Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is urging USDA to build on past reforms in the 2008 Farm Bill and crack down on fraud and abuse in agriculture programs. Stabenow says workers in her state get annual performance reviews and she believes the same standard should be applied to the government. She says that thought needs to go into ways to streamline services offered to make them more effective by cutting the red tape and paperwork producers shouldn't have to worry about.
Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., appealed to USDA Under Secretaries for their help to reduce waste and duplication by consolidating dozens of farm programs.
"For instance we have some 20 different conservation programs; do we need 20," Stabenow said. "Can we create efficiencies, can we do things better in terms of streamlining. We want to know more about that. Rural Development – 40 different programs, do we need 40, can we bring them together, can we create more efficiencies. I would suggest that we can."
Stabenow also says funds need to be used to strengthen enforcement efforts in the food assistance program. She focused on the federal government's role in preventing fraud and abuse - noting that in the last six months - the Inspector General has conducted investigations and audits that led to 516 arrests, 249 convictions and $47.8 million in recoveries and restitutions. Stabenow says even more must be done to continue detecting and stopping abuse.
USDA undersecretaries outlined numerous efforts to stem program waste and abuse but Roberts questioned ways that they could be improved.
"You have bad situations almost every year up in the Northern states, and then you go into the SURE program and you don't get paid until a year later," Roberts said. "That really is a problem. You've focused on the technology to help you get through this, but is there anything we can take a hard look at the structure of the program that could better streamline it?"
Farm and Foreign Ag Service Acting Under Secretary Michael Scuse welcomed the chance to come up with simpler programs in the 2012 Farm Bill that are easier to manage. But it's not just about simplicity. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., complained about program payments to dead people.
"From 1999 through 2005 USDA paid $1.1 billion in farm payments in the names of 172,801 deceased individuals," Cochran said. "Of this total, 40% went to those who had been dead three or more years, 19% to those who had been dead seven or more years. That's kind of shocking."
Scuse said FSA works with the Social Security Administration to verify eligibility, though the deceased or their estates can continue receiving program payments if they died in the same year they signed up. He also says work with the IRS has allowed FSA to avoid paying $840 million in crop insurance payments over 10 years through data mining.