The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has made several recommendations to USDA for improving oversight of commodity checkoff programs, including better review of subcontracts and display of key documents on program websites.
There are 22 federal agricultural research and promotion programs, funded by a fraction of the sale of each unit of a commodity. In 2016, check-off funds totaled over $885 million.
GAO reviewed eight of the programs, finding that USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has improved its oversight since the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) made recommendations in a 2012 report. AMS has developed and implemented standard operating procedures and begun to conduct internal reviews of its oversight functions.
However, GAO also found that AMS does not consistently review subcontracts, which impairs its ability to prevent misuse of funds, and that only four of the eight checkoff programs shared all key documents, including budget summaries and evaluations of effectiveness, with stakeholders on program websites.
In addition to recommending better subcontract oversight and transparency on websites, GAO also suggested that AMS establish a mechanism for tracking checkoff board management review, follow steps to improve annual audits, and develop criteria for assessing whether standard operating procedures are met.