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Detailed Information on the
Resource Conservation and Development Assessment

Program Code 10002028
Program Title Resource Conservation and Development
Department Name Department of Agriculture
Agency/Bureau Name Department of Agriculture
Program Type(s) Direct Federal Program
Assessment Year 2006
Assessment Rating Adequate
Assessment Section Scores
Section Score
Program Purpose & Design 80%
Strategic Planning 88%
Program Management 100%
Program Results/Accountability 33%
Program Funding Level
(in millions)
FY2007 $51
FY2008 $52
FY2009 $0

Ongoing Program Improvement Plans

Year Began Improvement Plan Status Comments
2006

Improve the agency's ability to track and report program performance.

Action taken, but not completed NRCS is utilizing the POINTS database to effectively track RC&D's reported annual, efficiency, and long-term measures so that program performance trend analyses can be completed. Use of POINTS database began in 2006. Information from POINTS was used for budget reporting. Data will continue to be collected to be collected for performance trend analysis which will begin in 2011. In addition, an American Customer Satisfaction Index surveys were completed on RC&D which received a score of 81.
2006

Develop and implement a five-year comprehensive budget and performance management strategy aligned with NRCS's strategic plan.

Action taken, but not completed NRCS has created a five-year budget document. Portions of the five-year budget document will be incorporated into NRCS' Five Year Investment Strategy, which will be completed at the end of fiscal year 2008.

Completed Program Improvement Plans

Year Began Improvement Plan Status Comments
2006

Establish national RC&D program priorities to maximize program benefits.

Completed The program established national RC&D program priorities which follow the four elements in the RC&D statute. Allocation factors were modified to further target resource needs within each element. Incentive bonuses based on performance increased by 10 percent in the FY 2008 allocaton formula for a total of 20 percent.

Program Performance Measures

Term Type  
Long-term Outcome

Measure: Unit change in the RC&D Natural Resource Performance Index


Explanation:Increase the national RC&D Natural Resource Performance Index by 10 percent by 2010 over the 2005 baseline index score. The long-term performance index reflects the benefits of RC&D conservation related program elements (land conservation, water management and land management) weighted to reflect agency priorities. This methodology will assess the level of performance by individual councils.

Year Target Actual
2006 Baseline 100
2007 102 103
2008 105
2009 107.5
2010 110
2012 115
Long-term Outcome

Measure: Create or retain natural resource-based enterprises that increase employment opportunities


Explanation:Cumulative number of jobs created and/or retained with RC&D assistance in natural resource-based industries for FY 2005-2010.

Year Target Actual
2004 Baseline 5,939
2010 31,500
2012 12,600
Annual Outcome

Measure: Create or retain natural resource based enterprises that provide employment opportunities.


Explanation:Annual number of businesses created or retained through implementation RC&D projects.

Year Target Actual
2003 Baseline 264
2004 300 551
2005 400 1,155
2006 150 969
2007 1500 3,155
2008 1500
2009 0
Annual Output

Measure: Number of watershed or area-wide plans developed for water or air quality.


Explanation:Annual number of watershed or area-wide plans developed to protect and improve water or air quality.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline 487
2006 500 340
2007 530 680
2008 500
2009 0
Annual Output

Measure: Millions of acres of watershed or area-wide plans developed for water or air quality.


Explanation:Annual acres (million) of watershed or area-wide plans developed to protect and improve water or air quality. This measure directly supports NRCS Strategic Goals for Clean and Abundant Water and Air Quality.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline 42.8
2006 44 99.2
2007 NA NA
2008 NA
2009 NA
Annual Efficiency

Measure: Acres benefitted through implementation of RC&D projects per staff year (Full Time Equivalent) funded through appropriated RC&D funds.


Explanation:RC&D projects address issues related to conservation and community development. Within the conservation arena, projects are implemented to improve problems with respect to land and water. Given the variety of and time required for projects undertaken and completed by RC&D Councils, the efficiency measure will be calculated using a rolling 3-year average with the base year using FY 2002 through FY 2004 data. The efficiency measure is the ratio of acres benefited through implementation of RC&D projects to the FTE funded through appropriated RC&D funds, (Acres/FTE). The following benefits from implemented projects recorded into the NRCS reporting system will be used to calculate the efficiency measure: Reporting for FY 2005 & FY 2006 will be provided in October 2006. The new POINTS reporting system began implementation in early May. As of June 7, approximately 200, out of 427 coordinators and state program managers have been trained. Additional training is scheduled through the mid-July. The full 2005 and 2006 data will be available September 30, 2006 and resultant efficiency computation will be available by mid to late October.

Year Target Actual
2004 baseline 6,363
2005 7,400 7,779
2006 8,140 8,808
2007 8,950 9,995
2008 9,850
2009 0

Questions/Answers (Detailed Assessment)

Section 1 - Program Purpose & Design
Number Question Answer Score
1.1

Is the program purpose clear?

Explanation: The program purpose is to improve the capability of local citizens to plan and implement programs and projects that address natural resource and community developed issues in their communities. Due to lack of organized local leadership and capacity, the program assists state and local units of government and local nonprofit organizations in primarily rural areas. Program objectives address improving the quality of life, including social, economic and environmental concerns; continuing prudent use of natural resources; and strengthening local citizens' ability to utilize available sources of assistance through USDA and other federal agency partnerships. Objectives of the program are delineated by the statutory program elements of land conservation, water management, community development, and land management.

Evidence: Legislation: PL 107-171 sec. 1528-1537, 16 USC sec. 3451-3460; NRCS Policy: GM 440.513.01-02

YES 20%
1.2

Does the program address a specific and existing problem, interest, or need?

Explanation: NRCS identifies three national needs that the RC&D Program to addresses, including: (1) the lack of local-level capacity to identify, strategically plan for, and address natural resource and development concerns, (2) improving local community access to federal technical and financial conservation and community development assistance, and (3) developing local community leadership. To address these needs, the program provides federal technical assistance to develop a five-year Area Plan for each RC&D council develops. The Area Plan must address the statutory components of the program, including land conservation, water management, community development, and land management. Public participation is a requirement for the development of the Area Plan to ensure that the goals and objectives reflect the priority concerns of the region. The program facilitates a community's development of leadership, staff and capacity and access to state and Federal resources. The experienced local delivery system increases the efficiency and effectiveness of state and federal programs.

Evidence: Legislation: 16 USC sec. 3451 (1); NRCS Policy: GM 440.513.12; NRCS Documents: RC&D Program Application Review, Area Plan Checklist

YES 20%
1.3

Is the program designed so that it is not redundant or duplicative of any other Federal, state, local or private effort?

Explanation: The purposes and services provided by the RC&D program overlaps with other similar resource conservation planning, rural economic development, and community facilities/amenities development services provided by other USDA agencies (such as the Forest Service and Rural Development) and other federal departments (such as the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration). While the RC&D Program does use a strategic area planning effort and local leadership to identify local projects, NRCS also has other significant interactions and collaborative working relationships with state and local government resource agencies (such as soil conservation districts and departments of fish and game) through the State Technical Committees at the state levels down to Local Work Groups at the community levels.

Evidence: Legislation: 16 USC sec. 3452; NRCS Policy: GM 440.513.03-06; NRCS Documents: Report to Congress on the Resource Conservation and Development Program - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/pdf_files/RCDpub1207.pdf.

NO 0%
1.4

Is the program design free of major flaws that would limit the program's effectiveness or efficiency?

Explanation: The RC&D program is free of major design flaws and there is no strong evidence that another approach would be more efficient or effective to achieve the intended purpose. The strength of the RC&D program is that it is both responsive to national priorities and to changing local conditions. RC&D Councils are required to complete a strategic planning process every 5 years, develop an Area Plan and implement projects to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in that plan. RC&D extends its impact by leveraging funds from other federal programs, state and local governments, and private sources to accomplish its legislated purpose of assisting councils to develop and implement area plans.

Evidence: Legislation: 16 USC sec. 3451; NRCS Policy: GM 440.513 subpart C; NRCS Documents: Area Plan Review Checklist.

YES 20%
1.5

Is the program design effectively targeted so that resources will address the program's purpose directly and will reach intended beneficiaries?

Explanation: NRCS uses a variety of methods to better target and prioritize RC&D program dollars to improve performance. Beginning in FY 2006, NRCS allocates program funding to each state NRCS office based upon factors determined by objective estimates of natural resource needs. The program managers use 20 weighted state- and local-level data elements collected through the Natural Resources Inventory (NRI), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Research Service and other reliable and statistically sound sources. At the NRCS state level, the program further targets RC&D dollars by allocating funds to individual councils based on natural resource concern factors and program management of program performance. Beginning in FY 2007, the national-level dollar allocation system will also include a performance factor component that will be based states' prior-year performance. The national program managers will consider both the achievement of annual performance goals and states' contributions toward the established long-term performance and efficiency goals. Those NRCS state programs that demonstrate improved performance and efficiency will earn additional program dollars.

Evidence: NRCS Policy: GM 440.513 subpart B; NRCS Documents: RC&D Program FY2006 Allocation Methodology and related tables; RC&D Program FY 2007 allocation strategy and related tables; Deputy Chief for Program's Power Point presentation January 18, 2006 NRCS National Leadership Team Meeting - "Realizing Full Implementation of the New Allocation Formulas for the CTA and RC&D Program."

YES 20%
Section 1 - Program Purpose & Design Score 80%
Section 2 - Strategic Planning
Number Question Answer Score
2.1

Does the program have a limited number of specific long-term performance measures that focus on outcomes and meaningfully reflect the purpose of the program?

Explanation: NRCS has established one long-term outcome performance measures in use and another measure under development. The measure in use is: Create or retain Natural Resource-based Enterprises that Increase Employment Opportunities. The measure under development will assess the change in estimated performance on a new RC&D Natural Resource Performance Index. These measures support the NRCS Strategic Plan Goals for High Quality Productive Soils; Clean and Abundant Water; Healthy Plant and Animal Communities; and Working Farm and Ranch Lands.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: OMB Approved Agency Long-Term Performance and Efficiency Measures are in the PART Performance Measures Section

YES 12%
2.2

Does the program have ambitious targets and timeframes for its long-term measures?

Explanation: The target and timeframes for the adopted long-term performance measures are: Increase the national RC&D Natural Resource Performance Index by at least 10 percent by 2010; and, Create or maintain natural resource based enterprises that create employment opportunities by at least 10 percent over the 2004 base year by 2010. The baseline will be developed using 2005 data. Reporting for FY2005 and FY2006 will be provided in October 2006. NRCS began training implementation in May 2006 for the new POINTS reporting system. As of June 9, 2006, approximately 240 of the 427 coordinators and State program managers have been trained. Additional training is scheduled through mid-July. The full 2005 and 2006 data will be available September 30, 2006, and resultant long-term performance index computation will be available by mid- to late-October..

Evidence: NRCS Documents: Approved Agency Long-Term Performance and Efficiency Measures with established baselines and targets are in the PART Performance Measures Section

YES 12%
2.3

Does the program have a limited number of specific annual performance measures that can demonstrate progress toward achieving the program's long-term goals?

Explanation: RC&D has annual measures to evaluate program activity and track the program's progress towards reaching its long-term goals. The annual measures will be tracked in the new RC&D Program Operation and Tracking System (POINTS) beginning in April 2006. The annual measures also are an integral part of the long-term performance measures. Creating local businesses and jobs in rural communities will contribute to the corresponding long-term performance measure. Number and acres of watershed or area-wide conservation plans developed for water or air quality will be among the key factors in determining the RC&D Natural Resource Performance Index.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: FY2006 National Annual NRCS Performance Summary Report (Example 10/1/05-1/20/06)

YES 12%
2.4

Does the program have baselines and ambitious targets for its annual measures?

Explanation: Baselines for most the annual measures have been established using analysis of historical data. The program has been capturing these each year since FY 2000. Targets have been established at ambitious but attainable levels. NRCS has also established efficiency measures to improve program performance at a reduced cost to the Federal government.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: FY2006 National Annual NRCS Performance Summary Report, FY2005 National Performance for RC&D

YES 12%
2.5

Do all partners (including grantees, sub-grantees, contractors, cost-sharing partners, and other government partners) commit to and work toward the annual and/or long-term goals of the program?

Explanation: The RC&D program partners support the overall goals of the program and report their performance in the new Program Operation and Tracking System (POINTS). The RC&D program operates through a USDA-nongovernmental organization or private partnership. Agency members of the USDA RC&D Policy Advisory Board (PAB) provide policy advice for the NRCS RC&D Program, and work to effectively and appropriately integrate all relevant USDA programs through the local delivery system provided by the RC&D Councils. The RC&D Council is the private sector partner and the primary leader in this program. It is required to develop, with public participation, and implement, with partners, a five-year strategic area plan that addresses the locally identified issues as they relate to the four elements outlined in the statute. These area plans are reviewed and approved by the respective NRCS State Conservationist and by the national RC&D program staff to ensure that the work undertaken by the Councils support both the goals of the program as outlined in the statute and the goals of the NRCS strategic plan.

Evidence: Legislation: 16 USC sec. 3456; NRCS Policy: GM 440.513 subpart C; NRCS Documents: Area Plan Review Guidelines;Deputy Chief for Program's Power Point presentation January 18, 2006 NRCS National Leadership Team Meeting - "Realizing Full Implementation of the New Allocation Formulas for the CTA and RC&D Program;" NRCS RC&D National RC&D Program Manager presentation "RC&D - Getting from Red to Green;" and National Association of RC&D Council's "Recommended Performance Measures for the RC&D Program" (deliverable in the FY 2005 cooperative agreement.)

YES 12%
2.6

Are independent evaluations of sufficient scope and quality conducted on a regular basis or as needed to support program improvements and evaluate effectiveness and relevance to the problem, interest, or need?

Explanation: NRCS has not performed RC&D program evaluations that meet the PART guidance criteria for independence, quality, and scope. Accordingly, the program must receive a "no" for this question. USDA did, however, conduct a national program review through the RC&D Policy Advisory Board during FY 2004 and FY 2005. The 2002 farm bill required USDA to evaluate the program. This review included a qualitative and quantitative summary of RC&D program activities and recommendations for a more effective nationwide program. A report was submitted to the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate describing the results of the review. Internally, NRCS policy requires that each designated RC&D area is reviewed by the respective state office at least once every five years. This review includes input from program participants, partners and stakeholders. A report is sent to National Headquarters for review and concurrence. In addition, NRCS National Headquarters conducts Operation Reviews in every state once every five years. During these evaluations, all programs are reviewed, including RC&D. Lastly, NRCS has scheduled a Program Evaluation of RC&D to be conducted by the internal O&E staff in FY 2007.

Evidence: Legislation: 16 USC sec. 3457; NRCS Policy: GM 440.513.45; NRCS Documents: Report to Congress on the Resource Conservation and Development Program - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/pdf_files/RCDpub1207.pdf; NARC&DC Documents: Circle of Diamonds; State level example of RC&D office review (Texas); Schedule of Operation Reviews and checklist, and National Program Evaluation Schedule.

NO 0%
2.7

Are Budget requests explicitly tied to accomplishment of the annual and long-term performance goals, and are the resource needs presented in a complete and transparent manner in the program's budget?

Explanation: For the FY 2005 through 2007 President's budget requests, the RC&D program has tied to the Administration's management agenda and the NRCS strategic plan. The RC&D budgeting process makes clear the impact on funding and policy decisions on expected performance. The established program annual and long-term goals are based on nationwide resource needs compiled from quantitative data. Qualitative resource needs identified in the RC&D council area plans were also used to develop the long-term program performance measures and goals that support budget requests. For budget execution, the agency has changed the allocation methodology from an average amount per RC&D area to one that emphasizes targeting funds to greatest resource needs and rewarding efficient and effective program performance. NRCS based in allocations to its state offices on natural resource needs, national conservation priorities, and long-term program goals. At the state-level, NRCS then allocates program funds based on natural resource concern factors, state specific factors and program management and performance incentives. Beginning in FY 2007, the allocation will also include a performance factor component. It will be based on a four-point scale value assigned to each state's previous year performance. It includes consideration for both the achievement of annual performance goals and the state's contribution toward the established national long-term performance and efficiency goals as well as the successful completion of projects included in local strategic RC&D area plans. As a result, allocations will increase for those states that show progress and efficiency in program delivery and decrease for those that are not achieving results.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: NRCS Strategic Plan 2003 Update, FY2007 Budget Proposal; RC&D Program FY2006 Allocation Methodology; FY 2007 allocation strategy; Deputy Chief for Program's Power Point presentation January 18, 2006 NRCS National Leadership Team (NLT) Meeting - "Realizing Full Implementation of the New Allocation Formulas for the CTA and RC&D Program;" Resource Conservation & Development & Rural Land Division Director's Power Point presentation August 2, 2005 NLT Meeting - "RC&D Allocation: A Paradigm Shift;" NRCS RC&D National RC&D Program Manager presentation "RC&D - Getting from Red to Green" used at RC&D Regional Association meetings.

YES 12%
2.8

Has the program taken meaningful steps to correct its strategic planning deficiencies?

Explanation: Based on results of the national program evaluation conducted in FY 2004 and 2005, and the previous PART assessment, NRCS has adopted specific steps to address strategic planning deficiencies. Program funds are now targeted based on resource needs. The agency has made recent changes in the method of allocating resources to support designated RC&D Councils. Funds allocated to each state are based upon the statutory purposes of land conservation, water management, community development and land management. Weighted state and local-level data collected through the Natural Resources Inventory (NRI), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), U.S. Census Bureau, and other sources relating to the statutory elements are used to target funds to the greatest resource needs. NRCS has an adequate number of long-term outcome measures that reflect the activities of the program and has established ambitious targets and timelines for these long-term outcome measures. A new reporting system implemented in April 2006 integrates the agency budget process and performance system, and ties RC&D Area Plans and projects implemented by RC&D Councils to outcomes related to both NRCS and USDA strategic goals. NRCS also has implemented more stringent review standards for all RC&D Area Plans submitted for approval. These standards include: a clearly defined mission vision; goals and objectives that directly relate to the program statutory purposes that are measurable, attainable and timely; list of potential USDA partnerships; budget and cost projections; staffing plan; and documentation of public involvement in the development of the plan. The RC&D policy manual, Part 513 of Conservation Programs Manual:440-V-CPM, Amend. 9, May 2002, is being updated to reflect current policy and budget direction, to ensure program performance is better documented, and area plans clearly show a time sensitive and strategic focus. The new manual will be finalized by June 2006. Training on the new manual will be included in the National RC&D Workshop in June 2006. In addition, the agency is continuing to emphasize training on the area planning process. The RC&D Area Planning course was updated in March 2006 to reflect current policy and budget direction regarding performance, strategic focus and targeted funds. Changes also included increased emphasis on the linkage of the RC&D Area Plan to the NRCS National Strategic Plan.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: RC&D Program FY2006 Allocation Methodology, RC&D Area Plan Checklist, RC&D POINTS handbook (under development); Report to Congress on the Resource Conservation and Development Program - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/pdf_files/RCDpub1207.pdf; Deputy Chief for Program's Power Point presentation January 18, 2006 NRCS National Leadership Team (NLT) Meeting - "Realizing Full Implementation of the New Allocation Formulas for the CTA and RC&D Program;" Resource Conservation & Development & Rural Land Division Director's Power Point presentation August 2, 2005 NLT Meeting - "RC&D Allocation: A Paradigm Shift;" NRCS RC&D National RC&D Program Manager presentation "RC&D - Getting from Red to Green" used at RC&D Regional Association meetings.

YES 12%
Section 2 - Strategic Planning Score 88%
Section 3 - Program Management
Number Question Answer Score
3.1

Does the agency regularly collect timely and credible performance information, including information from key program partners, and use it to manage the program and improve performance?

Explanation: NRCS collects program performance data annually from each RC&D Coordinator through the RC&D Information and Management System to record RC&D Council activities and accomplishments. Beginning in FY 2006, NRCS will enhance its data collection and analysis capabilities by collecting performance information through the new RC&D Program Operations and Tracking System (POINTS) on a quarterly basis. Performance information in POINTS directly ties RC&D Area Plans and projects implemented by RC&D Councils to outcomes related to both NRCS and USDA strategic goals. The information provided by POINTS will be used for national reporting of performance progress, as a tool for oversight by national and state program managers' performance, and as an RC&D project management tool for Coordinators. Both goaled performance items and other performance goals established by Councils will be frequently reviewed at the State and National level. Councils that are not performing will be identified and notified of the need to improve performance. If performance is not improved, assistance to the Councils will be withdrawn.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: FY2006 National Annual NRCS Performance Summary Report (Example 10/1/05-1/20/06); Approved Agency Long-Term Performance and Efficiency Measures with baselines and targets entered in the PART Performance Measures Section; Draft RC&D POINTS Handbook.

YES 14%
3.2

Are Federal managers and program partners (including grantees, sub-grantees, contractors, cost-sharing partners, and other government partners) held accountable for cost, schedule and performance results?

Explanation: The National RC&D Program Manager recommends to NRCS leadership (Chief, Associate Chief, Regional Associate Chiefs, and Deputy Chief for Programs) funding allocations to the states. The program manager is responsible for monitoring budget allocations and advising the Deputy Chief for Programs and the Regional Associate Chiefs regarding state offices' accountability for the funds allocated to support the program. The NRCS State Conservationists (STC) are responsible and accountable for overall program implementation and results, including identifying, monitoring and analyzing performance indicators and financial integrity. The Deputy Chief for Strategic Planning and Accountability, through Oversight and Evaluation reviews, provides national oversight for performance results and accountability of funds. State offices conduct quality assurance reviews in accordance with guidance provided in the General Manual and the National Conservation Program Manual. Under special circumstances, the agency does enter into cooperative agreements with RC&D Councils and associations of Councils that entails a transfer of funds. These cooperative agreements have specific deliverables that are clearly defined and related to the statutory program elements. Funds relating to these agreements are not dispersed throughout the year without a detailed report on the status of the deliverables. In addition, employees directly associated with the RC&D program (National Program Manager, National Program Coordinator, and RC&D Coordinators) have new annual performance plans that are directly tied to the relevant NRCS strategic plan goals and objectives.

Evidence: Legislation: 16 USC sec 3451 & 3457, NRCS Policy: GM 440.513 subpart E, Example Cooperative Agreement between NRCS and the NARC&DC

YES 14%
3.3

Are funds (Federal and partners') obligated in a timely manner, spent for the intended purpose and accurately reported?

Explanation: NRCS allocates funds to State Offices in a timely manner. In FY 2005 funds were allocated within 30 days of receiving the final allocation. Program funds are used for staff (in the form of a USDA RC&D Coordinator to the Council) and overhead costs only. Prior to FY 2006 funds were allocated based on the number of staff assigned to RC&D program activities for the designated RC&D Councils within a State. In FY 2006, funds were allocated based on the resource need of the State, and the relative cost of doing business in each State. The FY 2006 budget ties the new performance goals to the budget request. Beginning in FY 2007, the allocation of funds will also be based on each States performance as it relates to the program goals. No funds are obligated or expended as direct financial assistance to RC&D Councils; therefore there are no end-of-year, unobligated funds. Progress in achieving performance measures indicates whether funds are expended for the intended purpose. Program results are field verified by NRCS State and Area office supervisory staff.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: FY2007 Budget Proposal, NRCS Strategic Plan 2003 Update; NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010

YES 14%
3.4

Does the program have procedures (e.g. competitive sourcing/cost comparisons, IT improvements, appropriate incentives) to measure and achieve efficiencies and cost effectiveness in program execution?

Explanation: NRCS has developed a new process to both improve and report progress on enhancing the RC&D program's cost effectiveness. Beginning in FY 2006, the program managers allocate funds based on the estimated natural resource conservation needs in each state. In FY 2007, allocations will include factors relating to RC&D Council performance to provide incentives to Councils. NRCS has also implemented information technology improvements, such the new Program Operations and Tracking System (POINTS), to better report performance and manage the program. NRCS will use POINTS information to measure efficiencies and cost effectiveness for each RC&D council. Furthermore, NRCS has developed a new efficiency measure to assess improved cost-efficiency over time; the measure is, "Acres benefited through implementation of RC&D projects per FTE funded through appropriated RC&D funds (acre per Full Time Equivalent).

Evidence: NRCS Documents: RC&D Program FY2006 Allocation Methodology; FY 2007 Allocation Methodology, Approved Agency Long-Term Performance and Efficiency Measures, RC&D POINTS Handbook

YES 14%
3.5

Does the program collaborate and coordinate effectively with related programs?

Explanation: Coordination and collaboration is the basic premise of the RC&D program. RC&D Councils collaborate will many federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), along with private businesses that are involved in conservation and community development activities. This collaboration includes developing and writing the area conservation/economic development plan, identifying and seeking grant funding to implement projects, and delivering local improvement projects to achieve the goals in the area plan. This collaboration includes managing the development and execution of the area plan, as well as managing the grant funding resources to deliver projects. At the national level, collaboration and coordination is achieved through the activities with USDA PAB agencies, other federal agencies or entities, the National Association of RC&D Councils, and other national level NGOs. Similarly at the state-level, state program managers work with state level employees of the USDA Policy Advisory Board agencies, other federal agencies, state agencies and NGOs within the state. To effectively implement their area plans, RC&D Councils must document involvement with other USDA agencies and other partners. This documentation is included in the councils' annual reports and will be captured in POINTS.

Evidence: Legislation: 16 USC sec 3456; NRCS Policy: GM 440.513.06 & 513.23; NRCS Documents: RC&D Area Plan Checklist

YES 14%
3.6

Does the program use strong financial management practices?

Explanation: [Note: Because NRCS does not have a stand-alone audit, the agency should include a discussion of whether or not the material weaknesses identified in the existing USDA-wide audit apply to the RC&D program.] The RC&D federal funds are managed by NRCS. The majority of funds are used to pay for the technical assistance provided through federal NRCS employees within a state. NRCS tracks funds through the Foundation Financial Information System (FFIS). The Federal Financial Management Improvement Act established a statutory requirement for agency heads to assess, on an annual basis, whether their financial management systems comply with Federal financial management system requirements; applicable Federal accounting standards; and the Standard General Ledger at the transaction level. The NRCS Chief Financial Officer certified that the NRCS financial management system is in compliance. RC&D Councils are required to follow Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations and reporting requirements as outlined for 501(c) income tax exempt organizations. NRCS policy states that Councils are to operate with efficient fiscal business practices. As a federal employee, the RC&D Coordinator is prohibited being involved in the financial matters of the Council to help ensure fiscal integrity.

Evidence: NRCS Policy; GM 440.513.02 & 513.07

YES 14%
3.7

Has the program taken meaningful steps to address its management deficiencies?

Explanation: NRCS has a system for identifying and addressing RC&D program management deficiencies. The NRCS national headquarters systematically and regularly conducts state office reviews in partnership with other USDA agencies and National Association of RC&D Councils (NARC&DC). NRCS also coordinated a nationwide review of the program with NARC&DC and has taken actions to address the weaknesses identified by this report. These actions include increasing participation with Indian tribes, implementing a new performance reporting system, developing specific annual and long-term goals, and streamlining the program's cost of delivery. In addition, over the past six years, NRCS has continued to tighten policy regarding the RC&D program. The policy manual was revised in FY 2000 and in FY 2002 to strengthen the roles and responsibilities of all levels of agency personnel involved in the program and incorporated changes as a result of the 2002 Farm Bill. In FY 2006, the manual is being further revised to reflect increased emphasis on program performance and goal setting along with increased linkages of Area and Annual Plans to national performance goals and objectives in the NRCS strategic plan. NRCS has developed RC&D training modules on Federal employee conduct and responsibilities for both Federal employees and council members. RC&D re-instituted the compliance requirement that each Council must have a current five-year RC&D Area Plan along with improved monitoring and controls at the State and National level. The Policy Advisory Board representing USDA has assisted with the improvement of the area plans. NRCS developed a new RC&D reporting system that emphasizes the importance of performance and accountability within the program and ties to the NRCS strategic plan.

Evidence: NRCS Policy: GM 440.513 subpart A; NRCS Documents: Report to Congress on the Resource Conservation and Development Program - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/pdf_files/RCDpub1207.pdf;, RC&D Area Plan Checklist; NARC&DC Documents: Circle of Diamonds.

YES 14%
Section 3 - Program Management Score 100%
Section 4 - Program Results/Accountability
Number Question Answer Score
4.1

Has the program demonstrated adequate progress in achieving its long-term performance goals?

Explanation: NRCS has established two new long-term, outcome-oriented performance measures for the RC&D program. The benchmarks for these measures are under development in FY2006, but they will be available for use in FY 2007. Although there is not enough data yet to determine trends and performance for one of the new measures, RC&D can report progress it has made on creating or retaining job in rural communities. NRCS has been reporting the number of businesses created through implementation of local area plans for over 8 years. Data supplied in the evidence book show increased performance in this area.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: Resource Conservation and Development Program Accomplishments 1998-2005; Report to Congress on the Resource Conservation and Development Program - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/pdf_files/RCDpub1207.pdf; Approved Agency Long-Term Performance and Efficiency Measures with established baselines and targets in the PART Performance Measures Section.

SMALL EXTENT 7%
4.2

Does the program (including program partners) achieve its annual performance goals?

Explanation: NRCS established annual performance measures and goals for the RC&D program in FY 2005. However, currently the program can only demonstrate progress on one of its objectives - job creation or retention. The program cannot yet report progress on its other natural resource conservation objectives. Accordingly, the program warrants a "small extent" for this question. For its job creation and retention objectives, however, the RC&D program exceeded its annual performance goal targets in FY 2005. From FY 2000 to FY 2004 RC&D performance goals had been based on the number of projects completed by RC&D Councils in several categories that reflect the primary purpose of the program and the statutory required elements of the RC&D area plan. Although these were not outcome based, Councils consistently achieved those goals.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: FY2005 National Performance for RC&D; FY2005 RC&D National Progress Figures; Resource Conservation and Development Program Accomplishments 1998-2005; Report to Congress on the Resource Conservation and Development Program - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/pdf_files/RCDpub1207.pdf

SMALL EXTENT 7%
4.3

Does the program demonstrate improved efficiencies or cost effectiveness in achieving program goals each year?

Explanation: Although the appropriation has not kept pace with normal increases in operating costs, the agency has been able to increase performance and reduce Federal expenditure of funds. This has been achieved by reducing direct administrative support to RC&D councils and increasing council capacity to leverage funds from non-federal sources. NRCS has developed an efficiency measure for the program: Acres benefited through implementation of RC&D projects per Full Time Equivalent funded through appropriated RC&D funds, (Acres/FTE). Reporting for FY 2005 & FY 2006 will be provided in October 2006. The new POINTS reporting system began implementation in early May. As of June 7, approximately 200 out of 427 coordinators and state program managers have been trained. Additional training is scheduled through the mid-July. The full 2005 and 2006 data will be available September 30, 2006 and resultant efficiency computation will be available by mid- to late-October.

Evidence: NRCS documents: Approved Agency Long-Term Performance and Efficiency Measures with established baselines and targets in the PART Performance Measures Section; FY2005 National Performance for RC&D; FY2005 RC&D National Progress Figures

SMALL EXTENT 7%
4.4

Does the performance of this program compare favorably to other programs, including government, private, etc., with similar purpose and goals?

Explanation: The RC&D program did provide limited evidence to demonstrate how the program compares with other similar wildlife habitat conservation programs. While the program did not provide a program evaluation, it did compare its cost for completing watershed conservation plans versus other NRCS programs. RC&D compares favorably to other program utilizing two of the current goaled performance measures for the program. In comparison to NRCS traditional watershed and area-wide planning efforts, RC&D is both more effective and more efficient. The NRCS Performance Results System and Conservation Information System FY 2005 data indicates that RC&D efforts account for over half of all watershed and area-wide planning done by the agency for the purpose of water and air quality. These efforts are accomplished for approximately half the cost of traditional programs. Watershed and area-wide planning efforts account for approximately seven and a half percent of the programs workload.

Evidence: NRCS Performance Results System and Collection Information System, FY 2005.

SMALL EXTENT 7%
4.5

Do independent evaluations of sufficient scope and quality indicate that the program is effective and achieving results?

Explanation: While outside agencies, such as GAO or OIG, have not reviewed the program in many years, NRCS in partnership with USDA Policy Advisory Board agencies and the National Association of RC&D Councils completed an in-depth evaluation of the program as required by Congress in FY 2005. This qualitative review indicated that the program meets the program's statutory purposes. Furthermore, NRCS has established policy that each designated RC&D area is reviewed by the respective NRCS state office at least once every five years. This review includes input from the program participants, partners and stakeholders. A report is sent to national headquarters for review and concurrence. In addition, NRCS National Headquarters conducts Operation Reviews in every state once every five years. During these evaluations, all programs are reviewed, including RC&D. Though the program performance reviews that USDA has conducted do not meet the high technical standards of questions 2.6, they do indicate that the program is generally effective as meeting its purposes; accordingly, the program should receive credit under this question.

Evidence: NRCS Documents: Report to Congress on the Resource Conservation and Development Program - http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/rcd/pdf_files/RCDpub1207.pdf; Example of RC&D Area Program Appraisal from Texas, RC&D Manual, (CPM-440, Part 513); Schedule of NRCS Operation Reviews and checklist.

SMALL EXTENT 7%
Section 4 - Program Results/Accountability Score 33%


Last updated: 09062008.2006SPR