WASHINGTON, May 20, 2015 – Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has long emphasized providing assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers and once suggested a goal of adding 100,000 new farmers by 2012. However, his department “lacked effective performance goals and measures, as well as direction, coordination, and monitoring to ensure that this initiative was effectively accomplished,” according to a new audit report released from USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).
USDA agencies provided significant financial and technical support to beginning farmers and ranchers, totaling approximately $3.9 billion in FYs 2012 and 2013 – the time period covered by the audit. However, “the Department had not developed an integrated and coordinated strategy to ensure that the Secretary’s direction was effectively implemented during the time period of this review,” the report notes.
“This has been a longstanding problem,” OIG points out. In 1982 and again in 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Department needed to measure its effectiveness for its beginning farmers and ranchers assistance.
The OIG report is especially critical of USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO), which was created as part of the 2008 Farm Bill and established in 2009. That bill mandated specific OAO duties, among which was to measure the outcomes of USDA’s programs and activities related to beginning farmers and ranchers.
After 5 years of existence, “OAO officials could not provide us with evidence supporting how they have accomplished four of the seven essential duties mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill,” the report notes.
At the same time, OIG expressed optimism that “USDA has started to move in the right direction,” primarily as a result of Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden’s involvement.
“In early 2014, the Deputy Secretary brought together representatives from across the Department to focus on assisting beginning farmers. At the time of audit fieldwork, the goals and objectives of this effort had not been defined, but we are encouraged by the support of top-level USDA officials.” The full report is available here.
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