U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Status of Closing and Consolidating County Offices

T-RCED-98-250: Published: Jul 29, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 1998.

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Lawrence J. Dyckman
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the status of the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) consolidation and closure of its county offices for three of its field-based organizations--the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Rural Development mission area, focusing on: (1) the data reported by USDA to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on consolidating field offices, particularly the reasons for inconsistencies in the Department's reported progress in reorganizing these offices; and (2) a comparision of the Department's most recently reported reorganization data with the data GAO obtained directly from the Department's state agency offices in 10 states.

GAO noted that: (1) as of March 1998, USDA had made substantial progress in meeting its 1994 goals, although it is more than a year behind schedule in completing its closures and consolidations; (2) USDA has reduced the number of county offices by 21 percent, from about 7,375 in 1994 to about 5,800; (3) this reduction exceeded USDA's own target of 15 percent; (4) during this same period, USDA reduced the number of county locations by about 30 percent, from about 3,760 to about 2,700, and expects to reach its goal of 2,555 locations by the end of 1998; (5) USDA had planned to complete all closures and consolidations by the end of 1997; (6) inconsistencies in USDA's reporting of its results to Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry over the last 4 years stem from: (a) differences in which states and territories have been included in reports; (b) changes in reorganization plans; and (c) differences in reporting the types of field offices included in reorganization reports; (7) GAO's limited review of recently reported reorganization data found some differences between USDA's reports and the statistics on office closures and consolidations that GAO obtained directly from 10 states; and (8) however, in most cases, the differences were not significant.

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