The General Accounting Office (GAO)  “recently reported that there are 47 federal employment and training programs at an annual cost of $18 billion,” said Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts. “In an effort to avoid duplicity, is there any reason why the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should continue to have its own employment and training program? Is there any way you could merge some of your efforts?”

Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, wasn’t big on specifics. “Work is an integral part of the SNAP program, and has been going back to 1970 or 1971. All 53 SNAP programs across the country – all the states and territories – operate employment and training programs. It’s part of the effort of the program to make people more self-sufficient.

“We work very closely with the Department of Labor. … The advantage of the SNAP program is if a person comes through the front door, applying for assistance, we know they’re in a compromised income situation. The program is very tailored at that particular population. But we’d certainly be happy to work on ways to make it even more integrated into the other range of labor programs.”

Willing to shoulder some of the blame, Roberts asked if the programs being created “are too complicated for the agency to implement?”

Producers providing incorrect information to the programs is “one thing,” said Roberts. “But if agency staff is having difficulty implementing the programs we create, is that an accountability problem with the agency or complexity in the design of the program? Is that (Congress’) fault?”

Harris Sherman, USDA Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, admitted to “a variety of issues and problems with the Conservation Security Program. I think Congress wisely decided to phase out that program by 2012 and bring into focus the Conservation Stewardship Program.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program, I believe, is working well. NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) is actively involved in verifying all aspects of that program as opposed to a self-verification system we previously had. The improper payments that occurred under the Conservation Security Program have stopped. We’re recovering monies we lost in that program.”