The Government Accountability Office in April released a new report examining the roles of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to determine if the agencies are unnecessarily duplicating research projects and collaborating effectively to avoid research duplication.
Though GAO determined that the agencies did not have any duplicative research programs currently, they are not doing enough to avoid future overlaps.
Both agencies upload research projects into a central database – the Current Research Information System – as well as complete peer reviews and reviews panels of independent scientists to determine if any overlap is occurring.
Despite the efforts to avoid duplication, GAO notes, there are some shortcomings that may lead to duplication in the future. For example, the report notes that information uploaded to the CRIS is typically six months out of date when uploaded, which "undermines CRIS's utility as a safeguard."
Additionally, NIFA only requires a CRIS check for only about two-thirds of its competitive grants, meaning about one-third is not checked against the CRIS database. According to the GAO, NIFA has developed a task force to address this issue.
Another issue GAO uncovered was lack of communication between NIFA and ARS officials. In recent years, USDA's Chief Scientist has facilitated interaction between the leaders of the two programs, however GAO asserts that the program leaders "generally do not, and are not required to, systematically hold joint meetings for seeking stakeholder input and for setting research priorities."
Only one area within the two programs – animal sciences – has taken advantage of regular meetings, the report said. As a result, the area can be used as a model towards taking fuller advantage of collective knowledge.
Specifically, the GAO recommended that ARS and NIFA improve CRIS reporting and collaborative planning. The USDA agreed with GAO recommendations overall, and cited benefits for three out of four specific recommendations.
Read the full report, Two USDA Agencies Can Enhance Safeguards against Project Duplication and Strengthen Collaborative Planning.