The GAO was requested to provide information on: (1) the magnitude of data sources available in one specific agricultural subject area, water for irrigation; (2) the types and characteristics of services that provide information; (3) the types and characteristics of users having a need for information on agriculture; and (4) the ways to arrange or structure various data sources to provide users with timely access to available and useful information.
The GAO found that: (1) the amount of data available on the topic, water for irrigation, is voluminous and is presented in innumerable ways by a wide array of information services; (2) users have complained that information services, which provide bibliographic data, do not respond in a timely manner and that the information they provide lacks specificity, is not in an appropriate form. or is costly; (3) different types of users have unique information needs and various levels of understanding and ability to access information; and (4) an alternative to the current approach for using the massive amount of agricultural information is an information megasystem which would involve putting existing information into one large data base. Another alternative is a user clearinghouse network which would employ a telephone communication network to provide user access to all existing information sources; it would require little user knowledge of sources or experience in accessing them. The Department of Agriculture has a conceptual plan for such a clearinghouse network, but it is still the initial stages of development.