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ARS Annual Performance Plans 2007, 2008, 2009
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Full report available here in PDF format.





The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) was established on November 2, 1953, pursuant to authority vested in the Secretary of Agriculture by 5 U.S.C. 301 and Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1953, and other authorities.


ARS is the principal in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Congress first authorized federally supported agricultural research in the Organic Act of 1862, which established what is now USDA.  That statute directed the Commissioner of Agriculture "...  To acquire and preserve in his Department all information he can obtain by means of books and correspondence, and by practical and scientific experiments..."  The scope of USDA's agricultural research programs has been expanded and extended more than 60 times since the Department was created. 


ARS research is authorized by the Department of Agriculture Organic Act of 1862 (7 U.S.C. 2201 note), Agricultural Research Act of 1935 (7 U.S.C. 427), Research and Marketing Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-733), as amended (7 U.S.C. 427, 1621 note), Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-113), as amended (7 U.S.C. 1281 note), Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198) (7 U.S.C. 3101 note), Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-624) (7 U.S.C. 1421 note), Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-127), and Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-185).  ARS derived most of its objectives from statutory language, specifically the "Purposes of Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education" set forth in Section 801 of FAIR.


The ARS mission is to conduct research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to:  ensure high-quality, safe food, and other agricultural products; assess the nutritional needs of Americans; sustain a competitive agricultural economy; enhance the natural resource base and the environment; and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.


The Agency's research focuses on achieving the goals identified in the USDA and Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area Strategic Plans.  The Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) mandates each agency to establish general goals that will contribute to achieving beneficial societal outcomes that shape and drive the work of the Agency during the five years covered by the plan.


Verification, Validation and Program Evaluation:  ARS conducts a series of review processes designed to ensure the relevance and quality of its research work and to maintain the highest possible standards for its scientists.  This process involves customer input to help keep the research focused on the needs of the American food and agricultural system.  Each of the approximately 1,000 research projects, which are organized into 22 National Programs, undergoes a thorough independent external prospective peer review conducted by the Office of Scientific Quality Review (OSQR).  All ARS employees, including the scientific workforce, are subject to annual performance reviews.  Senior scientists undergo a rigorous peer review (Research Position Evaluation System-RPES) on a 3- to 5-year cycle.  These processes ensure the continuing high quality output of the ARS research addressing the needs of American agriculture.


ARS has also completed two program evaluations that are included in the President's Management Agenda (PMA).  The PMA is designed to strengthen the management of Federal programs and increase program accountability.  In the FY 2006 budget cycle, ARS conducted a Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) analysis on all the research conducted under Strategic Plan Goal 1, Enhance Economic Opportunities for Agricultural Producers.  This Goal includes research on new and improved high quality value added products and processes, livestock production, and crop production.  In FY 2007 budget cycle, a PART analysis was conducted on Goal 3, Research on Protection and Safety of Agricultural Food Supply, covering research on Food Safety, Livestock Protection, and Crop Protection.  The PART assessment seeks to measure four aspects of a program: program purpose and design, strategic planning, program management, and program results/accountability.  The PART analysis for both Goals 1 and 3 received a "moderately effective" rating from OMB.  ARS is conducting two additional PART analyses during the FY 2008 budget cycle covering Goal 4, Nutrition and Health, and Goal 5, Natural Resource Base and Environment.


Beginning in FY 2005, ARS' National Program Leaders (NPLs) and Area Directors reviewed more than 1,000 research projects by applying the Research and Development (R&D) Investment Criteria of relevancy, performance, and quality.  The information gained from this review helped the Agency to identify low performing and/or low priority research.  This information was used in shaping the FY 2007 budget; it will also be used to make future program management decisions.  The R&D investment criteria were applied as follows:


For relevance, the NPLs assessed whether ARS' research is consistent with the Agency's mission and relevant to the needs of American agriculture, as identified by the Administration and ARS' customers and stakeholders. 


For performance, the NPLs reviewed the annual project reports submitted by each research unit.  Beginning with FY 2004, these reports provided information on how well each research project did in achieving the milestones in its Project Plan.


For quality, the Area Directors relied on data from the ARS OSQR reviews of each research project at the beginning of its 5-year program cycle.  OSQR conducts rigorous reviews of ARS' research projects by independent external peer panels to ensure their quality.  In addition, the Area Directors used information from the RPES reviews of individual scientists in making this assessment.  RPES conducts rigorous peer reviews of ARS' scientists on a regular schedule (i.e., every three, four, or five years).  The Area Directors also assessed the capacity(i.e., facilities, human and fiscal resources, equipment, etc.) of each project to meet its research objectives, an important consideration for intramural programs.


The National Programs focus the work of the Agency on achieving the goals defined in the ARS Strategic Plan 2003-2007.  The research priorities for each National Program are established with extensive input from customers, stakeholders, and partners, which is received, in part, at a series of National Program Workshops.  A detailed Action Plan developed for each National Program is available on the ARS home page,; open "Research" and select the National Program of interest.  The GPRA Annual Performance Plans, the GPRA Annual Performance Reports, and the National Program Annual Reports which serve to keep the work of the Agency focused on achieving the goals established in the ARS Strategic Plan are also available on this website.  The aggregate effect of these processes is a strengthened research program and an accountability system that measures more effectively the progress made towards achieving established goals and outcomes.


Key External Factors that Affect the Ability of ARS to Achieve its Goals and Objectives:  The future of American agriculture depends on its ability to respond to critical external factors.  Effective planning within ARS will take these factors into consideration when establishing and executing the Agency's research programs.


Globalization:  The globalization of all aspects of the food and fiber system is having a major impact on American agriculture.  Profound changes are seen worldwide from competitive markets around the world, from diseases not limited to national boundaries, to population growth and evolving diets.  These changes have led to a dramatically new trade environment, threats of exotic diseases and pests to domestic production, and international controversies over the use of biotechnology.  To remain competitive, the food and agriculture sector needs to respond to these developments.


Information Access and Communication:  The explosion of information technology, the worldwide use of the Internet, and the major advancements of cyberspace communications are changing the way private industry, government, and individuals conduct daily business.  Vast amounts of information are available in "real time," more people from around the world will be able to retrieve the information, and advanced computer software will make the information more useful and meaningful.  Advancements in communication technology offer benefits and opportunities for everyone involved in the American food and agriculture sector.


Workforce:  A very important employment issue is the need to recruit and retain a highly skilled and technically well trained Federal workforce.  The relatively low U.S. unemployment rate makes recruitment highly competitive.  This competitive environment is expected to require more employer emphasis on recruitment, retention, student employment, upward mobility, and training/retraining programs.  The public sector will need to recruit a diversity of people and to maintain a highly qualified and technically competent workforce.  Expanding job opportunities for women and minorities in science and engineering will help to tap the Nation's human potential.


Technology:  Advances in technology--such as bioengineering, precision agriculture, remote sensing, and decision modeling--enable agricultural production to enhance nutrition, protect the environment, and continue to make the food supply safe.  Biotechnology offers great promise for increasing production efficiency, improving food quality, and enhancing nutritional value.  However, concerns about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have had a marked impact on international exports of affected commodities, and prompted questions about the potential benefits and risks.  Precision agriculture, remote sensing, and decision modeling will both increase production efficiency and mitigate adverse environmental impacts of agriculture.  Public concern about food safety has led to new rapid detection technologies that, when fully implemented, will make the food supply safer. 


Changing Demographics:  Growing global populations, demographic changes, and economic growth will substantially increase the demand for agricultural products, thus creating new markets for U.S. products. At the same time, however, increased agricultural competitiveness from other countries will force U.S. agriculture to become more efficient.  Because arable agricultural land is limited, the growing demands will increase pressure to maximize yields, protect marginal areas from unsustainable development, and minimize the harmful effects of agriculture on the environment and the natural resource base.


Changing Structure of Agriculture:  The structure of the food and fiber system--from farm to market--changed dramatically in the last decades of the 20th century, and is likely to continue.  Change can be seen all across the food and agriculture sectors.  An increasing share of U.S. food and fiber is being produced on fewer, larger, and more specialized farms.  Production and marketing are more vertically and horizontally integrated.  Concentration is greater causing sharp declines in the number of buyers and sellers of a product.  Consumer preferences, new technologies, and global markets bring about continuing changes that affect farmers, processors, marketers, and consumers.


Congressional Support:  The ability of ARS to respond to the diverse needs of producers and consumers is determined by the level of Congressional support.  As a consequence of inflation and higher operating costs associated with advances in research equipment and technology, the ARS scientific workforce, which reached a maximum of about 3,400 scientists in 1970, decreased by almost 40 percent during the ensuing 25 years.  More recently, appropriations have allowed the Agency to expand its research program and hire additional scientists to bring the current number of scientists to almost 2,200.


Drug-Free Workplace:  ARS will continue to use the applicable contract clauses and regulations to ensure compliance with drug-free workplace debarment and suspension requirements in all of its acquisition programs.


General Comments:  In January 1998, ARS requested a waiver from the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) requirement "to describe specific and tangible products, steps, intermediate goals, and/or accomplishments that will demonstrate that the Agency has successfully met each Performance Measure/Goal in a given fiscal year."  With OMB's concurrence, ARS is able to use narrative descriptions of intermediate outcomes and indicators of progress instead of numerical metrics as specified in GPRA.  The research and technology transfer activities listed in this report are not all inclusive of the Agency's work.  The reported accomplishments reflect, but do not adequately capture, the broad range of basic applied and developmental research that underpins the Agency's work. 


Only Federal employees were involved in the preparation of this report.

Full report available here in PDF format.