WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2014 -- The USDA’s Office of Inspector General has filed its annual report on management challenges the department is facing, and topping the list of 11 challenges is how to coordinate the efforts of the various agencies and programs that provide oversight of key mission areas.

One example cited by the IG as not working well is USDA’s Universal Telecommunications Network (UTN), the data network backbone for the department’s customers and agencies. Both the USDA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer and Office of Procurement and Property Management are responsible for various parts of the operation.

But “due to poor communications between various parties, we found that USDA is paying a contractor for UTN services that are not being provided, and that the UTN network is not meeting security requirements.”

The IG also cited challenges in maintaining an effective food safety inspection system and recommended improved controls. The report found that some inspectors in the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) were working many hours above a normal schedule of 80 hours per two-week pay period. More than 400 inspectors out of approximately 10,000 averaged more than 120 hours each pay period for all of fiscal year 2012, it said.

“Overworked FSIS inspectors may be risking the public’s health as well as their own, especially if they are fatigued while performing crucial food safety-related tasks,’’ the IG said.

Among the other “challenges” cited in the report:

-Creating strong integrated internal control systems across programs.

-Improving information technology.

-Increasing transparency in departmental outreach efforts.

-Strengthening USDA’s strategic plan to assess the impact of agricultural commerce and trade.

-Taking action to improve natural resources stewardship.

-Identifying and reducing improper payments in USDA programs.

-Increasing efforts for appropriately training and preparing human resources.

-Strengthening controls in management of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

-Developing effective performance measures for its programs.

The IG also identified several “emerging issues” that it said may develop into significant concerns: animal welfare, duplication in USDA programs and operations, and oversight of USDA acquisition management.


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