December 10, 2022

ACN Center

Area Control Network

Evidence-Based Policy Making: USDA’s Decision to Relocate Research Agencies to Kansas City Was Not Fully Consistent with an Evidence-Based Approach

17 min read

What GAO Found

An economic analysis conducted by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) with assistance from Ernst and Young was critical to informing USDA leadership about potential sites for relocating the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) (see figure).

Key Steps in USDA’s Economic Analysis of Potential Relocation Sites

a name=

USDA’s stated objectives for relocation were to improve its ability to attract and retain highly-qualified staff; place its resources closer to stakeholders and consumers; and reduce costs to taxpayers. However, GAO found that the economic analysis did not fully align with those objectives. For example, USDA used cost of living to screen out locations and then eliminated sites that did not have sufficient space to co-locate NIFA and ERS. However, some of the sites eliminated ranked highly in terms of USDA’s stakeholder proximity and staff recruitment and retention objectives. In addition, USDA omitted critical costs and economic effects from its analysis of taxpayer savings, such as costs related to potential attrition or disruption of activities for a period of time, which may have contributed to an unreliable estimate of savings from relocation.

Overall, GAO found that USDA’s development and usage of evidence had significant limitations. In addition to the methodological concerns highlighted above, key characteristics of a high-quality analysis were absent, including transparency around key methodological decisions and sensitivity analysis to assess the reasonableness of critical assumptions. According to Office of Management and Budget guidance on implementing the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, agencies should use evidence when making decisions related to agency operations. This evidence should be good quality and should be collected and analyzed in a transparent manner that involves stakeholders to maintain accountability and ensure that it is not tailored to generate specific findings. As a result of the weaknesses GAO found, USDA leadership may have made a relocation decision that was not the best choice to accomplish its stated objectives.

Why GAO Did This Study

USDA is made up of several agencies, including the research agencies, ERS and NIFA. ERS reviews trends and emerging issues in food, agriculture, the environment, and rural America, while NIFA administers federal funding through formula and competitive grants, among other things.

In October 2019, USDA relocated most staff positions at ERS and NIFA from their headquarters in Washington, D.C. to Kansas City, Missouri. This decision was based on USDA’s economic analysis. USDA stated the move would save taxpayers more than $300 million over 15 years compared to remaining in the Washington, D.C. region.

GAO was asked to assess the analysis USDA used to support its decision to relocate ERS and NIFA to the Kansas City region. This report reviewed how USDA made its relocation decision, the underlying analyses, and the use of evidence in its decision-making.

GAO reviewed USDA’s contracting documents and the deliverables provided by the contractor, interviewed USDA officials and contractor staff, and evaluated the economic analysis using criteria in GAO-18-151SP.

GAO is not making any recommendations at this time because, among other reasons, the relocation has already taken place and OMB has since circulated comprehensive guidance on how to build and use quality evidence that, if effectively implemented, should address the weaknesses highlighted. USDA neither agreed nor disagreed with our findings but disagreed with the criteria we used to evaluate the agency’s economic analysis. We stand by our analysis as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Lawrance L. Evans Jr. at (202) 512-4802 or EvansL@gao.gov.

More from:

  • Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams Delivers Remarks at Columbia Law School Virtual Event on Combating the Online Exploitation of Children
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us today for a conversation on one of the most pressing challenges we face – the continuing fight against the online exploitation of children.  I want to thank Berit Berger and Columbia Law School for hosting us virtually, and for putting together this event on such an important subject.

    [Read More…]

  • Joint Statement on Extended “Troika” on Peaceful Settlement in Afghanistan
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken On CNN’s State of the Union with Dana Bash
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Tax Administration: Opportunities Exist to Improve Oversight of Hospitals’ Tax-Exempt Status
    In U.S GAO News
    Nonprofit hospitals must satisfy three sets of requirements to obtain and maintain a nonprofit tax exemption (see figure). Requirements for Nonprofit Hospitals to Obtain and Maintain a Tax-Exemption While PPACA established requirements to better ensure hospitals are serving their communities, the law is unclear about what community benefit activities hospitals should be engaged in to justify their tax exemption. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identified factors that can demonstrate community benefits, but they are not requirements. IRS does not have authority to specify activities hospitals must undertake and makes determinations based on facts and circumstances. This lack of clarity makes IRS’s oversight challenging. Congress could help by adding specificity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). While IRS is required to review hospitals’ community benefit activities at least once every 3 years, it does not have a well-documented process to ensure that those activities are being reviewed. IRS referred almost 1,000 hospitals to its audit division for potential PPACA violations from 2015 through 2019. However, IRS could not identify if any of these referrals related to community benefits. GAO’s analysis of IRS data identified 30 hospitals that reported no spending on community benefits in 2016, indicating potential noncompliance with providing community benefits. A well-documented process, such as clear instructions for addressing community benefits in the PPACA reviews or risk-based methods for selecting cases, would help IRS ensure it is effectively reviewing hospitals’ community benefit activities. Further, according to IRS officials, hospitals with little to no community benefit expenses would indicate potential noncompliance. However, IRS was unable to provide evidence that it conducts reviews related to hospitals’ community benefits because it does not have codes to track such audits. Slightly more than half of community hospitals in the United States are private, nonprofit organizations. IRS and the Department of the Treasury have recognized the promotion of health as a charitable purpose and have specified that nonprofit hospitals are eligible for a tax exemption. IRS has further stated that these hospitals can demonstrate their charitable purpose by providing services that benefit their communities as a whole. In 2010, Congress and the President enacted PPACA, which established additional requirements for tax-exempt hospitals to meet to maintain their tax exemption. GAO was asked to review IRS’s implementation of requirements for tax-exempt hospitals. This report assesses IRS’s (1) oversight of how tax-exempt hospitals provide community benefits, and (2) enforcement of PPACA requirements related to tax-exempt hospitals. GAO is making one matter for congressional consideration to specify in the IRC what services and activities Congress considers sufficient community benefit. GAO is also making four recommendations to IRS, including to establish a well-documented process to ensure hospitals’ community benefit activities are being reviewed, and to create codes to track audit activity related to hospitals’ community benefit activities. IRS agreed with GAO’s recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202) 512-9110 or lucasjudyj@gao.gov.

    [Read More…]

  • Drug trafficker from Canada sent to prison
    In Justice News
    A 51-year-old woman has [Read More…]
  • Joint Statement on the Ministerial Meeting on Syria
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Princess Cruise Lines Pleads Guilty to Second Revocation of Probation
    In Crime News
    Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. (Princess) has pleaded guilty to a second violation of probation imposed as a result of its 2017 criminal conviction for environmental crimes because it failed to establish and maintain an independent internal investigative office.

    [Read More…]

  • Priority Open Recommendations: Office of Personnel Management
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified 18 priority recommendations for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Since then, OPM has implemented four of those recommendations by, among other things, taking actions to collect and share agencies’ information on mission critical occupations as well as hiring data; sharing key practices and lessons learned, including how to address employee misconduct; and implementing a quality assurance review process to re-evaluate security control assessments. We are not adding any new priority recommendations this year. The total number of priority recommendations remaining is 14. These recommendations involve the following areas: improving the federal classification system; making hiring and special pay authorities more effective; improving Enterprise Human Resource Integration payroll data; addressing employee misconduct and improving performance management; and strengthening IT security and management. OPM’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Alissa Czyz, Acting Director, Strategic Issues at 202-512-6806 or CzyzA@gao.gov.

    [Read More…]

  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hill Tinoco
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Construction Company Owner Sentenced to Prison for Not Filing Tax Returns
    In Crime News
    A Texas man was sentenced today to one year in prison for willfully failing to file tax returns.

    [Read More…]

  • Justice Department Launches Statewide Disability Rights Investigation into South Carolina’s Use of Adult Care Homes
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced today that it has opened an investigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into whether the State of South Carolina subjects adults with mental illness to unnecessary institutionalization and risk of institutionalization, in adult care homes.

    [Read More…]

  • U.S. International Broadcasting: New Strategic Approach Focuses on Reaching Large Audiences but Lacks Measurable Program Objectives
    In U.S GAO News
    Prompted by a desire to reverse declining audience trends and to support the war on terrorism, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency responsible for U.S. international broadcasting, began developing its new strategic approach to international broadcasting in July 2001. This approach emphasizes the need to reach mass audiences by applying modern broadcast techniques and strategically allocating resources to focus on high-priority markets. GAO was asked to examine (1) whether recent program initiatives have adhered to the Board’s new strategic approach to broadcasting, (2) how the approach’s effectiveness will be assessed, and (3) what critical challenges the Board faces in executing its strategy and how these challenges will be addressed.Consistent with its new plan to dramatically increase the size of U.S. international broadcasting listening and viewing audiences in markets of U.S. strategic interest, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has launched several new projects, including Radio Sawa in the Middle East, Radio Farda in Iran, and the Afghanistan Radio Network. These projects adhere to the Board’s core strategy of identifying a target audience and tailoring each broadcast product to market circumstances and audience needs. The Board’s plan lacks measurable program objectives designed to gauge the success of its new approach to broadcasting, detailed implementation strategies, resource needs, and project time frames. A number of key effectiveness measures could provide a starting point for developing measurable program objectives and related performance goals and indicators under the Board’s annual performance plan. These measures include audience size in specific markets, audience awareness, broadcaster credibility, and whether the Voice of America (VOA) effectively presents information about U.S. thought, institutions, and policies to target audiences. The Board has identified a number of market and internal challenges–such as technological innovation and better coordination of its seven separate broadcast entities–that must be addressed to make U.S. international broadcasting more competitive. It has also developed a number of solutions to address these challenges. However, the Board has not addressed how many language services it can carry effectively (with the number rising nearly 20 percent over the past 10 years) and what level of overlap and duplication in VOA and surrogate broadcast services would be appropriate under its new approach to broadcasting. Resolving these questions will have significant resource implications for the Board and its ability to reach larger audiences in high-priority markets.

    [Read More…]

  • Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Sending Violent Threats to Maryland Doctor Who Had Been a Vocal Advocate of the Covid-19 Vaccine
    In Crime News
    Scott Eli Harris, 51, of Aubrey, Texas, pleaded guilty today in federal court to one count of willfully transmitting in interstate commerce a threat to injure a Maryland doctor who had been a vocal proponent of the COVID-19 vaccine.

    [Read More…]

  • Rebuilding Iraq: Reconstruction Progress Hindered by Contracting, Security, and Capacity Challenges
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has relied extensively on contractors to undertake major reconstruction projects and provide support to its deployed forces, but these efforts have not always achieved desired outcomes. Further, the Iraqi government must be able to reduce violence, sustain reconstruction progress, improve basic services, and make a positive difference in the daily lives of the Iraqi people. This statement discusses (1) factors affecting DOD’s ability to promote successful acquisition outcomes on its contracts for reconstruction and for support to deployed forces in Iraq, (2) the deteriorating security situation and the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, and (3) issues affecting the Iraqi government’s ability to support and sustain future reconstruction progress. The testimony is based upon our work on Iraq reconstruction and stabilization efforts, DOD contracting activities, and DOD’s use of support contractors spanning several years. This work was conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.The challenges faced by DOD on its reconstruction and support contracts often reflect systemic and long-standing shortcomings in DOD’s capacity to manage contractor efforts. Such shortcomings result from poorly defined or changing requirements, the use of poor business arrangements, the absence of senior leadership and guidance, and an insufficient number of trained contracting, acquisition and other personnel to manage, assess and oversee contractor performance. In turn, these shortcomings manifest themselves in higher costs to taxpayers, schedule delays, unmet objectives, and other undesirable outcomes. For example, because DOD authorized contractors to begin work before reaching agreement on the scope and price of that work, DOD paid millions of dollars in costs that were questioned by the Defense Contract Audit Agency. Similarly, DOD lacks visibility on the extent to which they rely on contractors to support their operations. When senior military leaders began to develop a base consolidation plan, officials were unable to determine how many contractors were deployed and therefore ran the risk of over- or under-building the capacity of the consolidated bases. U.S. reconstruction efforts also continue to be hampered by a security situation that continues to deteriorate. Although the number of trained and equipped Iraqi security forces increased to about 323,000 in December 2006 and more Iraqi Army units have taken the lead for counterinsurgency operations, attacks on coalition and Iraqi security forces and civilians have all increased. Aggregate numbers of trained and equipped Iraqi forces, however, do not provide information on the capabilities and needs of individual units. GAO has made repeated attempts to obtain unit-level Transition Readiness Assessments (TRAs) without success. This information is essential for the Congress to make fully informed decisions in connection with its authorization, appropriations, and oversight responsibilities. As the U.S. attempts to turn over its reconstruction efforts, the capacity of the Iraqi government to continue overall reconstruction progress is undermined by shortfalls in the capacity of the Iraqi ministries, widespread corruption and the inability to fund and execute projects for which funds were previously budgeted. Iraqi government institutions are undeveloped and confront significant challenges in staffing a competent, nonaligned civil service; using modern technology; and managing resources and personnel effectively. For example, according to U.S. officials 20 to 30 percent of the Ministry of Interior staff are “ghost employees” whose salaries are collected by other officials. Further, corruption in Iraq poses a major challenge to building an effective Iraqi government and could jeopardize future flows of needed international assistance. Unclear budgeting and procurement rules have affected Iraq’s efforts to spend capital budgets effectively and efficiently, according to U.S. officials. At the Ministry of Oil, for example, less than 1 percent of the $3.5 billion budgeted in 2006 for key enhancements to the country’s oil production, distribution, and export facilities, had been spent as of August 2006.

    [Read More…]

  • Texas Man Sentenced for $24 Million COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Texas man was sentenced today to more than 11 years in prison for wire-fraud and money-laundering offenses in connection with his fraudulent scheme to obtain approximately $24.8 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

    [Read More…]

  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Nigerian Foreign Minister Onyeama
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • Naturopathic Doctor Pleads Guilty to Fake COVID-19 Immunization and Vaccination Card Scheme
    In Crime News
    A California-licensed naturopathic doctor pleaded guilty today in the Northern District of California for scheming to sell homeoprophylaxis immunization pellets and for falsifying COVID-19 vaccination cards by making it appear that customers had received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-authorized Moderna vaccine.

    [Read More…]

  • Drinking Water: EPA Could Use Available Data to Better Identify Neighborhoods at Risk of Lead Exposure
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO’s statistical analysis indicates that areas with older housing and vulnerable populations (e.g., families in poverty) have higher concentrations of lead service lines in the selected cities GAO examined. By using geospatial lead service line data from the selected water systems and geospatial data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), GAO identified characteristics of neighborhoods with higher concentrations of lead service lines. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidance for water systems on how to identify the location of sites at high-risk of having lead service lines has not been updated since 1991 and many water systems face challenges identifying areas at risk of having lead service lines. By developing guidance for water systems that outlines methods for identifying high-risk locations using publicly available data, EPA could better ensure that public water systems test water samples from locations at greater risk of having lead service lines and identify areas with vulnerable populations to focus lead service line replacement efforts. (See figure for common sources of lead in home drinking water.) Common Sources of Lead in Drinking Water within Homes and Residences EPA has taken some actions to address the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act requirement, which include developing a strategic plan regarding lead in public water systems. However, EPA’s published plan did not satisfy the statutory requirement that the agency’s strategic plan address targeted outreach, education, technical assistance, and risk communication undertaken by EPA, states, and public water systems. For example, the plan does not discuss public education, technical assistance or risk communication. Instead, EPA’s plan focused solely on how to notify households when EPA learns of certain exceedances of lead in their drinking water. Moreover, EPA’s plan is not consistent with leading practices for strategic planning. For example, EPA’s plan does not set a mission statement or define long-term goals. Developing a strategic plan that meets the statutory requirement and fully reflects leading practices for strategic planning would give EPA greater assurance that it has effectively planned for how it will communicate the risks of lead in drinking water to the public. Lead in drinking water comes primarily from corrosion of service lines connecting the water main to a house or building, pipes inside a building, or plumbing fixtures. As GAO reported in September 2018, the total number of lead service lines in drinking water systems is unknown, and less than 20 of the 100 largest water systems have such data publicly available. GAO was asked to examine the actions EPA and water systems are taking to educate the public on the risks of lead in drinking water. This report examines, among other things: (1) the extent to which neighborhood data on cities served by lead service lines can be used to focus lead reduction efforts; and (2) actions EPA has taken to address WIIN Act requirements, and EPA’s risk communication documents. GAO conducted a statistical analysis combining geospatial lead service line and ACS data to identify characteristics of selected communities; reviewed legal requirements and EPA documents; and interviewed EPA officials. GAO is making four recommendations, including that EPA develop (1) guidance for water systems on lead reduction efforts, and (2) a strategic plan that meets the WIIN Act requirement. EPA agreed with one recommendation and disagreed with the others. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are warranted, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

    [Read More…]

  • Operation Legend: Case of the Day
    In Crime News
    Each weekday, the Department of Justice will highlight a case that has resulted from Operation Legend.  Today’s case is out of the Western District of Missouri.  Operation Legend launched in Kansas City on July 8, 2020, in response to the city facing increased homicide and non-fatal shooting rates.

    [Read More…]

  • Puerto Rico: Efforts to Improve Competition for Medicaid Procurement
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Like other U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico implements major functions of its Medicaid program by procuring services from contractors, such as the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. In 2018, procurement costs represented $2.4 billion of Puerto Rico’s $2.5 billion in total Medicaid expenditures. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—the federal agency that oversees Medicaid—requires states and territories to use the same process for Medicaid procurements as they do for their non-federal procurements. However, in February 2021, GAO found that CMS has not taken steps to ensure Puerto Rico has met this requirement. Instead, CMS has relied on Puerto Rico to oversee the territory’s procurement process and to attest to its compliance. CMS officials told GAO that states and territories are in the best position to ensure compliance with their respective procurement laws. A 2019 federal indictment alleging Puerto Rico officials unlawfully steered Medicaid contracts to certain individuals has also raised questions about Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement process, including whether this process helps ensure appropriate competition. The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, directed Puerto Rico to publish a Medicaid procurement reform plan to combat fraud, waste, and abuse, which the territory provided to Congress in December 2020. In its procurement reform plan, Puerto Rico acknowledges the need to improve competition and outlines future initiatives and general timeframes to do so. For example, Puerto Rico notes that by August 2021, it will identify the circumstances under which the use of noncompetitive contracts is justified, as well as the factors it might consider in making this determination. By April 2021, Puerto Rico intends to identify procurement information it will make public as part of its competitive procurement process and will make such information public by the end of 2021. Such changes—if implemented as planned—could address some of the issues GAO identified in its review of eight selected Puerto Rico procurements. In its review, GAO found that Puerto Rico did not include important steps to promote competition and mitigate the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, underscoring the need for federal oversight. GAO and others have found that competition is a cornerstone of procurement. Using competition can reduce costs, improve contractor performance, curb fraud, and promote accountability. As Puerto Rico continues to develop and carry out its planned reforms, implementing GAO’s recommendation for ongoing, risk-based oversight of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement process could enable CMS to promote competition and efficiency while preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. Why GAO Did This Study This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO’s February 2021 report, entitled Medicaid: CMS Needs to Implement Risk-Based Oversight of Puerto Rico’s Procurement Process (GAO-21-229). Specifically, the testimony discusses findings from the report as they relate to Puerto Rico’s Medicaid procurement reform plan.

    [Read More…]

Source: Network News
Area Control Network

Copyright © 2022 ACN
All Rights Reserved © ACN 2020

ACN Privacy Policies
ACN TOS
Area Control Network (ACN)
Area Control Network
Area Control Network Center