Monday, November 03, 2014

Audit finds that USDA rural outreach program funds aren't being used properly

StrikeForce, a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development program that gives millions to assist farmers, ranchers and forest owners in persistent poverty areas, "selected participants with 'questionable qualifications' and then didn’t perform the necessary legwork to see whether the groups did what they were supposed to, according to a federal audit," Chris Adams reports for McClatchy Newspapers.

Three of the four organizations audited—in Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi—“had little to no experience with either USDA programs or with performing outreach activities,” Adams writes. One organization, the report said, “had no experience with agriculture, USDA or the type of outreach activities needed” and “was not qualified to accomplish the goals” of the program.

Instead of using money to promote USDA programs, one organization used funds to maintain school gardens, build a greenhouse and conduct cooking classes, which are all unrelated to the program's specific goals, Adams writes.

"The USDA, in responses to the inspector general, said it was working to address the problems although the inspector general in some instances said it was not yet satisfied with the department’s proposed solutions," Adams writes. "The inspector general made 13 recommendations; the department responded to all 13 but in four cases was told by the inspector general 'we do not accept management decision.'”

More than 700 areas participate in the StrikeForce effort. Involved states include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia. (Read more)

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