USDA Fails to Assess Business Centers, GAO Finds

USDA Agriculture

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not regularly assessing the effectiveness and impact of its business centers, a key part of the agency’s reform efforts, and has no plans to do so, the Government Accountability Office reported on Feb. 19.

Business centers at USDA serve eight mission areas to improve the agency’s customer service and business administration. The agency created a dashboard-based monitoring system to compile and display data about the business centers on USDA customer service, human resources, and overall functionality.

While a USDA official assured GAO that the agency does regular reviews of business center data to make improvements, GAO concluded that USDA has not assessed the effectiveness and impact of its centers and, as of the November 2019 audit, had no plan to do so.

GAO raised concerns with the lack of oversight because agencies should establish “clear outcome-oriented goals and performance measures to assess the reform’s effectiveness and impact.” Without assessing the business centers, USDA lacks evidence to measure the reform’s success or lack thereof.

To solve this, GAO made one recommendation to the agency: the secretary should direct the department to work with the mission areas to develop outcome-oriented performance goals and use those goals to assess the impact of business center reforms.

USDA Deputy Assistant Secretary Donald Bice responded, “To address this recommendation, the department is evaluating options for the development of these metrics and inclusion of these metrics and related information as part of the regular and recurring reviews by the department’s deputy secretary who is identified as the chief operating officer.”

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