The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture will convene a hearing to probe today's U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to group the locations of more than two dozen of its state-level agency headquarters around the country. In more than half the instances, offices would be moved across town, while other moves would shift operations to greater distances across a state. The Agriculture Committee will also employ the expertise of the General Accounting Office (GAO) to evaluate choices made by the state-level directors of USDA agencies to group their headquarters together — collocation — for efficiency, effectiveness and fairness.
"USDA has an obligation to select a site for each of the collocated offices that will make sense 10 to 20 years from now," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) and Ranking Minority Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX). "We are concerned that the process USDA used to select the statewide headquarters did not result in the best use of taxpayer dollars. As the stewards of the taxpayers dollars, it is the House Agriculture Committee's responsibility to ensure that USDA makes management decisions that not only deliver government programs but do so in an effective and efficient manner."
USDA's collocation decision is not the only management issue that has frustrated Members of Congress in recent years. Since 1998, USDA has consistently underestimated staffing allocations and funding for its field service agencies. The Department's computer equipment and network is old and antiquated. In fact, while the rest of the country is experiencing an explosion in information technology capability, the computers used by USDA's agencies can't even communicate with each other.
Six years have passed since USDA was ordered to streamline its bureaucracy by grouping together state agency headquarters for the FSA (Farm Service Agency), NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) and RDA (Rural Development Agency). The Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act (Public Law 103-354) requires the joint use of USDA resources and offices, and the combining of field offices to reduce personnel and overhead expenses.