Wednesday, April 09, 2014

USDA still not saying when it will close FSA offices and which offices will be shuttered

Last month Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans under President Obama's 2015 budget plan to realign and consolidate as many as 250 Farm Service Agency offices to improve service and save costs. While the move would cut 815 non-federal workers from the payroll and reduce outlays by more than $60 million, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still has not revealed which offices could be closed and where jobs will be cut, reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. Cuts wouldn't take place until at least the end of the fiscal year, which concludes in September.

Administrator Juan Garcia told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday that "a 2008 farm bill provision, which is still in effect, mandates that the Agriculture Department must consider closing offices less than 20 miles away from a similar facility with two or fewer permanent, full-time employees before it can contemplate closing larger or more distant offices," writes Agri-Pulse. "Beyond that, FSA will place a priority on keeping open offices with heavy workloads—something the agency did not weight heavily when it made the last round of FSA closures after the passage of the 2008 farm bill."

"Garcia said FSA would also look at the physical location of offices and how many main and sub-offices surround them. Officials also agreed that closure decisions needed to take producers’ opinions into account," Agri-Pulse writes. "Over the next three years, USDA will also work to implement what it calls the 'model service-center concept,' through which the department is hoping to streamline and modernize their field offices."

Offices will be reorganized into three tiers, Agri-Pulse writes. "Central offices will house FSA management and the bulk of agency staff; sub-offices will have fewer employees; and satellite offices will operate with even more limited staffing and hours. An improved IT system will also allow farmers to file some of their paperwork from the web, obviating the need for regular truck rides to distant field offices." Most of the lawmakers attending the hearing expressed concern about office closures. Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

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