USDA Lacks Management Plan for Biobased Program

GAO report says USDA management would help agencies comply with farm bill purchasing requirements of biobased products. Compiled by staff

Published on: Apr 15, 2004

According to a newly released report from the General Accounting Office (GAO), the USDA isn't making implementation of the biobased product procurement program a priority within the department. The report says USDA's management and implementation of the mandated program as written in the 2002 farm bill, known as section 9002, is lacking.

Specifically, the report recommends that USDA execute a management plan for completing the work, identify and allocate the staff and financial resources needed, and clearly state the priority for the work's completion. The report explains that USDA issued proposed procurement guidelines in 2003, more than one year past the deadline for final guidelines. "However, these guidelines do not fully address the farm bill requirements for designating items for purchase and recommending procurement practices."

"This report has found clear shortcomings in USDA's approach to implementing section 9002 and called into question the Department's commitment to carrying out this key initiative toward developing the bioeconomy," says Tom Harkin, Ranking Democrat of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Harkin, the chief sponsor of the biobased procurement program, requested the report last year to review USDA's efforts to implement section 9002 as required by the farm bill. The program requires all federal agencies to purchase biobased products identified by USDA as long as they meet price, performance and availability criteria. Examples of biobased products include lubricants, functional fluids, plastics, paints, coatings and fuel additives.

The federal government spends more than $230 billion annually for products and services to conduct its operations. Harkin explains that the farming community needs the government to follow through with its biobased procurement initiative to boost rural job creation, economic growth and farm income through its enormous purchasing power.

The report found USDA has failed to fully implement a number of aspects of the 2002 farm bill's section 9002 biobased purchasing initiative, including:

  • A certified biobased product label and labeling program. The label is intended to help biobased manufacturers distinguish their products and help consumers find the kinds of products they may desire.
  • A recognition program to publicly acknowledge agencies that aggressively purchase and use biobased products.
  • A procurement program for all federal agencies, including USDA.

"The lack of a management plan describing the tasks, milestones, resources, coordination and reporting needed to complete this work has slowed USDA in issuing the procurement guidelines," the report says. GAO says the USDA disagreed with the need for a management plan, but indicated it will draw on the report results and recommendations in future work. The report adds that without a plan, USDA will find it difficult to set priorities, use resources efficiently, measure progress, and provide agency management a means to monitor progress.

To read the full report, click on "Biobased Products: Improved USDA Management Would Help Agencies Comply with Farm Bill Purchasing Requirements."