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Detailed Information on the
Conservation Operations Assessment

Program Code 10003033
Program Title Conservation Operations
Department Name Department of Agriculture
Agency/Bureau Name Natural Resources Conservation Service
Program Type(s) Direct Federal Program
Research and Development Program
Assessment Year 2006
Assessment Rating Moderately Effective
Assessment Section Scores
Section Score
Program Purpose & Design 100%
Strategic Planning 100%
Program Management 100%
Program Results/Accountability 67%
Program Funding Level
(in millions)
FY2007 $763
FY2008 $834
FY2009 $795

Ongoing Program Improvement Plans

Year Began Improvement Plan Status Comments
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.
2006

Improve CO management by conducting an independent review of the allocation formulas, conduct surveys to identify areas for improvement, and identify priority natural resource concerns.

Action taken, but not completed Conservation Effects Assessment Project's (CEAP) farmer survey data collection is underway. CEAP results for the Upper Mississippi River Basin will be available at the end of FY 2008 with the Missouri and Ohio basins to follow by the end of calendar year 2008. Results for the remaining major river basins will be developed in calendar year 2009.
2006

Evaluate efficiency gains and identify areas where additional attention is needed.

Action taken, but not completed NRCS is in the process of restructuring field soil survey offices to conduct soil mapping by Major Land Resource Areas in order to improve data consistency across state and local boundaries. In addition, NRCS is conducting annual evaluations of the efficiency and performance for the Plant Material Centers. The restructuring is being phased into minimize costs and allow for completion of initial soil surveys.

Completed Program Improvement Plans

Year Began Improvement Plan Status Comments

Program Performance Measures

Term Type  
Long-term Outcome

Measure: Millions of acres of working cropland with improved soil condition.


Explanation:Captures the increase in cropland acres on which soil organic matter is increasing, as measured by the Soil Conditioning Index (SCI). The SCI uses data on soil erosion, conservation management systems, and biomass to indicate whether soil organic matter is increasing or decreasing. The baseline performance level for the FY2001-2005 time period is 6.9 million acres. The target is 7.5 million acres improved during the FY2006-2010 time period. This measure links to NRCS Strategic Plan Foundation Goal High-Quality, Productive Soils.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline (2001-2005) 6.9
2010 7.5
2012 3.0
Long-term Outcome

Measure: Tons of potential nitrogen delivery reduced from agricultural operations.


Explanation:Tons of nitrogen prevented from entering waterways from agricultural operations. The baseline performance level is 225,000 tons for the FY2001-2005 time period. The target is 243,000 tons reduced during the FY2006-2010 time period. This measure links to NRCS Strategic Plan Foundation Goal Clean and Abundant Water.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline (2001-2005) 225,000
2010 243,000
Long-term Outcome

Measure: Million acre-feet of water conserved.


Explanation:Million acre-feet of water conserved or used more efficiently through the application of conservation practices. The baseline performance level is 1.38 million acre-feet during the FY2001-2005 time period. The target is 1.5 million acre-feet conserved for the FY2006-2010 time period. This measure links to NRCS Strategic Plan Foundation Goal Clean and Abundant Water.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline (2001-2005) 1.38
2010 1.5
2012 .06
Long-term Outcome

Measure: Millions of acres of grasslands with improved condition, health, and productivity.


Explanation:Million acres of grassland and rangeland on which vegetative condition has been improved or maintained through the application of conservation management systems. The baseline performance level for the FY2001-2005 time period is 48 million acres. The target is 50 million acres improved during the FY2006-2010 time period. This measure links to NRCS Strategic Plan Foundation Goal Health Plant and Animal Communities.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline (2001-2005) 48
2010 50
2012 20
Long-term Output

Measure: Millions of acres of wildlife habitat for at-risk species with improved quality.


Explanation:Million acres of essential habitat improved and managed to benefit at-risk and declining species (includes flora and fauna). The baseline performance level for FY2005 is 1.2 million acres. The target is 5.4 million acres improved during the FY2006-2010 time period. This measure links to NRCS Strategic Plan Foundation Goal Healthy Plant and Animal Communities.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline 1.2
2010 5.4
2012 2.0
Annual Outcome

Measure: Millions of acres of cropland soils with erosion reduced to "T" (the tolerable rate of soil erosion) or below.


Explanation:Million acres on which the annual soil erosion rate has been reduced to T or below, where T is the maximum tolerable (sustainable) erosion rate for a particular soil. This supports the long-term measure for improving soil quality.

Year Target Actual
2002 3.2 3.4
2003 2.7 3.3
2004 Baseline 3.3
2005 3.5 3.9
2006 3 3.9
2007 2.7 3.9
2008 2.7
2009 2.7
Annual Output

Measure: Number of comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans applied.


Explanation:Number of Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs) applied on animal feeding operations. A CNMP is a grouping of conservation practices and management activities designed to protect water quality and other natural resources, and to assist an AFO owner/operator in meeting all applicable local, Tribal, State, and Federal water quality goals and regulations. This supports the long-term measure for water quality.

Year Target Actual
2002 1,929 2,292
2003 1,954 2,132
2004 1,651 2,372
2005 Baseline 2,421
2006 1,900 2,269
2007 1,900 1,911
2008 1,550
2009 1,400
Annual Output

Measure: Acres of land with irrigation water management applied.


Explanation:Acres with irrigation water management practices applied to conserve water or use water more efficiently. This supports the long-term measure for water quantity.

Year Target Actual
2002 488,583 462,507
2003 570,640 620,986
2005 Baseline 595,050
2006 600,000 678,149
2007 500,000 828,246
2008 650,000
2009 600,000
Annual Output

Measure: Millions of acres of grazing lands with conservation applied to protect the resource base.


Explanation:Million acres of grazing lands with conservation practices applied to protect the resource base. This supports the long-term measure for grassland condition.

Year Target Actual
2002 5.5 9.0
2003 8.7 9.9
2004 9.2 9.7
2005 Baseline 9.9
2006 9.0 11.7
2007 7.8 13.5
2008 12
2009 11
Annual Output

Measure: Millions of acres of non-federal land managed for the protection and enhancement of habitat for species with declining populations


Explanation:Million acres private, State, and Tribal land on which conservation practices have been applied to protect and enhance habitat for declining species of flora and fauna.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline 1.2
2006 0.5 1.7
2007 0.5 1.6
2008 0.5
2009 0.5
Annual Output

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


Explanation:The number of finalized watershed-level or area-wide plans that include specific, measurable conservation goals and milestones for water or air quality impacts. These plans cover an area comprised of multiple land ownerships with common and interdependent natural resource concerns, such as in a watershed. The plans are prepared and implemented in cooperation with one or more local governments and land owner representatives from the planning area.

Year Target Actual
2005 Baseline 304
2006 200 246
2007 250 220
2008 200
2009 200
Annual Efficiency

Measure: Acres of conservation applied per technical assistance staff year (Full Time Equivalent).


Explanation:Measures efficiency by comparing the acres on which conservation practices have been applied to the amount of staff time spent on conservation implementation (acres per FTE).

Year Target Actual
2003 N/A 19,980
2004 N/A 20,156
2005 Baseline 25,932
2006 26,200 30,514
2007 26,450 35,512
2008 30,000
2009 31,000
Annual Output

Measure: Millions of acres of soil surveys mapped or updated.


Explanation:This measure tracks acreages of soils mapped and updated by NRCS and partners in a number of land categories (private, Tribal lands, federal lands). Million acres.

Year Target Actual
2002 20.3 22.6
2003 20.3 22.5
2004 Baseline 27.6
2005 29.5 32.0
2006 32.0 35.5
2007 32.5 36.4
2008 32.5
2009 32.5
Annual Efficiency

Measure: Soil surveys mapped or updated per staff year (Full Time Equivalent).


Explanation:Measures efficiency by comparing the acreage of soils mapped and updated by NRCS and partners to the amount of staff time spent on mapping and updating (acres per FTE).

Year Target Actual
2003 N/A 40,242
2004 N/A 56,526
2005 Baseline 69,078
2006 71,000 76,545
2007 76,000 81,568
2008 77,000
2009 82,000
Annual Outcome

Measure: Index score for water supply forecast accuracy.


Explanation:10-year average Nash-Sutcliffe index score for 29 representative basins. The mathematical range of the Nash-Sutcliffe scores is 0 to 1.0. A "zero" indicates no skill beyond forecasting average value every year and a "1" indicates that the observed and forecasted values are identical.

Year Target Actual
2002 N/A .58
2003 N/A .59
2004 N/A .56
2005 Baseline .59
2006 .62 .61
2007 .62 .54
2008 .58
2009 .60
Annual Efficiency

Measure: Number of SNOTEL sites installed and maintained per staff year (Full Time Equivalent).


Explanation:Measures efficiency by comparing the total number of SNOTEL sites installed and maintained to the staff years spent of installation and maintenance (number of sites per FTE).

Year Target Actual
2003 N/A 17.20
2004 N/A 17.30
2005 Baseline 18.15
2006 18.5 19.82
2007 18.9 19.36
2008 19.0
2009 19.1
Annual Output

Measure: Plant materials technical documents written and released to the public.


Explanation:This measure provides a quantitive measure of the program's ability to develop and deliver plant materials technology. Number of technical documents released.

Year Target Actual
2003 Baseline 153
2004 170 124
2005 192 231
2006 220 427
2007 295 459
2008 400
2009 375
Annual Efficiency

Measure: Average performance index score for the Plant Materials Center.


Explanation:A quantitative assessment of PMC activities measured by the average of performance index scores for all PMCs. The average takes into account the FTEs for each PMC and the program. 100 point scale.

Year Target Actual
2003 Baseline 50
2004 50.5 51.1
2005 52.1 54.7
2006 53.2 71.5
2007 54.2 75.4
2008 67.2
2009 68.5

Questions/Answers (Detailed Assessment)

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

Is the program purpose clear?

Explanation: The Conservation Operations (CO) account's objectives are to improve soil quality on working lands, improve grassland condition and productivity, reduce delivery of nutrients and other pollutants to waterways, increase water resource conservation, and improve the quality of habitat to benefit at-risk species. Through CO, NRCS assists individuals, communities, non-profit groups, and other Federal, state, local, and Tribal governments to achieve these objectives. Through the CO account, NRCS delivers products and services in four technical assistance business lines to these customers nationwide: - Conservation planning and technical consultations: NRCS delivers Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) through a nationwide network of locally based, technically skilled, professional conservationists. These professionals provide technical expertise, data, and information to guide decision makers as they identify natural resource problems and opportunities, clarify objectives, formulate and evaluate alternatives, and decide on an appropriate plan of action. -Conservation implementation: NRCS delivers CTA to customers to design and install conservation practices and systems that meet established technical standards and specifications and the conservation objectives identified through conservation planning. Staff follow-up ensures that practices are achieving the intended result. - Natural resources inventory and assessment: NRCS acquires, interprets, and delivers natural resource data for conservation planning and implementation, planning and policymaking, and informing scientific and academic inquiry. Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting provides water supply and related data that support western water management and research on water supply and global climate circulation models, and study of climate trends and shifts. Soil Survey provides data on soil resources and properties that are essential in all conservation planning and implementation. The National Resources Inventory provides natural resource conditions and trends data that underpin conservation policy and program development and long-term performance monitoring. - Natural resource technology development and transfer: NRCS develops, documents, and distributes conservation technology tools, including conservation standards, technical guides, computer applications and models, and training. NRCS technical standards and specifications, adapted for local conditions, are documented in the Field Office Technical Guide. These technical standards and specifications are the foundation for CTA delivery and are recognized and used by conservation professionals worldwide Plant Materials research provides essential plant science products for better land management and is recognized as an indispensable aspect of public/private conservation initiatives.

Evidence: Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935 (P. L. 74-46) (16 U.S.C. 590 a-f), (590q). http://agriculture.senate.gov/Legislation/Compilations/Conserve/soilcon.pdf Conservation Technical Assistance Program Manual (GM440, Part 525) Subpart A. http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/M/M_440_525.htm ;NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010. Statutory Authority: Rural Development Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-419, 7 U.S.C. 1010a) (The key statute in authorizing resources inventory activities within NRCS); NRCS National Plant Materials Manual Part 539.0 and 539.1, provides guidance on the purpose, mission, activities, and legislation for the Plant Materials Program http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/NPMM-539.0-1.pdf Snow Survey Authority: 26 Stat. 653; Sec. 8, Reorg. Plan No. IV of 1940, 54 Stat. 1234 (5 U.S.C. App. II); 5 FR 2421, 3 CFR 1938-1943 Comp. P. 1288. Source: 40 FR 12067, Mar. 17, 1975, unless otherwise noted. http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=5cd736132165f9b1c95404ba5b961fbf&rgn=div5&view=text&node=7:6.1.3.2.5&idno=7 Soil Information Assistance for Community Planning and Resource Development Act of 1966 (P.L. 89 560) (42 U.S.C., Chapter 40, Sections 3271 http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_430_402_a.htm Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 (16U.S.C., Chapter 40 Sections 2001-2009). http://www.access.gpo.gov/uscode/title16/chapter40_.html 7 CFR Part 610; Technical Assistance Final Rule, Federal Register: Aug 3, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 148) Rules and Regulations, Page 41999-42005 http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/farmbill/1996/CTAfnlrl.html NRCS Policy: General Manual Title 290 Part 400  Resources Inventory; http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_290.htm Technical Assistance-The Engine of Conservation, D. Helms, NRCS, Washington, DC, March 15, 2005 Partnership Meeting.

YES 20%
1.2

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

Explanation: The Conservation Operations (CO) account addresses various natural resource interests. Two-thirds (1.3 billion acres) of the United States land mass is in nonfederal, agriculture and forest uses. Maintaining the land's natural resource condition is essential for the agricultural economy and environmental quality. Intensive uses of the land, such as agricultural production, contribute pollutants to waters and air, degrade resource productivity, and diminish wildlife habitat value. The CO conservation services can mitigate the environmental impacts of agriculture production. The CO's main objective is to sustain the productivity and quality of privately owned lands and their natural resources. Each component of CO addresses a specific problem, interest or need, but when aggregated together all of the CO account components help the agency mitigate the environmental impacts of the intensive uses of private lands. For example, Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) is the foundation for the Nation's Federal Conservation efforts on private lands. CTA addresses soil erosion, soil quality, water quality and quantity, air quality, nutrient and pest management, drought, grazing lands management, and fish and wildlife habitat needs. Through CTA, NRCS administers the conservation compliance provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985, which was authorized to protect wetlands from conversion to agriculture use and to reduce soil loss through wind and water erosion. CTA supports development, transfer, and maintenance of effective, science-based proven technology and tools to deliver conservation technical assistance; Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting and Climate component fill a vital data need for state and local governments, river basin organizations and international boundary groups for water management and distribution according to legal water rights and commissions. Snow, water and climate data are essential for use by climate change researchers and land operators to make sound environmental and economic decisions each season; and for river managers, hydropower planners, and endangered species habitat managers to reach scientifically defendable water use decisions; National Resources Inventory provides nationally consistent statistical data on the status and trends of soil, water, and related resources on the nation's non-Federal lands; Soil Survey provides soils maps and information that are critical to understanding resource based issues and making informed local land use decisions; and the activities of the Plant Materials Centers (PMC), including the research and training, are fundamental to the mission of NRCS, an agency that accomplishes much of its conservation efforts through vegetative practices. PMC's provide plant solutions to conservation problems for which current plant materials or plant technology does not exist, in addition to identifying how plant technology can address conservation issues like biofuels, invasive species, and carbon sequestration. PMC activities are not fulfilled by other federal agencies or the private sector.

Evidence: Food Security Act of 1985, as amended 1990, 1996, and 2002. NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010; Annual Performance Report (sample FY 2004) ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/ITC?MyNRCS/Accountability/Perf.Report04.pdf FY 2007 Explanatory Notes https://my.nrcs.usda.gov/PortalStatic/Accountability/Budget/FY_2007_Explanatory_Notes_Presidents_Budget.pdf National Priorities, Programmatic Fiscal Year 2006 www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/natprgmpriorities/FY2006/natprgmprior.html The National Drought Policy Commission Report, May, 2000. http://www.fsa.usda.gov/drought/finalreport/fullreport/pdf/reportfull.pdf Interim Appraisal and Analysis of Conservation Alternatives, A Resources Conservation Act Report, September 2001, http://nrcs.usda.gov/technical/land/pubs/rca Americas Private Land, A Geography of Hope, 1996-slightly revised 1997; Hawaii: Local Action Strategy (US Coral Reef Task Force)-January 2005; US Virgin Islands Local Action (US Coral Reef Task Force)-January 2005; Puerto Rico Local Action Strategy (US Coral Reef Task Force)-January 2005; The State of the Nations Ecosystems, Measuring the Lands, Waters, and Living Resources of the US, 2005 Updates, the H. John Heinz III Center for Science. Documentation of major objectives and activities of the Plant Materials Program can be found in the NRCS Plant Materials Strategic Plan (2005) and NRCS Plant Materials Program Manual, part 539.0. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/NPMM-StategicPlan-Goals.pdf http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/NPMM-539.pdf Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting, American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey (2005) OMB Circular A-16, October 19, 1990 (Coordination of surveying, mapping, and related spatial activities) /omb/circulars/a016/a016_rev.html

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 CO account provides comprehensive natural resource planning and implementation assistance that addresses resource concerns at the local level. The program and the activities it funds overlaps to a great extent, however, with local units of government, the soil conservation districts. For many conservation needs, the purposes, long-term goals, and targeted beneficiaries of CTA and the local districts are the same or similar. CTA is unique, however, in that it is designed to be synergistic and complementary with the local soil conservation districts. And in many conservation districts, it is appropriate that there is more than one technical assistance delivery system. NRCS, state governments, and the local soil districts have signed Mutual Agreements that allows the federal employees to provide technical assistance on private lands. Conservation Operations (CO) is unique in that it: - Provides technical resources used in conservation planning and implementation. NRCS is the only agency that develops these resources, which are used as the basis for conservation programs administered by other entities. NRCS Conservation Practice Standards, National Conservation Planning Procedures and Engineering Handbooks, inventories, data, guidelines, specifications, and planning assistance are recognized as industry standards by other government agencies, private industry, and non-governmental organizations. - Conducts a national monitoring system to statistically measure the status of natural resources annually on non-Federal lands of the United States. - Conducts a national research program to develop plant materials for specific natural resource conservation applications. - Provides a national comprehensive high elevation snow and climate database and the ability to deliver water supply forecast information directly to irrigation districts across the West. - Leads the National Cooperative Soil Survey to conduct the Nation s comprehensive soil resource inventory on private and Tribal lands of the United States. NRCS is the only Federal agency that addresses conservation of all natural resources on private lands nationwide, using a voluntary approach. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service focus on public lands. Other Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and EPA primarily fulfill a regulatory role. NRCS recognizes there is some overlap with some Federal, Tribal, State and local programs that offer similar services on a limited basis, (e.g., USFWS and State agencies offer limited assistance to private land managers) none are as extensive as CO and all are dependent in some manner upon CO products to carry out their missions. For example, CO products are used by EPA and USACE to administer provisions of the Clean Water Act. Agencies such as EPA, USFWS, USFS, and the Department of Energy, use the NRCS delivery system to disseminate their program information and, in some cases, provide technical assistance in project planning and engineering. In some localities, technical assistance is delivered by state Conservation Districts (CDs). While CDs may have the delivery framework to plan and apply conservation, they do not conduct nationwide resource inventories, assessments, surveys or develop nationally consistent technical standards that CO provides.

Evidence: 7 CFR Part 610; Technical Assistance http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_06/7cfr610_06.html eFOTG, Conservation Practices Handbook, etc. https://my.nrcs.usda.gov/technology.aspx NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010, Appendix 8; FY 2004 Competitive Sourcing Activities; NRCS Office Offices locations-Map; Concentration of Registered Technical Service Providers (TSP Density)-Map; Conservation Technical Assistance Program Manual (GM440,Part 525) Subpart A http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/M/M_440_525.htm Rural Development Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-419, 7 U.S.C. 1010a) (The key statute in authorizing resources inventory activities within NRCS). 7CFR613 provides the most current legal description of the mission and operation of Plant Materials Centers. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/7CFR613.pdf Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 (16U.S.C., Chapter 40 Sections 2001-2009). http://www.access.gpo.gov/uscode/title16/chapter40_.html Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting (several examples) Cooperative agreements with Regional Climate Centers to integrate data with e-FOTG, Oregon State University to map climate and improve data quality and Alabama A&M to analyze soil moisture and soil temperature data. 7CFR 2.62 (Leadership of Federal part of NCSS conducting and publishing soil surveys); http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_430.htm

YES 20%
1.4

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

Explanation: The Conservation Operations (CO) account is an efficient program that is free of major design flaws. Its achievement of annual and long term performance goals is evidence of the account's effectiveness. Although CO is national in scope, it is designed to operate based on local input and priorities. There is no evidence that another approach or mechanism would be more efficient or effective in addressing the range of CO's natural resource objectives. The CO approach of combining technology development with grassroots-level technical assistance maximizes efficiency and effectiveness by transferring information and assistance from the agency to the customer or partner. In addition, by cooperating with land grant universities and agricultural experiment stations, CO utilizes the current research to improve program delivery and conservation technical assistance. Alternatives could include a regulatory rather than voluntary program, or relying on individual state or local programs to provide technical assistance and resources. A regulatory approach to address natural resource conservation concerns, in isolation, is not practical. There is no statutory framework to support an exclusively regulatory approach and it would administratively burdensome for the agency to implement such a policy. Individual state or local program approaches are important as adjuncts to a national program, but could not achieve uniform access to needed resources nationally, and inevitably result in inconsistent standards of resource management across state or local boundaries. Further, many natural resource issues require perspectives that transcend local, state, or Tribal boundaries, such as clean and adequate supplies of water, or at-risk species habitat, that only a national program like CO can evaluate and address effectively.

Evidence: CTA allocation formula; Technology Development and Delivery System, 2001, O&E, Complete (See Q2.6(c)) References on Statistical Estimation for the NRI http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI/1997/stat_estimate.html The NRCS Plant Materials Program Manual part 539.06 provides information on conducting reviews of Plant Materials Centers, (http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/NPMM-539.06.pdf) (http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/PMC-review-checklist.pdf) National Drought Policy Commission Report, Preparing for Drought in the 21st Century, May, 2000; 7CFR 2.62 (Leadership of Federal part of NCSS conducting and publishing soil surveys); http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_430_402_a.htm

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: Conservation Operation (CO) account objectives are to improve soil quality on working lands, improve grazing land health, reduce delivery of nutrients and other pollutants to waterways, increase water resource conservation, and improve the quality of habitat to benefit at-risk species. The agency allocates CO funds to NRCS state offices using science- and performance-based formulas that tie to the goals and objectives in the NRCS strategic plan and the account's objectives. These allocation methods target CO funds at achieving priority conservation needs. Specifically: - Conservation Technical Assistance uses a formula with base natural resource and demographic data and resource concern factors to respond to regional and national priorities. The formula is adjusted to reflect new natural resource factors, or factor weighting to align funding with annual and long term goals and priorities. Performance incentive bonuses of three percent target funding to NRCS state offices where program performance is the highest. For special initiatives, such as the Grazing Land Conservation Initiative, the formula is adjusted to get maximum effectiveness. - National Resources Inventory (NRI) is a nationwide annual inventory that provides the data used to assess the effectiveness of conservation programs and is subsequently used for allocating resources - Plant Materials Centers serve customers by eco-regions. Funds are distributed to host states to support an information transfer program that identifies local conservation needs, develops plant materials and application technology, and delivers to the customer. - Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting funds are based on an allocation formula that distributes annual funds by customer needs for water supply forecasts. NRCS field employees consult with the local water users to determine the needs for snow survey, and these needs define the activity scope and implementation. - Soil Survey uses an allocation formula that targets resource priorities, rewards partnership contributions, and shifts State allocations as workload changes. The formula directs funding to NRCS state offices with a high level of requests for assistance from Tribes, State and local governments, and to States with prioritized information gaps.

Evidence: Strategic Plan 2005-2010; CTA national priorities, allocation maps www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/natprgmpriorities/FY2006/natprgmprior.html Remote Sensing Lab (RSL) data collection contract - Statement of Work (SOW), Workload Analysis (WLA) and technical exhibits Nationally, priorities are established in the Plant Materials Strategic Plan (2005) (http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/NPMM-planning.pdf) (http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/PM-StrategicPlan(2-6-06).pdf) NRCS 2006 Soil Survey Funding Formula explanation.

YES 20%
Section 1 - Program Purpose & Design Score 100%
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 established long-term performance measures for Conservation Operations (CO) that reflect the major natural resource outcomes identified in the CO authorizing legislation. The CO long-term measures include: - Millions of acres of working cropland with improved soil condition; Tons of potential nutrient delivery reduced from agricultural operations; - Million acre-feet of water conserved; Millions of acres of grassland with improved condition, health, and productivity; Millions of acres of habitat for at-risk species with improved quality. Targets and goals are included in the NRCS Strategic Plan. Additional descriptive information for these measures, including baselines and targets, is located in the Measures tab. CO activities that directly support achieving the long-term outcomes include: - Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) delivers the conservation planning, design, and implementation assistance to achieve all of the CO long-term measures. - National Resources Inventory (NRI) provides the statistically-based natural resource survey data that allows regional and State land managers to assess natural resource conditions and trends and plan accordingly to protect and conserve soil, water, plant, and wildlife resources. NRI data are used to track progress toward some long-term performance targets. The Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) will quantify the environmental benefits of conservation related to water resources, soil quality, wetlands, and wildlife habitat. A CEAP grazing land condition component will be added in 2006. Primary CEAP reports are scheduled to be released in 2007. - Plant Materials activities develop conservation plants and conservation practice standards that improve soil tilth, reduce erosion, stabilize streambanks, and enhance and restore grasslands and wetlands; supporting all of the long-term performance measures. - Snow Survey and water supply forecasts provide snowpack and seasonal streamflow volume forecast information to enable water managers to plan efficient water management, which supports the long-term measures: improvement in soil condition on working cropland; increase in water conservation; and improvement in grassland condition, health, and productivity. - Soil Survey provides the basic soil resource information essential for conservation planning and implementation, which supports all of the long-term CO goals.

Evidence: NRCS Strategic Plan (2005-2010); FY 2007 Explanatory Notes (budget-long term outcomes exhibit) http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/T?&report=hr102&dbname=109& PP. 18-15 through 18-28. CEAP website information (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI/ceap/); Annual Performance Report; Sample FY2004 ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/ITC/MyNRCS/Accountability/Perf.Report04.pdf

YES 10%
2.2

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

Explanation: Each CO account long-term performance measure includes ambitious targets that reflect improvements in natural resource condition to be made by 2010, as described in the new NRCS strategic plan. These targets were derived from careful analysis of natural resource condition, conservation needs, USDA and NRCS conservation priorities, and projected CO budget and staffing levels. CO long-term performance targets for FY 2006-2010 include: Improve soil condition on 7.5 million acres of working cropland. During FY 2001-2005, CO improved soil condition on 6.9 million acres. Reduce potential nitrogen delivery from agricultural operations by 243,000 tons. During FY 2001-2005, CO reduced potential nitrogen delivery by 225,000 tons. Increase water conservation by 1.5 million acre-feet. During FY 2001-2005, CO accounted for 1.38 million acre-feet of water conservation. Improve grassland condition, health, and productivity on 50 million acres of grazing land. During FY 2001-2005, CO improved 48 million acres. Improve the quality of 5.4 million acres of habitat for at-risk species. In FY 2005, when NRCS began tracking performance toward this goal, CO improved the quality of 1.2 million acres of habitat for at-risk species. Targets will be periodically updated as new information becomes available. Targets, baselines, and data on past performance are provided in the PART Performance Measures section.

Evidence: FY 2007 Explanatory Notes (budgetlong term outcomes exhibit) http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/T?&report=hr102&dbname=109& PP. 18-15 through 18-28; Hardcopy Q2.1(a) NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010

YES 10%
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: NRCS has instituted annual performance measures that support each CO long-term performance measure. The annual performance measures were selected using a logic model process that defined the long-term CO outcomes identified in authorizing legislation (and reflected by the long-term measures in 2.1), and traced back to the annual performance measures, outputs, work products, and activities needed to achieve the long-term outcomes. The following key measures reflect these direct links to the long-term CO outcomes: Millions of acres of cropland soils with erosion reduced to "T" (the "tolerable" rate of erosion) or below; Number of comprehensive nutrient management plans applied; Acres of irrigation water management applied; Millions of acres of grazing lands with conservation applied to protect the resource base; and Millions of acres of non-federal land managed for the protection and enhancement of habitat for species with declining populations. NRCS also established annual efficiency measures designed to track improvements in program delivery. Through streamlined program delivery and aggressive use of improved technologies and budget and performance integration tools, CO is achieving efficiencies in conservation assistance as well as increased timeliness and accuracy of natural resource information and conservation technology. Each efficiency measure is tracked at the appropriate state, national, or center level (see response to #3.4 and the PART Performance Measures section), which allows NRCS to identify areas of inefficiency to be addressed, and efficiencies to be replicated.

Evidence: FY 2007 Explanatory Notes (budgetlong term outcomes exhibit) http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/T?&report=hr102&dbname=109& PP. 18-15 through 18-28; Hard Copy Q2.1(a) NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010; Program annual accomplishment reports

YES 10%
2.4

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

Explanation: Each CO account annual performance measure, including each annual efficiency measure, has a baseline and an ambitious annual target. Individual performance measure targets may increase or decrease relative to the prior year, reflecting budget shifts, emerging conservation priorities, and cumulative prior year progress toward the agency's long-term objectives. FY 2006 targets for all CO annual measures have been established to continue progress toward long-term performance goals. The full set of CO measures, baselines, and targets are found under the PART Performance Measures section of this database. Annual performance measure targets are proposed at the NRCS state level, and negotiated with national leadership based on agency priorities and funding levels. The negotiation process conducted among State Conservationists, national program managers, and national leadership, and is based on analysis of State and local natural resource conditions, prior year performance, State and local conservation priorities, national conservation priorities, CO long-term performance targets, and CO budget and staffing levels. All measures and targets are based on the NRCS strategic plan, and are reflected in the Agency business plan and employee performance plans. Progress is reported in the agency s Performance Reporting System (PRS). Reports are publicly available and demonstrate the effectiveness of CO performance in achieving its annual program goals. Targets for efficiency measures are set at the national level. Through streamlined program delivery and aggressive use of improved technologies and budget and performance integration tools, CO has achieved significant efficiency gains over the past few years. FY 2006 targets for all four efficiency measures have been established to achieve continued efficiency gains.

Evidence: FY 2007 Explanatory Notes (budgetlong term outcomes exhibit) http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/T?&report=hr102&dbname=109& PP. 18-15 through 18-28; Hard Copy Q2.1(a) NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010;

YES 10%
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: All partners, grantees, sub-grantees, and contractors commit to and work to meet annual and long-term Conservation Operations (CO) program goals. NRCS communicates these goals directly with each partner and uses formal agreements to cement these alliances. For example, NRCS maintains cooperative agreements with over 3,000 state soil and water conservation districts. Each agreement articulates the relevant CO goals and outlines partners' responsibilities to achieve those goals. NRCS State Conservationists are responsible for ensuring that cooperators meet established objectives, and penalties are assigned for failure to uphold agreed to conditions. In FY 2006, over $122 million in congressional directives were included for CO activities. To account for these funds, NRCS has strengthened agreements with cooperating entities to ensure such activities support CO's purpose and long-term performance goals; there are measurable results from the investment; and the results are reportable in the agency's accountability system. These agreements oftentimes require cooperators to enter annual performance directly into PRS. NRCS's Federal Grants and Cooperative Agreements Manual requires that all transfers of CO funds specify program goals and objectives and identify specific work products and timelines to attain those goals. Partners receiving funds are accountable for timely performance. In FY 2004, NRCS hosted a nationwide training for grants and agreement personnel to increase program accountability. NRCS certified Technical Service Providers (TSPs) include individuals, private businesses, nonprofit organizations, or other public agencies that provide technical services to USDA program participants to apply conservation. Under the Certification Agreement, TSPs agree to accomplish NRCS goals. TSPs report their performance in PRS and TechPRS. Entities that partner with NRCS to develop or use natural resource data, information, and technology, enter into agreements that relate directly to achieving CO goals for these activities. For example: - National Resources Inventory (NRI) statistical services conducted and cost-shared by Iowa State University, and NRI data collection services contracted through the private sector, directly support NRI goals for data quality and timeliness. - Partners that share, use, or receive support from Plant Materials related activities enter into cooperative agreements with NRCS that clearly indicate the mission and purpose of all parties to the agreement and the objectives to be achieved through the partnership. - Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting activities are supported by a variety of cooperators who provide funding or in-kind services that support CO goals related to improving data quality and water supply forecast accuracy. - Soil survey MOUs detail responsibilities of all cooperators at the local, regional and National level. Soil Survey cooperators report their accomplishments in the National Soils Information System and PRS.

Evidence: Conservation Technical Assistance Program Manual (GM440, Part 525) http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/M/M_440_525.htm Certification Agreement that asks TSPs to follow the goals of our programs are In the Spotlight section http://techreg.usda.gov Remote Sensing Lab (RSL) data collection contract  Statement of Work (SOW), Workload Analysis (WLA) and technical exhibits Plant Material Program- Centers engage in cooperative agreements to further the work being done by NRCS-: Cooperative Agreement between MOPMC and Missouri Department of Conservation. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/CoopAgreement.pdf Sample of MOUs http://soils.usda.gov/technical/handbook/contents/part606.html

YES 10%
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: There have been numerous independent evaluations of Conservation Operations (CO) program activities that have led to changes in policies and procedures. These evaluations include: - In 2002, the USDA Office of Inspector General conducted an audit "NRCS Compliance with Highly Erodible Land Provisions." As a result, NRCS revised the National Food Security Act (FSA) Manual, posted it on the directives website to provide public access, and provided national training on these revisions. - In 2003, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed FSA conservation compliance implementation by NRCS. Based on GAO's recommendations, NRCS increased the number of tracts sampled in 2004 by about 50% over the 2003 sample; introduced an automated web application system in 2004 for managing the data needed for reviews; increased the amount of time spent conducting the compliance reviews by 37% in proportion to the number of tracts reviewed in 2004 as compared to 2003-2001; and annually completed oversight of FSA Compliance Reviews as part of Operations Reviews conducted in ten States. -In 2004, GAO issued "USDA NRCS Cost Estimates for Technical Assistance" which recommended that NRCS improve its methods for estimating technical assistance costs. As a result, NRCS implemented all of the recommendations and is incorporating them into the FY 2006 activity-based costing analysis. The NRCS Oversight and Evaluation staff has conducted numerous independent internal evaluations of CO activities. - "Conservation Planning Effectiveness (2000)" recommended that a quality control/assurance process be established for conservation planning, as well as a review of the conservation planning policy. After this review, the conservation planning policy was amended. The agency's internal control policies are being amended for issuance in 2006. - "Quality Conservation Planning (2001)" found that states with conservation planning certification programs were more effective. After this review, NRCS required certification for all its soil conservationists and planners. - "A Focus for Strengthening NRCS Technology Delivery, Acquisition, and Development (2002)" found that NRCS would benefit from establishing an NRI support center, a resource assessment and strategic database division and clearinghouse, a national conservation technology development acquisition center, and regional technology support centers. As a result, NRCS established National Technology Support Centers in the West, Midwest, and East. - "Conservation Technical Assistance Program Evaluation (2005-2006-working draft)" found that during FY 2005, the CTA Program supported over 60% of all technical assistance provided to customers, who planned and applied conservation systems. This working draft report recommends several policy improvements and development of performance measures to capture the indirect outcomes of CTA program activities. NRCS has a comprehensive system to address the issues raised by internal and external reviews including quality assurance policy to implement the recommendations and Management Action Plans that are embedded in annual Business Plans and Performance Plans. In addition to these formal reviews, there are reviews of specific program activities. An external evaluation of NRCS customers receiving technical assistance was completed in 2001, using the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The Survey indicated that CO customers are very satisfied. Landowners, who may be motivated to seek assistance because of Federal or state regulations, have a high level of trust and respect for NRCS technical assistance. The 2005 ACSI survey of Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting found customers to have a very high level of trust in the quality of data provided.

Evidence: External: American Customer Satisfaction Index Report on NRCS, 2001 http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/survey/ASCINRCSRp.doc American Customer Satisfaction Index for Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting, 2005; GAO Report-03-418, USDA needs to Better Ensure Protection of Highly Erodible Cropland and Wetlands; GAO Report-RCED-00-83, April 2000, NRCS, Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Program and Financial Accountability; GAO Report Status of Federal Programs that Support Ecological Indicators, Sept. 2005; OIG 2000, Controls Over Funds Congressionally Earmarked for Conservation Projects; GAO 2004 USDA NRCS Cost Estimates for Technical Assistance; OIG 2004 NRCS Survey of Controls Over Centers and Institutes. Internal:1997 Conservation Planning Evaluation; 1997 National Soil Program Evaluation; 2000 Conservation Planning Effectiveness; 2001 Quality Conservation Planning; 2002 A Focus for Strengthening NRCS Technology Delivery, Acquisition, and Development; 2003 FY 2003 Contracts and Agreements with TSPs, and NRCS, CTA Program Evaluation, 2005-2006 (working draft). General Manual 450 Title 407 - Documentation, Certification and Spot Checking http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_450_407.htm GAO-05-376 Environmental Information; Status of Federal Data Programs That Support Ecological Indicators; September 2005, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05376.pdf FY 2006 Schedule of O&E Reviews and Program Evaluations; List of FY 2006 Proposed Leadership, Operations, Administrative, Civil Rights and Management Reviews (and historical).

YES 10%
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: Budget requests for the Conservation Operations (CO) account are explicitly tied to annual and long-term goals and accomplishments. Furthermore, the annual budget submission to Congress includes annual performance measures and targets to indicate the estimated level of performance at the requested level. Resource needs and agency accomplishments are clearly articulated in the budget in the Summary of Budget and Performance section. This section includes a table with the full cost of programs by strategic objective. Since 2003, NRCS has instituted a number of measures to increase the transparency of Conservation Operation's (CO) allocations, to restructure staffing needs based on natural resource conditions, to strengthen technology support and provide scientific and technological expertise to customers and partners, and to integrate NRCS state-level budgets with their performance. CO is targeted to protecting natural resources and maintaining productivity on private, Tribal, and non-Federal lands. For example, technical assistance focuses on private lands where the majority of environmental impacts occur. NRCS has also made sub-account allocations more transparent to the public (posted on the web) and instituted performance incentive bonuses.

Evidence: Summary of Budget and Performance, Full Cost of Programs by Strategic Objective table.

YES 10%
2.8

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

Explanation: NRCS developed its new strategic plan (for 2005 through 2010) to assess long-term trends and ensure that agency activities will contribute to accomplishing the agency and the department's missions. The strategic plan is the foundation for resource allocation, performance planning and measurement, and business plans. All CO activities, performance measures, and targets link directly to Strategic Plan goals and objectives. Long-term and efficiency measures are tied to key national performance measures as well. NRCS has adopted long-term measures that reflect the major natural resource outcomes identified in the CO authorizing language. The program's long-term goals are outcome-oriented, designed to demonstrate the program's conservation accomplishments in improving and sustaining the nation's natural resources, and support all the agency strategic long-term goals. Long-term goals are linked to annual performance measures and corresponding activities in the CO Logic Model shown in the evidence tab.

Evidence: Strategic Plan 2005-2010; CO Logic Model; Transition Plan for Implementing the NRI Remote Sensing Laboratories (2003); National Technology Advisory Board, 450-GM, Amend. 14, April 2005 http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_450_411.htm Strategic Planning efforts in 2000 and 2005, and revisions in 2006 have led to greater emphasis on key program goals and improvements in planning and processes http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/PM-StrategicPlan(2-6-06).pdf Active membership in the Western Governors Association National Integrated Drought Information (NIDIS) workgroup. This inter-departmental group developed a plan to Create a Drought Early Warning System for the 21st Century, May 2004; http://www.westgov.org/wga/publicat/nidis.pdf Performance Results System (PRS) reports http://ias.sc.egov.usda.gov/prsreport2006/ Quality Improvement Rapid Response Team for Soil Survey, Publications Report, 2003.

YES 10%
2.RD1

If applicable, does the program assess and compare the potential benefits of efforts within the program and (if relevant) to other efforts in other programs that have similar goals?

Explanation: Research and development efforts under the Conservation Operations (CO) program are authorized in statute for Plant Materials and Soil Survey Research activities. Plant materials (PM) research focuses on developing and transferring plant technology for natural resource conservation. Evaluations emphasize long-range plan development, performance assessment, and assure that the PMC is following established guides for conducting Plant Materials research business. NRCS cooperates in plant materials research with other research entities where objectives are complementary in order to accomplish goals more efficiently. For example, NRCS partners with the USDA Agricultural Research Service to study the basic and applied aspects of research problems that are important to solving conservation needs. On a quarterly basis, information from Plant Materials Centers (PMCs) is assessed to determine plant release effectiveness in addressing resource concerns, show potential technology gaps, and identify alternatives. Although PM does not evaluate research proposals or programs and is very different from other programs in its scope, operations, and emphasis on activities, each PMC evaluates plant research approaches utilized by the scientific community and potentially applicable plant species prior to initiating research. Although other programs have similar broad goals and purposes, i.e. development and transfer plant technology for natural resource conservation, it is difficult to compare the PM with other programs because PM focuses on problems for which current plant materials or plant technology does not exit. The PM does cooperate and partner with other programs having similar goals to improve the ability of both programs to accomplish their goals more efficiently (synergistic effect). Soil Survey Research focuses on technology needed for producing soil surveys and interpreting soil survey data. Within the National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS) partnership, Soil Survey Research analyzes and compares various approaches to problems. Yearly, NCSS convenes state-wide work planning conferences with Research Needs Advisory Committees. These committees, along with partners and users, evaluate local research projects for method, applications, and results. The conclusions of these committees are consolidated into advisory reports from NCSS Regional Committees every other year and are further consolidated in opposite years nationally by the NCSS Research Agenda Committee at the National NCSS Work Planning Conferences. These advisory group reports are documented by NCSS Conference Proceedings. The reports are based strictly on synthesis and usefulness of research towards common prioritized goals. In addition to statutorily authorized research, CO supports research with outside agencies and organizations to benefit conservation and the partnering agencies. Such partnerships are entered into where the parties have mutual objectives, and the benefits of partnering are greater than conducting the effort internally. For example, the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) process model and Wind Erosion Prediction System (WEPS) were developed in partnership with ARS, and are used by both agencies and many other external entities. Agreements with the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESUs) Network Members result in studies and research that is conducted to benefit all partners.

Evidence: Reimbursement or Advance of Funds Agreement between NRCS and ARS for services provided in support and implementation of the Wind Erosion Prediction System (WEPS). Includes WEPS 1.0 Testing Agreement.

YES 10%
2.RD2

Does the program use a prioritization process to guide budget requests and funding decisions?

Explanation: The Conservation Operation (CO) account's primary research and development activities are Plant Materials (PM) and Soil Survey Research. Critical goals identified in the NRCS Strategic Plan determine general priorities. For PM, highest priority is given to emerging conservation needs that can be addressed with plant technology. NRCS national office passes this information to the states and Plant Materials Centers (PMCs) through direct contact and information on the PM website. PMCs consult with advisors, partners, and customers to determine conservation needs within their service area. The State Plant Materials Advisory Committee prioritizes projects and documents decisions in the State Plant Materials Advisory Committee meeting minutes. All needs must tie back to the strategic plan. High priority items are addressed under the guidance of National Plant Materials Program performance goals. Funding is based on the results of the PM Program Performance Index and the efficiency of each center. In addition, PM fulfills the President's Management Agenda for enhancing E-government by developing electronic resources to collect data and improving electronic information delivery, such as through the PM Web site. Soil Survey uses committee reports from the National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS) conferences, strategic planning priorities and agency mission priorities to establish and refine annual research priorities. The priorities and this process are documented in NCSS proceedings of the Research Needs Committees. Program priorities are identified yearly through leadership meetings and the summation of Committee reports from NCSS Conferences and then used as a guide to allocate resources to NRCS soil survey research projects. Soil Survey shares annual priority list summaries as well as updates on annual business plans and internal program strategic plans through the NCSS partnership. The National Geospatial Development Center distributes funds competitively through Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit and solicitations in Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps), with some limited internal distribution to NRCS state offices. The NCSS Research Priority Committee is used to help review research proposals, to assure they will address priorities identified by the NCSS Research Needs Committee that the research methods are sound, and the budgets are reasonable for the proposal personnel and methods. Quality controls and adherence to prioritized goals are maintained through Requests for Proposals, detailed work performance plans and cooperative agreements, with annual quality assurance checks embedded in the performance work plans. The National Soil Survey Center uses most of its funding internally to assist and service states in their research activities based on established national priorities. Funds are distributed on the priorities and goals of the Agency.

Evidence: Funding priorities are decided based on the major goals and objectives of the Plant Materials Strategic Plan, which relates directly to the NRCS Strategic Plan and Goals. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/StategicPlan-Goals.pdf 2005 Strategic Plan - Soil Survey

YES 10%
Section 2 - Strategic Planning Score 100%
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 regularly collects Conservation Operations (CO) account performance data through the Integrated Accountability System (IAS). The IAS enables the agency to report program progress, evaluate agency and partner performance, adjust program priorities, and re-allocate resources. The IAS is a system of data collection tools, processes, and related applications that provides information in a timely manner to support the agency's strategic and performance planning and monitoring, budget formulation, business planning, operations management, workforce planning, and accountability activities. The components of the accountability system include: - Performance Results System (PRS) that provides web-based performance accomplishment data by program updated daily; - Program Operations Information Tracking System (POINTS) that provides web-based program information that includes performance information on activities in Conservation Operations such as Soil Survey. Other program manager databases are scheduled for inclusion in POINTS and include the Plant Materials Operations and Management System (POMS) to collect program activities and accomplishments on a quarterly basis. - Total Cost Accounting System (TCAS) in which each employee records time and attendance information by program, activity, and location, via the web; and, - Foundation Financial Information System that tracks obligations and disbursements of funds. Each system has business rules, performance measure definitions, and specific automated queries to check for erroneous data entries. Reports are available on the agency public website providing daily updates to performance by location to the general public. In addition more detailed reports on time, costs and performance are provided to employees and managers on the agency intranet via the Conservation Information System reports. Weekly reports are provided to agency senior leaders reflecting performance accomplishments towards annual goals. Results are analyzed each quarter for credibility and progress toward meeting goals. The web-based systems are designed to capture partner input data and allow some flexibility at the state and local level. Examples of reports and business definitions are provided as evidence. NRCS has developed and implemented a Conservation Information System (CIS) that provides direct access to budgetary, performance, and staff year data for improved decision making and performance monitoring capabilities. NRCS has also developed a Business Intelligence Dashboard that integrates several components of the IAS for improved decision making, performance monitoring, and program management capabilities. Agency internal controls including on going quality assurance and state operations reviews protect the integrity of the data collected. State Conservationists are required to attest to the quality of their performance information as well as that of their partners. Data quality is evaluated throughout the data input and summary phases. Data quality checks are conducted on a regular basis to fully document Agency and partnership performance.

Evidence: Annual Performance Report; Sample FY2004; Performance Results System (PRS) various reports; PRS Field Performance Measure descriptions and Business Definitions; PRS Summaries http://ias.sc.egov.usda.gov/PRSHOME; Remote Sensing Lab (RSL) data collection contract; Statement of Work (SOW), Workload Analysis (WLA) and technical exhibits; The Plant Materials Operations and Management System (POMS) database collects data on program activities and accomplishments. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/POMS-Architecture.doc; Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting, American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey (2005) FY 1999-2005 Progress Reports http://ssschedule.nrcs.usda.gov/ Conservation Information System (CIS) https://my.nrcs.usda.gov/cis.aspx

YES 12%
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: NRCS managers and all employees have performance reporting requirements in their Individual Performance Plans. All performance standards are tied into agency and USDA strategic plan goals through business plans, which provide a roadmap to successful completion of performance goals. If goals associated with cost, scheduling, and performance are not met appropriate actions are taken, such as placing responsible individuals under opportunity-to-improve plans. When partners deliver agency services, NRCS develops agreements to hold those partners to the same standards as agency allowance holders. It is agency policy that funds administered through agreements with partners meet the intended program purposes and objectives. Products and services specified in agreements must lead to specific accomplishments and are entered into the agency performance reporting system. At the National level, Deputy Chiefs, Division Directors, Program Managers, and other key staff are held accountable for appropriate National Performance Measures, through the National Business Plan and Individual Performance Plans. At the state level, NRCS designates key personnel in the state office to coordinate program delivery. NRCS State Conservationists are responsible and accountable for overall program implementation and results, including identifying, monitoring, and analyzing performance indicators and financial integrity. It is the responsibility of NRCS State Conservationists to report progress data on a daily basis for both Agency and partner contributions to specified goals. The Deputy Chief for Strategic Planning and Accountability provides national oversight. NRCS state offices have performance goals in their annual performance plans. State offices conduct quality assurance reviews of completed projects as well as the work performed by NRCS partner organizations that help to deliver Conservation Operations (CO). Allocations of financial resources to NRCS state offices and Plant Materials Centers are based, in part, on performance and cost-effectiveness criteria. The Integrated Accountability System (IAS) allows managers to evaluate performance, adjust program priorities, and allocate/re-allocate resources. Financial reimbursements are tracked through the Foundation Financial Information System (FFIS) and audited periodically. In addition NRCS performs internal audits of cooperative agreements with partners. The Business Intelligence Dashboard provides a real time, on-line status review of financial obligations and outlays. Program managers at headquarters and State offices monitor deliverable agreements and take action on deficiencies. MOUs or cooperative agreements state the cost, schedule, and performance results. Meetings with partner agencies are conducted quarterly to document progress. NRCS designates individual contract liaisons to ensure that partners provide appropriate reports and comply with contract components.

Evidence: Conservation Technical Assistance Program Manual (GM440, Part 525) http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/M/M_440_525.htm Contribution Agreement between Conservation Technology Information Center and the USDA-NRCS, NRCS 68-3A75-5-75. NRCS Policy: General Manual title 290 Part 400  Resources Inventory http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_290.htm Plant Materials Centers are held accountable through the budgeting and performance goaling process http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/NB_190_5_11.pdf Adherence to program performance standards is required and defined by agreement. Contract and agreement administration control over results. NWCC / SS/WSF Program Manger received one week of formal training on program administration, August 2004. NRCS Accountability System policy, http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_340.htm

YES 12%
3.3

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

Explanation: Conservation Operations (CO) account funds are obligated in a timely manner and expended to meet CO objectives. Evidence of this strong record of sound performance management includes: - The CO Program has never been anti-deficient. - Program funds are obligated consistent with the Foundation Financial Information System planning budgets prepared by each allowance holder. - Carryover funds over the past six years have averaged less than two percent. - Internal controls are effective. During the 2005 agency risk assessment of Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), a judgmental sample of 53 transactions totaling $2,457,361.79 from 48 States and the Pacific Basin Area indicated payment amounts were correct and made to the proper person. Asset acquisition was supported by properly approved requisition requests. - Programmatic internal controls include (1) Oversight and Evaluation Team , Operations, Leadership, and Compliance reviews, and (2) web-based, centralized data bases of financial, performance, and activity information and their associated reporting systems are monitored at the national, state, and field levels. CO Program funds are distributed to NRCS state offices via national-level formulas based on natural resource conditions and concerns as outlined in the agency strategic plan, the associated workload, operational efficiencies, and long term performance measures targets. States offices prepare a detailed performance plan that links CO funds directly to annual performance measures and includes an individual State target. Funding obligation schedules and corresponding annual performance targets linked to the resource needs in the program detail of the strategic plan are reported nationally on a quarterly basis. NRCS State and national performance compared to annual targets are monitored weekly by Agency leadership. As the year progresses, funds may be re-distributed to achieve CO performance objectives. Adequate procedures exist via the prescribed parameters and internal controls of the Foundation Financial Information System to ensure CO fund integrity. The Conservation Information System brings together financial data, time by activity, and results from the Performance Results System to provide cost data and performance data for efficiency and effectiveness analysis at the national, State, and field office level. The system can flag anomalies and direct appropriate management actions to improve performance management.

Evidence: CO accounts and activities: CO Funding Formulas; NRCS Budget and Accounting documents. CTA: Risk Assessment

YES 12%
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 specific initiatives and regular procedures in place to measure and achieve efficiencies and cost effectiveness in Conservation Operations (CO) program execution. NRCS is accomplishing CO efficiency gains through establishment of efficiency measures, competitive sourcing, management initiatives, and Information Technology (IT) and e-government, improvements. Efficiency Measures - NRCS adopted four efficiency measures to measure and achieve efficiencies and cost effectiveness of Conservation Operations program. See the PART Performance Measures section of this database for a list of measures. CO baselines have been established to allow tracking of gains over time. Several CO efficiency measures are common to a number of programs, allowing broader comparisons. Competitive Sourcing - During FY 2005, the NRCS National Cartography and Geospatial Center (NCGC) began implementing the Government's Most Efficient Organization (MEO) as the winning bid in the A-76 Competitive Sourcing Study. The estimated savings are $10 million over five years from implementation of the MEO. In FY2006, NRCS will complete standard competitions for Geological Analysis (36 FTEs), Soil Conservation Technician (280 FTEs) and Civil Engineering Technicians (118 FTEs). An estimated $4.4 million will be saved in Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007 as a result of competitive sourcing; these funds will be directed to high-priority CO conservation activities and relocation and pay retention for employees covered by the Geological Analysis Function study. Management Initiatives - NRCS is using Rapid Watershed Assessments to provide initial estimates of where CO investments would best address the natural resource concerns of stakeholders. Assessments help local priority setting and provide a platform for conservation program delivery that will improve efficiencies and reduce costs. NRCS consolidated National Resources Inventory data collection operations into three centralized Remote Sensing Labs are using automated technology gain efficiencies in producing the annual inventory. IT Initiatives and E-Government - These initiatives are helping to gain efficiencies in CO and providing the data to track progress. The agency's Customer Service Toolkit application reduces the time to develop conservation plan maps and other resource data by approximately 30 percent. Automated Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) data collection that will reduce FTEs needed for snowpack data collection. The National Resources Inventory and Web Soil Survey streamline the publication process and provide resource information directly on the web for public use. The Integrated Accounting System (IAS) provides performance and cost data to needed by managers to track Agency progress in meeting goals and facilitating monitoring for performance management.

Evidence: Chiefs testimony to congress April 6, 2005 http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/about/legislative/pdf/FY_2006_Chief_House_4-6-05.pdf NRI website to obtain NRI results http://nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI Operational and performance efficiency is measured within the Plant Materials Program by comparing activities and products at Plant Materials Centers through the use of the Performance Index; http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/PMC-PerformIndex.pdf The SS/WSF program works with the National Business Center to develop technical specifications required to complete a successful contract and the lowest cost possible for equipment used in the automated SNOTEL network. Similarly, the program utilizes existing Government contracts to secure the necessary IT equipment at the lowest cost.

YES 12%
3.5

Does the program collaborate and coordinate effectively with related programs?

Explanation: Collaboration with other Federal, Tribal, State, and local efforts, which is central to Conservation Operations (CO) program's authorized purpose. NRCS uses locally led conservation, State Technical Committees, cooperative agreements, and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with conservation districts to collaborate and coordinate effectively with related programs. These locally led efforts use CO soil, snow, climate, and soil moisture data, NRI information; water supply forecasts; vegetation standards; and standards and specifications to plan and apply conservation practices on private and public lands. State Technical Committees consisting of representatives of Federal, Tribal, State, and local agencies; agribusiness; conservation organizations; and others with conservation expertise assist in identifying local conservation and cost share priorities for the process. CO coordination and collaboration examples include: - Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) provides the local delivery system and framework for locally led conservation, and supporting other Federal, Tribal, State, and local conservation programs. - National Resources Inventory (NRI) collaborates with other Federal partners on resource inventories to ensure data consistency and program integrity, and in conducting conservation benefits assessment through the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). - Plant Materials (PM) uses in-kind collaboration to address land resources, specialized equipment, labor, publications, and release of plant products. Through cooperative agreements, the Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy (ESCOP) establishes uniform standards for State Agricultural Experiment Stations, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and NRCS. - Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting (Snow Survey) collaborates with universities, National Weather Service Climate Centers, and other agencies, to improve water supply forecast accuracy. -Soil Survey collaborates through the National Cooperative Soil Survey to conduct soil survey efforts for the Nation. - Through the Coordinated Resource Management (CRM), NRCS collaborates with Federal, state, tribal, local agencies, and organizations, groups, and individuals where land ownership is mixed. The CRM process, CO coordinates resource planning, management, and education activities for sound resource management on Federal and non-federal lands. - Collaboration is extensive among the Service Center Agencies (SCA) - Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Rural Development. The web-based USDA Service Center Information Management System (SCIMS) provides SCAs with customer information and is used in other USDA Web services and applications including Customer Service Toolkit. NRCS and FSA collaborate extensively in the National Aerial Imagery Program (NAIP) on digital ortho-photography in support of conservation planning and soil survey mapping.

Evidence: Conservation Technical Assistance Program Manual (GM440, Part 525) http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/M/M_440_525.htm CEAP documents http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI/ceap/ The Plant Materials Program cooperates extensively with other agencies at the federal, state, and county level. Coordination with ARS and Universities for the selection of new conservation plants is through the ESCOP agreement. There have been numerous new conservation plants released and there are currently many technology studies underway in cooperation with other agencies. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/ESCOP-Agreement.pdf http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/Studies-OtherAgencies.pdf http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/CooperativeReleases.pdf Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting  (several examples) Cooperative agreements with Regional Climate Centers to integrate data with eFOTG, Oregon State University to map climate and improve data quality and Alabama A&M to analyze soil moisture and soil temperature data. http://soils.usda.gov/partnerships/ncss/conferences/index.html General Manual 430 http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_430.htm

YES 12%
3.6

Does the program use strong financial management practices?

Explanation: Conservation Operations (CO) uses the Foundation Financial Information System (FFIS) to track payments. CO payments are issued through the National Finance Center. 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 requirements, applicable Federal accounting standards, and the Standard General Ledger at the transaction level. The Agency Chief Financial Management Officer certifies annually that the NRCS financial management system is in compliance. USDA's FY2005 Performance and Accountability Report identified three material deficiencies including: Information security weakness in the Department's ability to protect its assets from fraud, misuse and disruption; improvement needed in financial accounting and reporting policies, practices and procedures; and improvement needed in funds control mechanisms. Only the information security weakness applied to NRCS and the findings did not apply to CO activities.

Evidence: NRCS FFIS Manual "National Finance Center Procedures, Title IX, FFIS Manual, Chapter 6, NRCS" and related reports http://dab.nfc.usda.gov/pubs/docs/ffisnrcs/ffisnrcs.pdf Risk Assessment for Conservation Technical Assistance

YES 12%
3.7

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

Explanation: NRCS has a number of internal and external processes in place to evaluate CO program management and correct any deficiencies that are identified. The four principal types of reviews within NRCS include: Oversight and Evaluation, State Quality Reviews, Operations Reviews and Functional Reviews. Follow-up actions to respond to the recommendations are tracked in Management Actions Plans database and monitored for accomplishment on a quarterly basis. All CO activites have had periodic operations reviews at the state and national levels to identify deficiencies. Action Plans to correct deficiencies are tracked by the Oversight and Management Division and addressed by the CO program managers. In FY 2005, NRCS developed a Conservation Technical Assistance Manual that promulgated agency technical assistance policies and procedures, in order to increase overall accountability. Steps taken to improve management include increasing the transparency of CO's allocations, restructuring staffing based on natural resource conditions and needs, and integrating NRCS state offices' budgets with performance. Six CTA national priorities have been established to assist staff in prioritizing the FY 2006 workload. Also, NRCS continues to improve CO's efficiency and effectiveness by addressing resource concerns via a locally led watershed approach, implementing rapid watershed assessments, and adopting five efficiency measures with specific baselines and targets. In addition, the Integrated Accountability System (IAS) has been developed and the program managers are able to track performance and fund accountability daily. The National Resources Inventory (NRI) has improved management by formalizing NRI Policy, progressing to an annual survey, instituting a Quality Assurance program, implementing a new structure for data collection at Remote Sensing Laboratories, and establishing an Advisory Group. The Snow Survey activity applies usual and customary business management practices including self evaluations, coordination with partners, and periodic assessments. The Soil Survey Division established the National Geospatial Development Center and instituted better controls for targeting research funding through a competitive process. A full independent evaluation of the Soil Survey and Resources Assessment databases and electronic delivery system, including development of an Information System Plan, was initiated in 2005 and is being conducted by Gartner, Inc.

Evidence: Conservation Technical Assistance Program Manual (GM440, Part 525) http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/M/M_440_525.htm FY 2006 CTA National Priorities; NRI Policy, GM Title 290, Part 400 http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov Strategic planning efforts in 2000 and 2005/2006 have led to greater emphasis on key program goals and improvements in management processes. Results of the 2000 effort prompted creation of a National Advisory Committee. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/PM-StrategicPlan(2-6-06).pdf A Marketing Plan was recently completed to more effectively meet one of our primary Program goals of improving technology transfer. At PMCs, the Performance Index is used for evaluating and addressing management deficiencies. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/PM-MarketingPlan.pdf Uniform data collection and utilization has been greatly enhanced through development of the Plant Materials Operations and Management System; Snow Survey established a State Conservationist Program Advisory Group in 2005 to provide program guidance and correct any program deficiencies. USDA Year 2000 Review of information activities determined that the 7 day / 24 hour per day functions of this program for current information and water supply forecasts were Mission Critical. National Cooperative Soil Survey Advisory Committee, 1997-2006; http://www.soils.usda.gov/partnerships/ncss/conferences/index.html Soil Survey Program functional reviews reports 1999 to 2006 and reports on actions taken.

YES 12%
3.RD1

For R&D programs other than competitive grants programs, does the program allocate funds and use management processes that maintain program quality?

Explanation: Plant Materials (PM) does not award funds for external research and development for plant selection or plant development technology. Plant Materials Centers undergo resource evaluation and prioritization processes with advisors, partners, and customers to target funds internally. High priority items are addressed under the guidance of National Plant Materials Program performance goals. Soil Survey funding for R&D is distributed competitively by the National Geospatial Development Center to non-NRCS entities using Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Units (CESU) and through open competitive solicitation in Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps). Quality controls and adherence to prioritized goals are maintained through the Requests for Proposals, detailed work performance plans and cooperative agreements, with annual quality assurance checks embedded in the performance work plans. Additional funding to support Soil Survey research projects at the National Soil Survey Center and Soil Survey Laboratory (NSSC/SSL) are targeted to national priorities developed by the National Cooperative Soil Survey (NCSS) Conference Research Committees and New Technology Committees. At regularly scheduled intervals, NSSC/SSL research scientists and their projects are reviewed through peer panels under OPM RGEG guidelines TS-52 (June 1964), TS-23, (revised January 1976) and an NRCS supplemental RGE Guide. In addition, results from research projects are reviewed by NCSS Research Needs committees to evaluate outcomes and compare results. Research and development at both facilities focus on aiding the field soil scientist in solving soil classification problems and interpretation of soil properties, as well as developing technologic improvements to increase efficiency in soil survey and field office operations. MOU's or cooperative agreements that utilize Conservation Operations funds state the cost, schedule, and performance results. Meetings with partner agencies are conducted quarterly to document progress. All agreements address agency goals and priorities.

Evidence: Snow Survey allocated funds using Cooperative Ecosystem Studies unit (CESU) Network, composed of primarily universities, that optimizes the use of funds to perform research and improve products. Examples include Oregon Sate University, Alabama A&M and the University of Washington. Reports from NCSS Research Committees, 2005 Example http://soils.usda.gov/partnerships/ncss/conferences/national_2005/committees.html#research OPM RGEG guidelines TS-52 (June 1964), TS-23,(revised January 1976) and an NRCS supplemental RGE Guide.

YES 12%
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: Conservation Operations (CO) continues to make progress toward achieving its long-term outcomes. Over the last 5 years, CO has: - Improved soil condition on 6.9 million acres of working cropland. - Reduced potential nitrogen delivery from agricultural operations by 225,000 tons. - Increased water conservation by 1.38 million acre-feet. - Improved grassland condition, health, and productivity on 48 million acres of grazing land. Additionally, NRCS began tracking improvements in habitat quality for at-risk species in FY 2005 for CO. In FY 2005, CO improved the quality of 1.2 million acres of habitat for at-risk species. CO performance was particularly strong in 2005, with targets being exceeded for almost all of the CO annual performance measures, which directly and indirectly support the long-term performance targets. NRCS has issued a new Strategic Plan, which contains new long-term performance targets for the FY 2006-2010 time period. Building on the strong performance trend, and with the additional focus and motivation provided by the new NRCS Strategic Plan, the Agency is solidly positioned to achieve its long-term CO outcomes.

Evidence: NRCS Strategic Plan 2005-2010; see Performance Measures Section of this database.

LARGE EXTENT 13%
4.2

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

Explanation: Conservation Operations (CO) program performance was strong in 2005, with targets being exceeded for all of the account's annual performance measures. FY 2005 annual performance also was higher than in previous years (FY 2002-2004 average) for each annual performance measure. CO performance highlights for FY 2005 included: - The annual goal for reducing acreage of cropland soils damaged by erosion was exceeded by 11%. - Grazing lands with conservation applied to protect the resource base exceeded its goal by 32%. - The target for soil survey acres mapped or updated was exceeded by 8.5%. - The number of Plant Material technical documents written and made available to the public exceeded the target by 23%. Gains also were made for each of the program's annual efficiency measures: - The acres of conservation plans applied per FTE have increased by 30 percent since 2003. - The efficiency of Plant Materials Centers increased by 0.6 percent in FY 2004, and by 5 percent in FY 2005. - The number of SNOTEL water supply forecast sites installed and maintained per FTE increased by almost 5 percent in FY 2005. - Acres of soil surveys mapped or updated per FTE have risen by more than 22 percent since FY 2004.

Evidence: See Performance Measures Section of this database.

YES 20%
4.3

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

Explanation: NRCS developed program efficiency measures for Conservation Operations (CO) in FY2005. Prior year data that support these efficiency measures indicate that CO has generated efficiency gains for each annual efficiency measure. - The acres of conservation plans applied per FTE has increased by 30 percent since FY 2003. Improved efficiency is the result of more accurate reporting mechanisms, as well as policy and IT improvements (e.g. use of Customer Service Toolkit, National Conservation Planning Database, etc.) that support conservation planning and technical assistance provided to landowners. During FY 2004, the Total Cost Accounting System (TCAS) activities were redefined to improve the accuracy of cost information, and ultimately improve the annual performance measures and efficiency measures to better reflect the activities funded by the program, through the use of Direct Charge for time worked. Also, the inclusion of a performance factor in the funds allocation formula is expected to stimulate additional efficiency gains in future years. - The efficiency of Plant Materials Centers has been monitored through a performance index since FY 2003. The efficiency model measures cost effectiveness based on a Plant Materials Center's output related to the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions at the Center. Efficiency of all the Centers, on average, increased by 0.6 percent in FY 2004, and by 5 percent in FY 2005. Inclusion of the performance index in the budget allocation formula should continue to foster efficiency gains. - The number of automated SNOwpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) water supply forecast sites installed and maintained per FTE increased by almost 5 percent in FY 2005 as a result of reducing the number of manual snow course collections. - Acres of soil surveys mapped or updated per FTE has risen by more than 22 percent since FY 2004, and should continue to rise as a result of action taken by agency leadership to develop and implement new technology, training and improved business processes. Soil surveys are now managed based on physiographic, rather than political boundaries; they are more efficient to produce, and provide consistent, useful data that can distributed to the public in a variety of formats, especially electronic and web-based. Because efficiency gains in CO delivery are driven by actions at the regional and state level, NRCS is developing efficiency reports that will allow these organizational levels to evaluate efficiency gains over time, to monitor efficiencies for comparison with adjacent States, and identify areas where additional attention is needed. At a minimum, reports will be available on a quarterly basis for managers at all organizational levels. We expect that the increased visibility and use of efficiency measure information will motivate further efficiency gains.

Evidence: The Measures section of the PART outlines progress on the efficiency goal in use by the Plant Materials Program. Efficiency of the program, as measured by performance index, exceeded the baseline by 0.6% in FY2004 and 5.0% in FY2005. All efficiency measures are in the Performance Measures section. New Digital Soil Survey Mapping and Updating course developed and taught to more than half the field soil scientists. http://www.nedc.nrcs.usda.gov/catalog/soildigit.html

LARGE EXTENT 13%
4.4

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

Explanation: NRCS is the only Federal agency addressing conservation on private lands using a voluntary approach. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) focus on conservation of public lands. Other Federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fulfill a regulatory role. While some Federal, Tribal, State, and local programs offer similar services, all benefit from NRCS products to better carryout their missions. For example, information developed by NRCS is used by EPA and USACE in administering provisions of the Clean Water Act. Agencies such as EPA, USFWS, USFS, USACE, and Department of Energy, use the NRCS local delivery system to disseminate their program information and, in some cases, to provide technical assistance in project planning and engineering for projects. Technical assistance is delivered locally by organizations such as Conservation Districts which are not able to conduct nationwide resource inventories, assessments, surveys or develop technical standards. Conservation Operations (CO) is the only nationwide program that provides a soil resource inventory on private lands; a soil moisture, climate and high elevation snow database; a program to develop vegetation for specific conservation applications; and a system to monitor the state of natural resources on private lands. CO's components compare favorably with other programs that have similar purposes and goals. Other Federal and state agencies use CO data and contract with NRCS due to CO's efficiencies and usefulness of its data or processes. For example: The Field Office Technical Guides (FOTGs), developed through CTA, are the primary references used by Tribal, State and local entities nationwide to apply conservation on the land; for some special projects, EPA, USFS, and Tribes have contracted with NRCS (NRI) to assess resource conditions status and trends; NRI data is widely used by other agencies because it is the only national level statistically-based survey designed to assess a wide range of natural resource uses, conditions, and trends on non-Federal lands of the U.S.; Snow Survey is the only inventory survey collecting snowpack data. Although other Federal agencies generate water supply forecasts to meet specific mission needs and private sector companies make forecasts to increase revenues for their businesses, all of them use data collected by Snow Survey; and there are no inventory programs in other agencies equivalent in scope to Soil Survey. Several Federal agencies with significant land holdings and the authority to do soil survey, such as National Park Service, BLM, and USFS contract with NRCS for much of their soil survey mapping.

Evidence: ACSI Survey of CTA and ACSI Survey of Snow Survey Water Supply Forecasting program. There are 185 studies at Plant Materials Centers which support other agencies and corporations. These agencies and corporations use the Plant Materials Program because they cannot get the work done as effectively or as efficiently as NRCS can. (http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/Studies-OtherAgencies.xls). SS/WSF Program - Program progress information. Public Participation results. Unique data used by many non-Agency scientists attested by web-tracking statistics. National Cooperative Soil Survey Advisory Committee, 1997-2006. http://www.soils.usda.gov/partnerships/ncss/conferences/index.html

LARGE EXTENT 13%
4.5

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

Explanation: Evaluations indicate that the agency's delivery of the Conservation Operations program is effective and achieving results. The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Report on CTA Assistance Received from NRCS (2001) indicated that customers are well satisfied with the service they are receiving from CO. Respondents primarily received planning assistance, design or application assistance, as well as resource information. The CO score was substantially higher than the national ACSI score for private sector services and the Federal government. The report identified "NRCS technical assistance [was] regarded far more highly than most services." Similarly, the ACSI survey for Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting conducted in FY 2005 indicated that customers are well satisfied and have a high level of trust in the data that is disseminated. The activity received a score substantially higher than the national score for the private sector and the Federal government. An O&E review of CO activities in 2001 concluded that a number of States implemented a conservation planning certification program in support of General Manual policy and made conservation planning a core business activity in their State. The more recent reviews have focused on technical assistance delivered through contracts and agreements. The internal O&E CTA Program Evaluation conducted in FY 2005-2006 (working draft) found that significant progress has been made in addressing the recommendations from the FY 2003 PART. Annual and Long-term outcome-based performance measures and efficiency measures have been established, reviewed and concurrence obtained by OMB. During FY 2004, the Total Cost Accounting System activities were redefined to improve the annual performance measures and efficiency measures to better reflect the activities funded by the program. The program evaluation also showed the acres of conservation plans applied, per FTE has increased by 12 percent since FY 2003, which is the second largest time charge category used. An external evaluation conducted by the National Association of Conservation Districts, "The Future of Technical Assistance for the Conservation Reserve Program - Recommendations for Success," January 2006, indicates "management improvements and new tools to help make program delivery--including technical assistance--more efficient have been employed over the years."

Evidence: External: American Customer Satisfaction Index Report on NRCS, 2001 http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/survey/ASCINRCSRp.doc The Future of Technical Assistance for the Conservation Reserve Program, National Association of Conservation Districts-January 2006. http://nrcs.usda.gov/technical/land/pubs/rca American Customer Satisfaction Index for Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting, 2005; GAO Report-03-418, USDA needs to Better Ensure Protection of Highly Erodible Cropland and Wetlands; GAO Report-RCED-00-83, April 2000, NRCS, Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Program and Financial Accountability; GAO Report Status of Federal Programs that Support Ecological Indicators, Sept. 2005; OIG 2000, Controls Over Funds Congressionally Earmarked for Conservation Projects; GAO 2004 USDA NRCS Cost Estimates for Technical Assistance; OIG 2004 NRCS Survey of Controls Over Centers and Institutes, Internal: 2005-2006 O&E CTA Program Evaluation (working draft); 1997 Conservation Planning Evaluation; 2000 Conservation Planning Effectiveness; 2001 Quality Conservation Planning; 2001 Technology Development and Delivery System. Additional evidence: Documentation, Certification, and Spot Checking Policy, GM 450, Part 407 http://policy.nrcs.usda.gov/scripts/lpsiis.dll/GM/GM_450_407_a.htm Program Evaluations and Plant Materials advisory committees provide recommendations for changes and alter, adjust or redirect plans as needed. A sample review from 2005 is presented. Future PMC reviews are scheduled for April, May, June, August 2006. http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/intranet/PART/CAPMC-review2005.pdf

SMALL EXTENT 7%
Section 4 - Program Results/Accountability Score 67%


Last updated: 09062008.2006SPR