A program to financially assist producers of renewable biomass crops is scheduled to restart, despite problems that led to its termination in April 2010. An inspector general report is calling for changes to the program run by the Farm Service Agency.
The Farm Service Agency hastily organized the program to meet a deadline set by President Obama in 2009. As a result, the Farm Service Agency never developed a handbook, specialized forms, or a program—specific computer system. The agency also failed to determine standard moisture levels for biomass crops such as corn and sugarcane. Higher moisture levels increase the weight of crops, resulting in overpayments for some farmers.
The inspector general found that the program over—burdened field office personnel, resulted in unequal payments to participants, and led to a lack of oversight.
The inspector general recommended that the Farms Service Agency develop a specific handbook, as it usually does for the implementation of a major program, along with specialized forms and computer system tailored for biomass repayment.
If changes are not made, the program risks “potentially resulting in further inequitable treatment of program participants, improper payments, and reduced oversight and accountability.”
Last month, the Office of Management and Budget said the program could begin again. The Farm Service Agency will introduce a new computer system tailored to the Biomass Crop Assistance Program later this month.
FAST FACT: The 2008 Farm Bill authorized $25 million for the initiation of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. In 2010, program funding jumped to $552 million.
Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.
- Power sources, such as batteries, for weapon systems and equipment cost the Pentagon $2.1 billion between 2006 and 2010. The Department of Defense lacks the necessary data to analyze the best use of its investments or develop standards for power sources. (GAO)
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has identified 160,000 applicants who received improper disaster assistance payments totaling $643 million. Since 2007, FEMA has not attempted to recoup the improper payments. The inspector general is pushing the agency to begin collecting repayments. (OIG Department of Homeland Security)
- The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration must improve its accounting of expenses associated to the BP oil spill. The agency received $4 million for spill related costs as of September 2010, but without proper documentation, additional costs for its current activities in the Gulf will not be reimbursed. (OIG Department of Commerce)
- Medicare payments for skilled nursing facilities nearly doubled, despite the age and characteristics of beneficiaries remaining the same. Between 2006 and 2008, costs increased from $5.7 billion to $10.7 billion. For-profit facilities were likely to bill higher costs for the same services provided by non-profit or government nursing facilities and a number had questionable billing practices. (OIG Department of Health and Human Services)