Recommendations and Actions
After President Clinton's March 3, 1993, announcement to launch an effort to reinvent the federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) moved quickly to institute an internal review. Secretary Espy launched the USDA National Performance Review Team (NPRT) to lead the department's issue development and problem diagnosis process for reinventing USDA. The NPRT is made up of over 25 USDA employees from a variety of backgrounds and USDA agencies.
The Secretary challenged the team to expose policies that impede employee innovation and productivity. The team carried out its task through a participatory process characterized by a variety of initiatives to generate employee contributions to this reinvention effort. Over 1,500 USDA employees made recommendations through open forums sponsored by the team. The team analyzed over 8,000 responses to questionnaires that solicited comments and suggestions for improvements from employees and trade and consumer groups.
To further develop opportunities for reinvention, the team collected data from internal and external reviews, reviewed agency success stories, and evaluated ideas from past seminars and conferences. Team members participated in a summit on "Reinventing Government" convened by Vice President Gore that provided an opportunity to share ideas with cutting-edge businesses, state and local governments, and experts in organization and management who know how to make "reinvention" work. Team members solicited input from other federal agencies and organizations such as the World Bank, foreign embassies, and land grant universities.
Team members have worked with USDA agencies to identify unique projects, called reinvention laboratories, to promote change and serve as models for others to follow. These labs are focused on forming a partnership between USDA customers and USDA agencies to improve service delivery. For example, the Infoshare Lab will improve delivery through reengineering farm service, conservation, and rural development agencies' business processes, and integrating their computer information systems. The Forest Service Lab will implement changes agencywide in organizational culture by eliminating administrative barriers and delegating more authorities to the operational level. The Extension Service Lab will improve information and educational technology by aligning the Extension Service's organizational culture and structure with available technology. Interactive information and educational linkages with citizens will be tested through Interactive Citizen Participation Centers.
Since the inception of this project, the Secretary worked personally with the team. There was a high level of interaction between the Secretary and NPRT through briefings and a constant sharing of ideas. The Secretary's support for the role and accomplishments of the NPRT have been presented in his conferences, speeches, and staff meetings. To spread his commitment to employees, the Secretary held a USDA town meeting with Vice President Gore.
Headquarters and Field Structure Reform
It is clear that major action to reform and revitalize USDA is necessary. For this reason, the administration is proposing specific steps to reform both the headquarters structure and the field structure of the department. At the headquarters level, a new structure will be implemented that recognizes the six key mission areas of the department: commodity programs and trade; rural development; nutrition programs; conservation; food quality; and research, education, and economics. As part of this process, individual USDA agencies will be reduced from 43 to 30. Administrative Services will be reduced through consolidation from 14 administrative support staffs into six administrative units. When fully implemented, it is anticipated that total USDA headquarters staffing will be reduced by about 7 percent, producing annual savings of $45 million. Additional headquarters' savings in a variety of areas--including communications, publications, travel, and office space--are expected to yield annual savings in the range of $40 million.
At the field level, the new USDA plan will restructure and streamline the field level offices beginning with those currently operated by the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, Farmers Home Administration, and Soil Conservation Service to focus both on improving services to clients and reducing government expenditures.
The new field structure will focus on delivery of services through collocated USDA Service Centers. As evidenced by the recent USDA response to floods in the Midwest, there is considerable benefit for both USDA customers and USDA agencies by consolidating agencies under one roof. It has been proven that "one-stop shopping" is an effective way to deliver program services.
In addition to the department level reforms, USDA is developing some specific program initiatives designed to reinvent the way it serves USDA customers.
Commodity Programs and Trade
The department is developing a new farm income strategy designed to increase demand for agriculture products by reinventing foreign market development, export, and trade programs/policies and development of new uses for agricultural products. USDA will also provide protection from excessive risk by reforming the crop insurance program and making it a primary vehicle for farm disaster risk protection. In addition, long-term prospects for farm income growth will be further enhanced by maintaining balanced commodity programs.
The department's rural development strategy will provide the infrastructure that is essential for the economic revitalization of rural communities. The strategy will be specified in an annual report to Congress as required by the Rural Development Policy Act of 1980.
Nutrition initiatives are being developed to improve the nutrition options for the poor and to provide Electronic Benefit Transfer nationwide for the Food Stamp Program.
The department is developing a comprehensive program for conservation including programs for soil and water conservation and responsible forest service management.
Initiatives have been developed to address public concerns about microbiological contamination of meat and poultry products and pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables.
Research, Education, and Economics
Under the Secretary's proposal, research and education functions conducted by four separate agencies will be merged into one, the Agricultural Research and Education Service (ARES). These agencies are the Agricultural Research Services (ARS), the Cooperative State Research Service (CSRS), the Extension Service (ES), and the National Agricultural Library (NAL). The proposal would create a streamlined, coordinated, and consolidated organization that would be more responsive and accountable to the needs and concerns of the public and Congress than the existing structure. Administrative and management support would be provided by a single staff. A 12 percent reduction in staff over five years is projected.
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