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.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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