a resultof the Results Act implementation.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Now let's talk about some more specifics. Can you identify areas where you've identified duplication or lack of coordination or other problems that would cause inefficiency and waste in the Department? Have you rooted out any of that in this process?
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. I would not say we have rooted out any of that. I would say that we havethat the agencies have been talking much more closely with each other. I'm sure you're aware of the administrative convergence activities which are currently underway in terms of the county-based agencies, in which they are looking to provide more efficiency in their administrative operations. I would not say that that was specifically a result of the Results Act; it was a result of many things that have come together to focus agencies on trying to become more efficient and more effective in their planning processes.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, it would be helpful if you could cite specific examples. It's been a 4-year process now, and one would think that a department as large as the Department of Agriculture, and one which, frankly, has a reputation for examples of waste and inefficiencycertainly a major one that we have addressed in this Congress is with the use or misuse, if you will, of information technology funds. Can you point to anything that's been identified along those lines as a result of the process that we've now spent 4 years on that would serve as evidence of inefficiencies or wastes that you've rooted out because of your planning process?
Mr. DAVID. Well, again, I would say that a number of those activities have been ongoing. You mentioned the information technology. GAO mentioned the financial systems. Many of those activities and many of those opportunities for efficiency have been identified, and they have been identified for a number of different reasons, including focus on results. But I will certainly get back to you with any more specifics that we might be able to identify.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, we would appreciate that very much.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, sir.
[The information is on file with the committee.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Will you please explain to the subcommittee how, in your view, the Results Act process led you to rethink the Department's priorities?
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. In a number of ways, the Results Act and the focus on results have enabled us to focus on the priorities that have been laid out by the Secretary, the priorities in terms of the rural economic development, in terms of the natural resources, in terms of the nutrition and the hunger initiatives. I think it has enabled several of the agencies to rethink how they are going about providing the services within the laws for which we are responsible to implement. And as I mentioned, rural development is putting more of a focus on community development activities. Certainly, as I mentioned, the emphasis on conservation activities, more of an emphasis on the safety net for farmers activities, the emphasis on more international-related activities that involves a number of our different agencies.
So I think there has been a number of different rethinkings that are going on. I don't know if that's a word or not, but ''rethinkings'' that are going on as a result of thinking through: What are we really all about? What is it that we want to provide to the taxpayer? And how do we make best use of the resources that are available to us?
Mr. GOODLATTE. In the development of the Department's Results Act strategic plan, did you develop any new strategies that have not been tried before?
Mr. DAVID. I would suggest that a number of the agencies are developing new strategies that may not have been tried before or they are looking for new strategies in order to help them accomplish their goals. Some of the new strategies are being brought about by things such as administrative convergence. Some of the new strategies are being brought out by the partnerships among and between the agencies to focus on, as I say, things such as international activities; to focus on getting out and dealing more closely with some of our customers in the rural areas; by bringing together some of the entities and the organizations that have in the past operated somewhat separately.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The next step in implementing the Results Act is to use the goals and strategies you've identified to prioritize programmatic budgetary requests. Could you please tell us how the strategic plan is being used in the formulation of the Department's fiscal year 1999 budget request?
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Yes, sir. As you know, the 1999 budget request is to include the first annual performance plan. The annual performance plan will identify what it is we want to accomplishto accomplish in terms of certainly outputs and, hopefully, outcomes, using the funds that will be made available to us or the funds that we will request for fiscal year 1999.
It's really a dual strategy, if you will. We must identify the performance measures and the indicators to support the budget request, but it's important that those performance measures and indicators are also consistent with the strategic plan, so that we can be assured that we are actually making incremental progress on achieving the longer-term goals that are embodied in the strategic plan.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Who at the Department will make those decisions as to how to allocate resources in fiscal year 1995, to implement strategies identified in the plan?
Mr. DAVID. Well, certainly the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary will make recommendations to OMB and to the Congress, and those decisions will be made by the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary.
Mr. GOODLATTE. All right. Mrs. Clayton, do you have any questions?
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you. I do.
You referenced the Reorganization Act, and I think that's an important part of that. Also, you referenced the environmental initiatives and food safety initiatives of that. Could you comment what has happened as a result in your plan, given the Reorganization Act, but also the implementation of that as it relates to, again back at the farm bill, the implementation, the collaboration between Farm Services and the new Natural Resources Act and that?
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am. Actually, in some ways, the Results Act was very fortuitous in terms of our ability to implement the reorganization, because the Reorganization Act did move things around fairly substantially and did change programs and did change the ways in which agencies dealt with each other.
The implementation of the Results Act provided a vehicle that enabled the agencies to interact more directly with each other. Hopefully, they would have done it without the Results Act, but it provided a vehicle to enable the agencies to react and to interact more closely with each other. Several of the Under Secretaries used the Results Act disciplines to bring together and to try to meld together some of the new agencies that were put together into new, so-called mission areas. Sometimes agencies had not necessarily dealt with each other all that closely. So those Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries made great use of the Results Act in their ability to actually implement the reorganization.
In the same way, the NRCS and the Farm Service Agency were able to interact, to dialog, to interchange information in terms of the implementation of many of the provisions of the farm bill. So that they did use as a vehicle for some of those interactions the requirements of the Results Act, and the Results Act did provide a good framework for them to really focus on: What is the result that we want to achieve, and how are we going to know that we've gotten there?
Mrs. CLAYTON. One of the ways USDA delivers its services to its customers is at our county level.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And what we have is goals here and regional, you know, derives its input or its most immediate output through the structure or the collaboration of a number of the programs under the USDA. You have the Extension agent; you have the Farm Service agent; you have what is called Rural Economic Development.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. You have NRCS.
Mr. DAVID. NRCS, yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. That's four; right?
Mr. DAVID. Yes.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Are there any results objective measuring how that collaboration is actually proposed to achieveany objective for that in your agency?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, we do have objectives to look at how we will be able to continue to provide the services through a county-based structure, understanding that that county-based structure is going to be changing over the next several years, as we not only bring about co-location of facilities; we bring about the administrative conversions; we bring about some of the other initiatives that go into the co-location. And so our plan does anticipate that there will be objectives and that there are objectives to look very intensely at what the results are.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, finally, there is, indeed, just the realization that it's harder to live by the creeds we write than it is to give the creeds. So the reorganization obviously caused some heartburns, and as you began to collaborate and consolidate and refocus, you moved people around.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And the dynamic and the stellarness of our commitment for this focus is tested, because then it becomes very political. People then began to put pressure on their Congresspersons, and I certainly was one of those, among others, when we were talking about closing offices and co-location of people and the fear that generated in that. What sort of consultation is beingwhat sort of consultation is ongoing to have people understand, as all of these things are put in place, there is expected change? And how you plan for that change is critical, it seems to me.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. It is very much critical because when you are dealing with people's lives and people'stheir means of living and where they will be providing services, it's very critical. It is my understanding that the agencies that are involved in that are maintaining the dialog with the various interested parties, including the employees, to keep them informed as to what is happening as they go through that thinking process. I do know that all of the agencies either have or will be sharing the strategic plans with their employees, and will be continuing to seek input on the strategic plans, as well as on the annual performance plans, so that the strategic planning process does become a way of doing business within USDA.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Do you have the full support of the Secretary in implementing this act, the Results Act?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And does the Secretary have the full support of his agencies to carry out this?
Mr. DAVID. Yes, ma'am.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK, thank you.
Mr. DAVID. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
Mr. David, you've acknowledged to the staff of this committee that you could have done a better job of involving other agencies in your planning process. And you've also stated that, about this plan, that this plan will continue to evolve.
Mr. DAVID. Yes, sir.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Will you briefly describe your plans to expand the consultation and development aspects of the Results Act planning? The deadline, the September 30 deadline, is already behind you. What are you going to do at this point?
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DAVID. Well, as I say, I believe that the test of the planning process is a continual evolution of the plan and of the process. In some respects, this represents a single milestone that we will continue to mature. As we gain more experience, we intend to continue the dialogs with other departments and agencies, as well as continue the dialogs with our customers, and as well as continue, as we said, the consultation with the Members of Congress, as we begin to go through the implementation activities. And we will find that there will be, as we get smarter in the process, as we learn more about it, we will find that there will be opportunity and occasion to come back and change the plan, but in some respects the value of the plan is in the planning process, the process that we have gone through, and the process we are about to continue on, as well as the value of a plan. But if the plan remains only a static document, it will go on a shelf, along with other plans, and gather dust. That is not our intent. Our intent is that the plan will be a dynamic document; that it will help pave the way to guide where we are going as a department, and will result in more continued consultation with all the interested parties, both within and outside the Federal Government.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The Department shares responsibility for achieving many of the goals in its plan with other Federal agencies and departments. For example, food safety is addressed by 16 different Federal agencies. How do you plan to coordinate with them? Do you know whether their goals and your goals and strategies and performance indicators are comparable?
Mr. DAVID. Well, we have had the opportunity to at least look at the plans of some of the other agencies, but I think we need to take more time to enter into more extensive consultation with some of the other agencies, to assure that there is a collaboration and there is coordination among the plans. But we have had the opportunity to review the plans of many of the other agencies, as they have had the opportunity to review our plan, but there is more opportunity for a continuing process.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. OK, well, thank you.
I have a concluding statement that I would like to make. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Mrs. CLAYTON. No, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. David, again, we thank you for the time you've given us today and the efforts you've put into this. Please don't take from this hearing that Congress doesn'tplease take with you from this hearing that Congress doesn't expect perfection. We know that the requirements of the Results Act are challenging, but we will not accept failure. This committee stands ready to work with you. We are willing to help you help yourself, but you need to take the law very seriously. This isn't another congressional dictate that bureaucrats can sit on until Congress loses interest. We expect change and, more importantly, the taxpayers demand it.
And I would add that I think this is a bipartisan thing because, as I noted earlier, this legislation was passed through a Congress controlled by the other party and signed into law by President Clinton.
I have held this chairmanship for a little over a year now, and I know how deeply ingrained the status quo mindset is down at the Department. I don't take the task that needs to be done lightly, and neither should you, but I fear that the Department has. The fact that your statement scored an 11, the second lowest in the Federal Government, seems to indicate that you've put forth less than a serious effort. I think we can all agree that waste, inefficiency, and duplication all needs to be eradicated from the operations at USDA. We are striving for a smaller, smarter, common-sense Government, and the Results Act, if implemented properly, can get us there.
The cornerstone of USDA's plan to wipe out waste and duplication is the consolidation of FSA field offices. This one-stop shopping concept should also reduce costs. I did not see any mention of projected or targeted cost savings in this document. I would think cost savings is a primary reason to consolidate into one-stop shopping centers. It is this type of omission that leads me to believe that the Results Act hasn't been embraced by the Department. The Results Act must be widely accepted, and acceptance starts at the top. If it is not accepted, the strategic plan is doomed to fail. If the strategic plan fails, so does the Department, and I and the other members of this committee hope and will work to not let that happen.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I thank you again for joining us. I hope that you will promptly submit to us the requests that were indicated earlier. The Chair will seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional materials and supplementary written responses from witnesses to any question posed by a member of the panel, and we will also hold the hearing open for opportunity for members of the panel to submit additional questions to you or to the GAO in writing, for which we would ask for a response in a comparable amount of time.
Without objection, it is so ordered.
This hearing of the Department Operations, Nutrition, and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:50 p.m., the subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
STATEMENT OF ROBERT ROBINSON, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:
We are pleased to be here today to discuss the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) draft strategic plan required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (Results Act). Our testimony is based primarily on our July 1997 review of USDA's May 1997 draft strategic plan,Results Act: Observations on USDA's Draft Strategic Plan (GAO/RCED-97-196R, July 10, 1997). and our observations on the August 1997 revised draft plan, which we recently obtained from USDA. Our testimony does not reflect any subsequent changes that may have been made and included in the final plan that USDA submitted to the Congress on September 30, 1997.
In summary, our July 1997 report stated that a significant amount of work remained to be done before USDA's plan fulfilled the requirements of the Results Act. Specifically we found that USDA's May 1997 draft strategic plan did not
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC contain all six elements required by the Results Act; and
provide a comprehensive strategy to accomplish the Department's mission because it lacked some key attributes that are necessary for a quality strategic plan.
Our review of the August revised draft strategic plan indicates that while USDA has made significant progress in addressing these concerns there remains a need for additional work in some areas.
With an operating budget of about $57 billion, USDA is one of the largest civilian agencies in government. USDA administers over 200 programs that cover a wide range of issues related to food and agriculture. Among other things, USDA's programs support farmers' incomes, stabilize domestic markets, promote U.S. exports, manage national forests, conserve agricultural lands, provide access to food for low-income households, improve the nutritional status of the American people, ensure a safe food supply, and support research for the development of new agricultural products and processes. The programs are administered by 18 agencies in seven mission areas.
The diverse nature of USDA's programs raises several challenges in developing a comprehensive strategic plan that adequately addresses all the responsibilities falling under the Department's purview. To best address the wide range of program activities and functions that support its mission and respond to the Results Act, USDA chose to develop a strategic plan that consists of a departmentwide strategic overview accompanied by 30 plans for the mission areas, agencies, and staff offices that constitute the Department. While the departmentwide strategic overview lays out the overall mission and goals for USDA, the agency plans provide greater detail on the missions and the goals of the individual agencies that make up the Department.
For our July 1997 report, we reviewed the departmentwide strategic overview and the 16 agency plans that are directly related to accomplishing USDA's mission and implementing its programs. These 16 agency plans cover USDA's seven primary mission areas: Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services; Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services; Food Safety; Marketing and Regulatory Programs; Natural Resources and Environment; Research, Education, and Economics; and Rural Development.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC USDA'S MAY 1997 DRAFT PLAN DID NOT CONTAIN ALL THE REQUIRED ELEMENTS
USDA's May 1997 draft plan did not contain all six elements required by the Results Act. The six critical components required by the act are (1) a comprehensive mission statement; (2) agencywide long-term goals and objectives for all major functions and operations; (3) approaches (or strategies) and the various resources needed to achieve the goals and objectives; (4) a relationship between the long-term goals and objectives and the annual performance goals; (5) an identification of key factors, which are external to the agency and beyond its control, that could significantly affect the achievement of the strategic goals; and (6) a description of how program evaluations were used to establish or revise strategic goals and a schedule for future program evaluations.
We found that the departmentwide strategic overview only provided a mission statement for USDA as a whole and laid out four general goals and their related subgoals. The overview referred readers to the agencies' plans for detailed information on all six required elements of the Results Act. However, our review of the 16 agencies' plans found that they were generally incomplete and, except for the plan of the Food and Consumer Service, none of them contained all six key elements required by the Results Act. While all of the 15 incomplete plans contained a mission statement and goals and objectives, the information provided for the other four key elements varied significantly. Specifically, for these 15 agency plans we found that
7 did not provide information on the resources needed to achieve the agencies' goals and objectives;
none provided sufficient information on the relationship between an agency's long-term goals and annual performance goals; most plans indicated that this information was being developed;
7 did not provide information on the external factors that were beyond the control of the agency and that could affect the achievement of its goals; and
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 13 plans alluded to the fact that program evaluations might be used to modify goals and objectives in the future, but none described the general scope and methodology for the evaluations, the key issues that would be addressed during the evaluations, or the timing of the evaluations.
We also found that while many of the agencies' plans included sections that should have covered information on the required elements, the information actually provided was incomplete and often not relevant or directly linked to the goals and objectives stated in that agency's plan. As we have discussed with USDA officials, merely having a subheading for a required element does not satisfy the requirements of the Results Act. For example, almost all of the 16 agency plans included a section that discussed the external environment facing the agency, but only about half of the plans provided any indication of how these external factors could affect the agency's ability to accomplish specific goals and objectives. Because external factors can influence the achievement of a goal directly and significantly, not including a discussion of these factors could invalidate the assumptions underlying a goal. Similarly, providing a schedule of future program evaluations is important not because it is required but because without these evaluations an agency cannot have the confidence that it has set the right goals and that its strategies will be effective in achieving them.
Our review of USDA's August draft strategic plan found significant improvements in two of the four required elements. All of the agencies' plans included sections describing the (1) resources needed to accomplish the stated goals and (2) key external factors that could affect the achievement of their goals and objectives. However, the agencies' plans continued to lack sufficient information on the relationship between the long-term goals and annual performance goals as well as program evaluations that will be used in the future to ensure that those goals and objectives are being achieved. We found that although all the agencies' plans had subheadings to address these two requirements, the information provided in about half of them continues to be inadequate.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC KEY ATTRIBUTES NECESSARY FOR A QUALITY PLAN WERE MISSING
Collectively, USDA's May 1997 departmentwide overview and the agencies' plans did not provide a comprehensive strategy for carrying out the Department's mission or achieving the purposes of the Results Act (such as improving management, program effectiveness, and public accountability and confidence) because some key attributes were missing. Many of the attributes necessary for a quality strategic plan are described in the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A11, Part 2. We found that the attributes missing from USDA's May 1997 plan included the following:
As we just stated, many agency plans were incomplete. Until all the plans are completed, they cannot provide an overall guide to help the agencies set priorities and allocate resources consistent with these priorities.
Some agency plans had inadequate descriptions of the strategies that an agency would use to achieve its goals and objectives. General goals and objectives should elaborate how an agency will carry out its mission, outline planned accomplishments, and schedule their implementation. Without fully descriptive strategies, it was unclear to us how these agencies would achieve their stated goals and objectives.
Some agency plans contained goals and objectives with results that exceeded the agency's span of influence. In these cases, achieving the performance goal often depended on several external factors, some of which may be more significant than the agency's functions and programs. As we discussed with USDA officials, at a minimum, these external factors should be recognized in the agency's plan and linked to particular goals.
Only a few agency plans included clear linkages between the agency's goals and objectives and how they contributed to USDA's major goals. We believe that these linkages are important because an agency's goals and objectives set out the long-term programmatic policy and goals of the Department as a whole and are important for providing direction and guidance to that agency's staff.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Many agency plans lacked a clear emphasis on externally focused goals that directly relate to the mission of the agency. While the Results Act does not preclude the development of agency goals that are process-oriented, we believe that formulating goals that relate to an agency's mission are important because this process provides an opportunity for the agency to identify programs that are essential, as well as those that can be eliminated, reduced in scope, or transferred to another agency.
Some of the goals and objectives in the agency plans were not measurable and thereby may preclude a future assessment of whether the goals have been or are being achieved. While the Results Act does not require agencies' goals to be stated in a quantitative fashion, we found that some of them were stated so broadly that they were inherently unmeasurable, either directly or through the use of performance measures.
Many agency plans had performance measures that were either missing, not useful, or incomplete, thus making a comprehensive assessment of performance and results difficult. Although some agency plans did provide information on performance measures, the information was not sufficient to show the relationship between an agency's strategic goals and the performance goals to be included in the annual performance plans.
Our review of the August revision of USDA's draft strategic plan found that it was generally better because the agency plans had been improved in three specific areas. First, the agency plans had a clearer focus on mission-related goals and objectives partly because process-oriented and internal goals had been separated from strategic goals. Second, the agency plans included better linkages between an agency's goals and objectives and its authorizing legislation, as well as clearly identified how the agency goals contributed to the Department's overall goals. Finally, the agency plans provided more detailed information on the various governmental and nongovernmental entities involved in accomplishing the agencies' goals. However, we remain concerned about the lack of complete information in some agency plans on the strategies that will be used to achieve the goals as well as the performance measures that will be used to gauge an agency's progress in meeting its goals. In particular, some of the agency plans continue to have broadly defined objectives and incomplete performance measures that will preclude an assessment of an agency's progress.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In conclusion, it is important to recognize that while USDA's May 1997 draft strategic plan was inadequate in many respects, the Results Act anticipated that the process of developing an effective strategic plan may take several planning cycles to perfect. We are pleased to see improvements in USDA's August draft strategic plan, which has incorporated many of the suggestions that we made during informal meetings with USDA officials after the issuance of our July 1997 report as well as suggestions that the Department received from congressional committees and the Office of Management and Budget. We look forward to continuing to work with the Congress and USDA to ensure that the requirements of the Results Act are met. Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you or members of the subcommittee may have.
TESTIMONY OF IRWIN T. DAVID, ACTING CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Good morning, Mr. Goodlatte, Ms. Clayton, Members of the Committee. I am Irwin T. David, Acting Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Agriculture (USDA). I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the status of implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (Results Act) in USDA. As you know, we have just achieved a major milestone in implementing the Results Act, with the delivery yesterday of our first USDA Strategic Plan to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.
We in USDA recognize the value of strategic and performance planning. It is just good business. Therefore, we have embraced the principles of the Results Act and devoted significant effort to its implementation. Today I want to discuss USDA's implementation activities, the benefits we have already achieved from the strategic and performance planning, and our next steps in institutionalizing strategic and performance planning in USDA.
Results Act Implementation in USDA
USDA initiated its implementation activities shortly after passage of the Act in 1993. The Secretary, recognizing the importance and value of the Results Act, placed high priority on the Act and assigned responsibility for coordination of implementation to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The CFO formed an implementation committee composed of representatives from each USDA agency to lead implementation activities. In addition, since strategic and performance planning were new disciplines for many USDA personnel, we immediately provided training in the elements of the Results Act, strategic planning, and performance measurement to the Subcabinet and agency heads, as well as to personnel directly involved in its implementation. Ultimately many more USDA employees, at all levels of the organization, received Results Act training. That training will continue, as the disciplines of strategic and performance planning cascade through the Department and the value of those disciplines is institutionalized in USDA.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As part of USDA's implementation of the Results Act, eight agencies volunteered and were accepted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be performance measure pilot agencies. Seven agencies completed the pilot (one dropped out) and these agencies prepared performance plans and reports for FY 1994, 1995 and 1996. The pilot projects were helpful to all of USDA as we developed performance measures and strategic plans to meet the September 30, 1997 deadline. They helped agencies learn how to deal with measuring performance, and they initiated efforts to link performance to resource allocation. Some of the methods developed during the pilot efforts continue to be used for program measurement. Perhaps the most beneficial result was that the pilot taught us the importance of involving employees at all levels in developing measures and collecting performance data.
Each USDA agency developed its own plan, based on the Secretary's strategic goals, using a process most suitable to its organization and planning experience. Agencies consulted extensively with employees, customers and other interested parties through meetings and forums, listening sessions, and one-on-one discussions. Department and agency officials at the highest levels participated in these consultations. Some agencies posted draft plans to their Internet Home Page and others published drafts in the Federal Register.
Agencies shared their plans freely within the Department, elicited and incorporated comments and suggestions, and worked together to address cross-cutting issues. Agencies also participated in Governmentwide forums to share information and to deal with some of the more difficult issues of Results Act implementation. As a Department, we participated in Results Act committees of the CFO Council and the National Academy of Public Administration, initiated and led a group examining the processes for developing performance measures for research agencies, consulted with the National Performance Review and researched performance measurement by performing on-site visits to State and local government agencies which had more experience.
USDA agency representatives gathered together to hammer out a single mission statement which would encompass the broad scope of responsibility of all seven program mission areas. The USDA mission is:
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To enhance the quality of life for the American people by supporting production agriculture; ensuring a safe, affordable, nutritious, and accessible food supply; caring for agricultural, forest and range lands; supporting sound development of rural communities; providing economic opportunities for farm and rural residents; expanding global markets for agricultural and forest products and services; and working to reduce hunger in America and throughout the world.
Developing strategic plans has been an iterative process. First draft plans from all agencies were submitted for OMB review in the Spring of 1996. Agencies incorporated OMB comments and recommendations, and prepared second drafts for OMB review in the Fall of 1996. Further honing produced drafts again in February 1997, which were reviewed, edited and prepared for Congressional consultations in May 1997. After incorporating Congressional comments, the plans were reviewed again by OMB in August and finalized for submission on September 30.
These opportunities for review and comment reflect many more reviews and iterations within and across agencies as we sought to improve and coordinate our plans and our planning processes. The process was especially challenging because the plan was initiated prior to the 1996 Farm Bill, which made massive changes to USDA farm programs. Farm bill changes resulted in major redrafts for several agenciesmore reviews, comments and edits.
The first Congressional consultations followed submission of our draft plan in May 1997. Since that time agencies have had extensive consultations with various committee staffs. The House Committee on Resources held a hearing on the Forest Service plan. We received written comments from Senate and House Agriculture committees. Comments and suggestions received at each meeting were incorporated into the plan.
The draft plan was reviewed by the General Accounting Office and Congressional Research Service. Each suggested changes to make our plan stronger. We have incorporated all the comments, observations, and suggestions, as appropriate, into our final plan.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We coordinated our plans with other Federal departments and agencies with whom we work on a routine basis, shared our plans with other agencies prior to the OMB final clearance process, and participated in OMB's interdepartmental clearance process. We also posted our draft plan on the Internet world wide web.
We believe that the consultation process has just begun. We plan to continue our consultations with Congress and the other Federal entities with whom we work.
The USDA Strategic Plan
USDA appropriations are generally by agency, and therefore annual performance plans, required for the budget, are appropriately prepared by agency. These annual performance plans are required by the Results Act to be consistent with strategic plans; therefore, a separate strategic plan is necessary for each agency. Because consolidation of more than 30 agency plans into a single Departmentwide plan is difficult and would not result in a basis for the annual performance plan, USDA determined, in consultation with OMB, that the best and most user-friendly way to present and manage the multiple agencies, operations, and programs of the Department in one plan would be to develop an Overview of the Department and its goals and to include the plans for each USDA mission area or agency with clear connections of agency goals to the Department's goals. This approach reflects the diversity of USDA agencieswe perform more functions than any other Department of the Federal Governmentand at the same time demonstrates the interrelations among the agencies.
USDA's final Strategic Plan does just this. The Overview defines and demonstrates the relationship between the Department's strategic goals and the agency goals and initiatives, describes the role of USDA agencies and other participants in achieving the Department's mission, and discusses the operating environment of the Department. The Overview provides an overarching view so the reader can see the scope of USDA responsibility, and agency plans detail the operation of programs and initiatives to achieve the Department's goals. Included as part of this testimony is a matrix excerpted from the USDA Plan which demonstrates the relationship between the Department's strategic goals and the goals of each USDA agency. This matrix clearly identifies how the agencies work together and the part each agency plays in meeting the Department's goals.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Secretary's strategic goals, defined in the Overview, direct and guide USDA activities. They are:
Expand economic and trade opportunities for agricultural producers and other rural residents.Ensure food for the hungry, and a safe, affordable, nutritious, and accessible food supply. Promote sensible management of our natural resources.
In addition, recognizing the important role of management in our ability to accomplish our program goals, the Plan also discusses management initiatives to provide effective customer service and efficient program delivery.
The Overview and the agency plans together constitute the USDA Strategic Plan, and fulfill all the requirements of the Results Act. Agency plans follow a consistent format, and each plan incorporates the requirements of the Results Act. Each plan details the mission, goals, objectives, performance measures, evaluation methods, relationship to the annual plan, responsibilities, governing legislation, and external factors which could affect accomplishment of the plan. Each plan is designed to inform the reader, as well as guide the agency in its planning and budgeting operations. The performance measures and indicators in the agency plans will provide the basis for measuring our success.
Benefits of the Strategic Planning Process
Each of our experiences has convinced us more strongly that the key to successful strategic planning is viewing USDA as having one mission, based on a shared vision. This requirement is difficult to achieve in a complex organization with so many different program responsibilities.
Throughout this development process, USDA agencies worked together cooperatively to articulate their shared responsibilities for achieving the Secretary's strategic goals. This coordination assisted agencies to reflect on the particular role that each serves. Our agencies are diverse, but our responsibilities are interrelated and those relationships are revealed in the strategies agencies have developed to achieve the Department's mission.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The strategic planning process has helped us to recognize those relationships and inter-dependencies. We have become more aware, through the strategic planning process, of the multiplicity of demands on us as a Department and the assistance we must provide one another to balance those demands.
The process has allowed us to focus on the mission of the Department. It has enabledeven forcedUSDA agencies to focus on results. A few agencies have already reorganized internally to focus more attention on strategic and performance planning and evaluation. Several members of the Subcabinet have used the strategic planning process to blend together the activities of the agencies for which they are responsible. Other agencies are exploring modifications to their budget structures to align with the goals and objectives articulated in the plan. These steps are particularly important as we continue to implement the USDA Reorganization Act of 1994 and the 1996 farm bill.
Most important, strategic and performance planning processes provide a vehicle for us to discuss our goals with our employees, customers and interested persons, including the Congress. In addition, the disciplines of strategic and performance planning are being institutionalized in the management and operation of individual agenciesthe ultimate test of the success of strategic and performance planning. We do not intend for our plans to gather dust on the shelf.
Submission of the USDA Strategic Plan on September 30 was a significant milestone in Results Act implementation, but it was only the beginning of a long process. Our next step is to complete annual performance plans to accompany FY 1999 budget requests. Annual performance planning, and reporting against those plans, will become an ongoing activity.
We may need to revise budget structures, and we must expand our data systems to collect and analyze performance information, to truly institutionalize strategic and performance planning and results measurement into the mainstream of USDA activities.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC All of these activitiesperformance planning and reporting, data collection and analysis and ongoing consultationwill enable us to continue to refine our strategic plans and performance measures. In the coming months we anticipate revisions and refinements as we shift the focus from strategic planning to performance planning, to measuring performance and achieving results.
USDA views strategic and performance planning as a dynamic, iterative process, which enables us to learn at each step along the way. We reached a major milestone with the delivery of our plan yesterday, but we see that as just the beginning of the process. Our objective is to provide the American people with the results they expect from the Department of Agriculture. The processes laid out in the Results Act will help us to achieve that objective.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee. I would be pleased to answer any questions.