Today, the State Auditor released a report certifying that the Department of Agriculture met only 60 percent (3 of 5 with one of the three certified with qualification) of its performance measures. That’s the same Department of Agriculture that, as noted in this post , earlier this month sponsored a swanky gourmet dinner in Austin.

However, the real problem here is that none of the performance measures clearly track the agency’s productivity, such as inspections per employee, or average cost for every inspection or other function performed. Instead, most simply measure the total volume of inspections and whether farmers are complying with the Department’s Byzantine regulations. Moreover, there is no indication as to whether Texans’ food is safer because of the regulations and inspections – many of which simply verify that paperwork and technical rules are being complied with.  All inspections and rules ought to be reviewed to determine whether there is evidence that they result in safer food, instead of just assuming  more inspections and more rules are better.

For example, consider the performance measure “Number of Inspections to Verify Compliance for Organic or Other Crop Production Certification Programs.” Why are more inspections at a greater cost to the taxpayer necessarily better? Are the other ways to verify compliance besides inspections? Should farmers that have consistently been in compliance over many years be skipped over for a certain period since it is highly unlikely they will change their practices? Should this entire certification process be outsourced from the Department to a private association of organic farmers, much like the Underwriter Laboratories (UL) certification mark for electric products.

The report found that the Department met its goals for:-

– Percent of Texas Farmers, Ranchers, and Agribusinesses Inspected Found to Be in Full Compliance with Pesticide Laws;

– Number of Inspections to Verify Compliance for Organic or Other Crop Production Certification Programs; and

-Percent of School Districts in Compliance with Nutrition Regulations-were (“certified with qualification because the Department’s controls over the entry and release of data into the Automated Budget and Evaluation System of Texas (ABEST) were weak and could not ensure continued accuracy.”)

However, the Auditor also found:

– One key performance measure-Number of Pounds of Fruits, Vegetables,
Peanuts and Nuts Inspected (In Billions)-was inaccurate. Incorrect data
was entered into ABEST.

– Factors prevented certification of one key performance measure:
Percent of Total Weights and Measures Inspections Conducted That Are
Found to Be in Full Compliance with State and Federal Standards

In sum, it is unsettling that apparently a lack of accurate data or other problems prevented two performance measures from even being measured, but the bigger issue is that the performance measures for the Department of Agriculture, and probably many other agencies, need to be overhauled to focus on results and cost control, rather than the sheer number of regulatory processes performed.