USDA programs overlap with other agencies

The Agriculture Department often performs the same functions as other federal agencies, according to a General Accounting Office report released Monday.

GAO found that USDA's 1999 annual performance plan did not fully explain how overlapping responsibilities would be shared or consolidated among federal agencies. As part of the Government Performance and Results Act, federal agencies are required to point out how they coordinate similar activities with other agencies.

The Results Act could be used as a way for Congress or agencies to eliminate overlapping programs or merge similar activities under one roof.

The report, "U.S. Department of Agriculture: Similarities Between the Activities of the Department and Other Federal Agencies" (RCED-99-35), identified seven areas where USDA and other federal agencies' activities overlap:

  • USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration, in the Health and Human Services Department, both have responsibilities for food safety inspection activities. GAO sees this division of labor as "ineffective and inefficient."
  • USDA's Forest Service and the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service all perform overlapping land management activities. According to GAO, these agencies need to coordinate their numerous similar activities.
  • USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, an independent agency, each perform international trade activities. Some progress has been made to coordinate federal export promotion among these agencies, the report said.
  • USDA's Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS), the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Small Business Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission all provide funding for community economic development. GAO notes, however, that RBS has a national focus while the other agencies' missions are much more narrow in scope.
  • USDA's Rural Housing Service, HUD, and the Department of Veterans Affairs share similar housing activities. However, GAO noted that each agency's clientele is different.
  • USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service performs statistical functions similar to those of 11 other federal agencies. While GAO considers this inefficient, the report acknowledges that consolidating statistical activities may result in poorer customer service.
  • USDA's Food and Nutrition Service provides food assistance programs similar to those of HHS' Maternal and Child Health Bureau. GAO says the two agencies could save money if their meal programs for the elderly were consolidated.
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