U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Internal Control Would Improve Accountability for Certain Centrally Provided (Greenbook) Programs

GAO-10-82: Published: Oct 20, 2009. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 2009.

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The Senate report accompanying the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) fiscal year 2008 appropriations expressed concern that USDA's Greenbook charges--the transfer of funds authority USDA used to charge the appropriations accounts of its agencies and staff offices for programs to centrally provide certain services--had grown excessively. USDA's Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) oversees Greenbook charges. The report directed GAO to review these charges and USDA to report on them. This report identifies the agencies and offices assessed Greenbook charges, the amounts of the charges, and the programs supported by Greenbook charges for fiscal years 1999 through 2009. It also (1) assesses how USDA selected programs and monitored Greenbook charges and (2) describes the benefits of the programs, as reported by USDA. GAO reviewed and assessed USDA budget and program documents and discussed processes with officials.

From fiscal years 1999 through 2009, all 15 USDA agencies and 12 staff offices were charged more than $372 million in Greenbook charges--less than 1/1000 of a percent of USDA's funding for the period. Greenbook charges and programs have increased substantially--from about $5.4 million for 5 programs in 1999 to an estimated $61.2 million for 30 programs in 2009. Because charges for most programs are based on the number of staff, three agencies--Forest Service, Food Safety and Inspection Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service--were charged about half of all Greenbook charges; while, three E-government programs accounted for about 52 percent of all Greenbook charges. USDA's process for selecting Greenbook programs and monitoring Greenbook charges is not documented. According to OCFO, representatives from five offices and one agency contract out or provide Greenbook programs in-house and handle billing agencies and offices for Greenbook charges. They annually nominate new and continuing Greenbook programs. Senior managers then discuss the proposed programs in light of USDA's overall funding and recommend a list of programs to the Office of the Secretary for approval. However, decisions were not consistently documented to explain what was done and why, and OCFO could locate only half the annual lists of approved programs and funding. Under federal internal control standards, agencies are to have control activities for the accurate and timely recording of transactions and events and appropriate documentation of transactions and internal control. USDA's recent initiatives to obtain information for reporting Greenbook charges to Congress are important, but they do not include the documentation required by the federal control standards to help ensure the integrity of OCFO's process for selecting programs and monitoring Greenbook charges. OCFO has not tracked the benefits of Greenbook programs. Under federal control standards, managers are to compare actual program performance to planned or expected results and analyze significant differences.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2014, USDA officials provided us documentation indicating that USDA has implemented the recommendation to establish individuals and organizations responsible for the financial health and efficient operation of activities supported by Shared Cost Programs. Specifically, on March 14, 2014, the Secretary of Agriculture issued Departmental Regulation 2236-001, Shared Cost Programs (formerly referred to as Greenbook Departmental Reimbursable Programs), that, in part, directs USDA's Chief Financial Officer to establish and document control activities for managing Greenbook programs and charges to ensure accountability in selecting programs, overseeing charges, and achieving program benefits. Furthermore, the regulation describes the roles and responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary for Administration, Chief Financial Officer, and other USDA officials regarding the financial and operational management of Shared Cost Programs. According to USDA, the regulation was implemented when the Shared Cost Programs Advisory Committee met to review the FY 2014 Shared Cost Programs income recovery plans and charges. USDA's General Counsel also reviewed and determined that the Shared Cost Programs met legal requirements. The Shared Cost Programs Advisory Committee provided recommendations to the Secretary in the form of a decision memo, which was approved by the Secretary on May 9, 2014, establishing the FY 2014 full-year funding for USDA Shared Cost Programs.

    Recommendation: To help ensure accountability in selecting programs, overseeing Greenbook charges, and achieving program benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct OCFO to establish and document control activities for managing Greenbook programs and charges.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on documentation USDA provided us in August 2014, including a decision memo from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the agency has demonstrated that it has a process in place and plans to track the benefits of Shared Cost Programs (formerly referred to as Greenbook Departmental Reimbursable Programs) beginning in FY 2015 and subsequent years. More specifically, USDA officials indicated that the benefits of the Shared Cost Programs to USDA's agencies and staff offices will be tracked as part of the budget process and be subject to review by the Shared Cost Programs Advisory Committee. Shared Cost Program managers will be required to complete a benefits analysis template, which will be modified to compare planned program results to the actual results as each fiscal year is completed. USDA officials stated that the review of the benefits of the Shared Cost Programs is not limited to the budget reviews and will be expanded as needed. These officials also said that the Shared Cost Programs Advisory Committee conducted a series of meetings to review the FY 2015 and FY 2016 budgets for the Shared Costs Programs and the anticipated benefits the programs will provide to the relevant USDA agencies and staff offices. Based on these meetings, the Advisory Committee, as required by regulation, provided recommendations on the programs to be included and their funding for FY 2015 and FY 2016. In addition, these officials said that USDA will address the Shared Cost Programs Advisory Committee's recommendations and provide the recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture for review and approval.

    Recommendation: To help ensure accountability in selecting programs, overseeing Greenbook charges, and achieving program benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct OCFO to track the benefits of Greenbook programs to the agencies and staff offices that are charged Greenbook charges.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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