Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway: Oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Jul 22, 2015

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

I want to welcome the Secretary today and thank him for being here.  He and his staff have worked hard to fulfill many of the Committee’s oversight requests this first seven months.  We appreciate your cooperation and your staff working with my staff.

It is Congress’ responsibility implicit in the U.S. Constitution and explicit in the House Rules to conduct oversight of the executive branch.  The American people demand that we hold government accountable for the responsible stewardship of their taxpayer dollars.  Today, we will examine the Department through the lens of waste, fraud and abuse as identified by the Department’s Inspector General, Phyllis Fong and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ external audit organization. 

I would like to say a few words about Inspector General Fong.  She has served the Department since 2002.  Her office works hard, conducting hundreds of audits and investigations each year all aimed at making the Department more efficient.  Her investigations, particularly on SNAP cases, ensure that those engaged in fraud do not prey on our most vulnerable. 

On behalf of the Committee, I want to thank Inspector General Fong and her staff for working with the Committee over the past six months.  Oversight is essential to deterring waste, fraud, and abuse at federal departments and agencies.  Government employees must remember that each time they award a grant or a contract, it is the taxpayers’ money they are spending, not their own. 

Today, we will examine a few of the programs the Department manages and executes.  Over the course of our oversight efforts this year, we focused on the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) MIDAS information technology or IT program and the Office of Advocacy and Outreach’s (OAO) grants and cooperative agreements awarded in 2010 and 2011. FSA intended for the MIDAS IT program to modernize its delivery of programs to the farmers and ranchers.  Unfortunately, it was mismanaged as evidenced by the fact that it was $140 million over budget and only contains two of the five planned core functions. 

On July 23, 2014, Mr. Secretary, you signed a memorandum ceasing further development on MIDAS.  GAO and the IG agree this makes sense.  The maintenance of MIDAS alone is costly.  Today, we expect to hear about the path forward for FSA’s delivery of programs. 

IT program management across government has been deemed a high risk area by the GAO.  The Committee expects to see the Agriculture Department implement the identified best practices and hold the responsible parties accountable.  This Committee will continue to monitor the work of both the USDA Chief Information Officer’s (CIO) office as well as FSA’s CIO. 

We are also going to discuss today, as I mentioned, the Office of Advocacy and Outreach’s award of grants and cooperative agreements.  Between 2010 and 2011, that office, under the direction of then-Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie S. Reed awarded approximately $40 million in grants and cooperative agreements non-competitively.  In essence, Mr. Secretary, he gave away taxpayer dollars.  This is alarming.

The Inspector General recommended that those responsible for these awards be held accountable.  I agree with that recommendation. And I look forward to hearing how you have executed that recommendation.

Based on the public outcry that has occurred after other scandals involving misuse and waste of taxpayer dollars—the American people want you to hold responsible individuals accountable for egregious conduct that violates their trust. They also expect reform and we look forward to hearing about OAO’s efforts post-2011.

Mr. Secretary, thank you and your staff again for their cooperation.  I look forward to continuing our working relationship on oversight.  Thank you for being here today.  I will yield to the Ranking Member for his opening statement.