The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has made a handful of recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve its USDA Foods in Schools Program.
Those suggestions were outlined in a new report released this month by the GAO, which analyzed the program from the 2014-15 school year through 2020-21.
The USDA Foods in Schools program allows school nutrition operators to choose from over 200 products that the USDA purchases on their behalf for use in school meals, including proteins, fresh, frozen and canned produce, and whole-grain pasta and rice. The USDA administers the program in partnership with state agencies.
During the 2021-22 school year, 28 states reported significant delivery challenges with procurement through the program, including cancelations, delays and receiving less than their full order. While states had experienced these challenges with the program prior to the pandemic, they worsened during COVID-19, the report stated.
In addition, while a majority of states said that they were satisfied with the Food and Nutrition Service’s (FNS) assistance with the program, 21 states mentioned that there were opportunities for improvement, especially more timely communication from FNS, a subset of the USDA.
The GAO recommended three changes the Secretary of Agriculture should make to improve USDA Foods in Schools:
- Develop a plan to routinely identify and address challenges within the program
- Ensure that the Administrator of FNS creates guidelines for timely communication with states
- Make sure the Administrator of FNS recognizes and communicates best practices and lessons learned with states related to the program.
The USDA agreed with these recommendations as outlined in a draft version of the report, per the GAO.
Around 15-20% of the ingredients used in school meals are USDA Foods purchases, according to data cited by the office.