Thursday, May 19, 2011

Government Citizen Intermediaries

One of the issues in the government-citizen relationship is the role of intermediaries.

I remember the CED of Sherman County, KS in 1992 (Info Share days) being very disgusted with a firm which offering help to farmers dealing with payment limitation and conservation compliance issues.  He thought his office ought to be able to do everything his farmers needed, and have the farmers be content with it.  I have something of the same feeling with regards to IRS: our tax system and their software should be good enough to deprive Intuit and H&R Block of their business.  Of course, I know better.

With that as a preliminary, let me quote some paragraphs from the Jackson Lewis Civil Rights Assessment:

The Contract directed that the Assessment Team obtain USDA customer input by written surveys which were originally scheduled to conclude in August 2010 for inclusion in the Final Report by October 26, 2010. During the course of the Contract, however, USDA decided that the survey methodology was less likely to secure the type of reliable data necessary for this Assessment, and the Department replaced this approach with 30 customer Focus Groups in 10 of the 15 Assessment States, which required an extensive and time-consuming approval process by the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). The OMB process delayed the Assessment Team’s efforts by at least 90 days. As a result, the Focus Group sessions began in Mississippi on January 6, 2011, and concluded in California, with the completion of the 30 sessions on February 3, 2011.
Focus Group recruiting was difficult in large part because of low interest, and attendance was generally below normal expectations. While helpful customer input was elicited from the Focus Groups, the Assessment Team recognized the need to supplement the Focus Group input by interviewing 30 Community-Based Organizations (“CBOs”) to obtain additional customer input, essential to the process but not originally by the Contract. [page iv]
 First, I wonder whether USDA had gotten OMB approval for the surveys, before switching to focus groups. Having had to deal with those OMB requirements, I had a bit of schadenfreude when I read of the big shot law firm's problems with it.

Second, and the point. It's disturbing to learn there are so many CBO's.  That alone indicates the depth of USDA's problems: people don't create organizations just for the hell of it, or if they do the organizations don't stick around; 30 CBO's indicates a big gap between FSA/NRCS/RMA/RD and their customers.

Third.  So far in my reading I've not seen any metrics on these CBO's--how many states they operate in, how many members they have, what areas they focus on (blacks, women, Latinos), did they include any tribal organizations?

[Updated: for some reason I have a mental block on the name of the firm doing the CRA.]

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