(CNSNews.com) - The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, operates 9,516 vehicles even though it only has 11,605 employees. That works out to one vehicle for every 1.2 employees.
The service promotes itself, in part, as a component of the federal government's effort to deal with climate change.
"Our goal is not just a sustainable, nutritious, abundant food supply, but also thriving ecosystems that support a diversity of life," the conservation service says on its website. "In the next century, NRCS will not only continue to tackle familiar challenges like ensuring clean water and healthy soil, but will also rise to meet new issues, such as clean air, clean energy, climate change, and new technology."
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) describes the mission of the NRCS as ensuring "private lands are conserved, restored, and more resilient to environmental challenges, like climate change," and the NRCS argues on its website that human activity is producing greenhouse gases (GHG) that lead to climate change and that farmers can help solve the problem by reducing emissions.
"However, human activity is contributing to increases in GHG concentrations in the atmosphere and the increases are causing potentially detrimental changes in temperature and other aspects of climate," says the NRCS. "Although agricultural sources account for only 6 percent of the total GHG emissions in the USA, many sources can be reduced with minimal economic impact."
The GAO reported the number of vehicles operated by the conservation service in a recently published report on the number of non-combat vehicles operated by the federal government that was done for Sen. Jeff Session (R.-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee.
According to the GAO, federal agencies, excluding the Postal Service, now operate 449,444 non-combat vehicles. That is up from 420,482 in 2005, an increase of 7 percent.
The Postal Service, according to the GAO, operates approximately another 210,000 vehicles.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service owns 987 cars, 3,387 light-duty trucks, 4,341 four-wheel-drive light-duty trucks, 767 medium-duty vehicles, 33 heavy-duty vehicles, and one bus. Medium-duty vehicles, according to GAO, can be cargo vans and work trucks while heavy-duty vehicles include dump trucks and other large vehicles.
The GAO noted that the size of NCRS’ fleet has actually shrunk in recent years, as the agency has faced budget cuts. At the same time, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the NRCS's parent organization, has increased the number of vehicles it operates--going from 41,154 in 2005 to 43,339 in 2011.
“USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) prohibited new vehicle acquisitions and made concerted efforts to reduce the size of its fleet through the disposal of older, under-utilized, high emission vehicles,” GAO said.
“NRCS also decreased its fleet when the agency closed several offices and terminated programs in response to a $30-million budget cut. According to USDA officials, these fleet downsizing efforts helped NRCS reduce its fleet by over 1,200 vehicles.”
Figures published by GAO show that in 2010 NRCS possessed more than 11,000 vehicles, when the agency had 12,214 employees.
GAO also noted that the government recently has begun transitioning its fleet to alternative fuel and electric vehicles, with the proportion of alternative fuel vehicles going from 14 percent to 33 percent of the total federal fleet between 2005 and 2011.
USDA increased its proportion of alternative fuel vehicles by 279 percent, GAO found, with alternative fuel vehicles going from 8.1 percent of its fleet in 2005 to 30.1 percent in 2011.
USDA said that NRCS had 4,287 alternative fuel vehicles in its fleet, accounting for 45 percent of its vehicle fleet.
In fiscal year 2012, the NRCS had a budget of $863 million.
While NRCS's parent agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture increased the number of vehicles it operates by 5 percent from 2005 to 2011, according to GAO, the U.S. Air Force reduced its vehicles by 4,111 (a 7 percent decline) and the U.S. Navy reduced its vehicles by 7,451 (a 17 percent decline).