These are tough economic times. Right now,
at kitchen tables across the country, families are struggling to
pay bills. The government owes it to the American people to ensure
that it is spending their tax dollars wisely and is not wasting
When I agreed to be the Secretary of Agriculture, I promised President
Obama I would make the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
more efficient and more responsive to the people we serve. To that
end, we are working hard to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse within
According to a recent report by the Government Accountability
Office (GAO), between 2003 and 2006, USDA made nearly $50 million
in payments to farmers who weren’t eligible to receive them.
Unfortunately, USDA wasn’t as attentive as it should have
been, and we now have an opportunity to correct this error and provide
taxpayers with greater protections and assurances that their dollars
are being well spent.
To ensure that farm program payments are only provided to eligible
producers under rules established by Congress, USDA recently announced
the first stage in a joint effort with the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS) to combat these fraudulent payments. Under the new agreement,
those seeking assistance will have to sign a document giving the
IRS permission to verify their eligibility. Just like any program
with income eligibility tests, the federal government has a responsibility
to verify that only eligible individuals are receiving benefits.
The joint USDA-IRS effort is a step toward better and more targeted
verification activities that will reduce erroneous payments.
Let me be very clear - this does not mean that the Farm Service
Agency will be looking at every producer’s tax records. Rather,
the Internal Revenue Service will scan its own tax data and notify
USDA if producers are not eligible because the IRS believes they
have exceeded the income tests in the statute. And we will be actively
working to ensure that the privacy of the producer is protected
throughout the process.
In addition, it’s important to note that our enhanced verification
activities will not affect or be noticeable to many producers. It’s
current practice for USDA to audit a sample of producers each year
to verify compliance with eligibility rules. This new initiative
will only assist our targeting of these types of activities.
This is just one area in which the USDA is working to eliminate
waste and cut costs. One of the first things I did after being confirmed
by the Senate two months ago was to ask the staff to look closely
at their programs, processes and budgets to identify waste and report
to me how they are conserving taxpayer dollars. Already, by reducing
unnecessary travel, cutting postage costs by utilizing electronic
communications, cancelling bad loans and improving the USDA’s
data center, we are expected to save $24 million.
The men and women who make their living as farmers and ranchers
are some of the noblest Americans I know. Their work to provide
us with the food we eat is essential to the strength and productivity
of our nation. That is why USDA is so serious about protecting the
farm safety net and taking all appropriate actions to reduce and
eliminate payments to ineligible individuals.
When the American people elected President Obama they sent a clear
message that they were looking for a more responsible government
focused on transparency, accountability, and integrity. USDA is
striving to live up to those expectations, while ensuring that American
agriculture and rural communities stay strong through the 21st century