As budget issues linger in Washington, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to make structural adjustments. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has told Congress that within the next 90 days he plans to approve the consolidation of 131 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices with other USDA service centers. He reports that these steps are consistent with provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill, and that the measures are in line with the evolving needs of a 21st century agricultural economy.
Vilsack laid out the Blueprint for Stronger Service on Jan. 9, which includes plans to close 259 domestic offices, facilities and laboratories. This now includes the 131 FSA offices, as well as seven foreign offices.
FSA held public meetings in each county where the FSA office is targeted to be closed. The public was invited to comment in person at the meetings or submit comments in writing for up to 10 days following the public meeting—this is in keeping with the 2008 Farm Bill instructions. All comments were reviewed and considered prior to Vilsack issuing closer notifications to Congress.
In identifying which FSA offices to close, USDA followed two steps. First, the 2008 Farm Bill proposed that any FSA office located, which employs two or fewer permanent, full-time employees and is within 20 miles of another office, be first on the consolidation list. Also, all FSA offices that currently have zero employees, regardless of location, will be closed.
Through this consolidation, FSA is attempting to balance budget reductions, staff reductions, and increasing workloads yet provide-high quality service from the remaining 2,113 office locations, Vilsack notes.
The Blueprint is based on a USDA-wide review of operations, in which took a hard look at all operations, from headquarters to field offices. The end result is a plan that creates optimal use of USDA's employees, better results for USDA customers, and greater efficiencies for American taxpayers, Vilsack contends.
When fully implemented, these office consolidations, along with other recommended changes, will provide efficiencies valued at about $150 million annually.
Other efforts to save taxpayers' money while eliminating redundancies and inefficiencies in USDA’s Blueprint for Stronger Service outlines 133 recommendations for existing processes, and 27 initial improvements, which include:
• Consolidate more than 700 cell phone plans into about 10;
• Standardize training and purchases of cyber-security products; and
• Ensure more efficient and effective service to our employees by moving toward more centralized civil rights, human resource, procurement and property management functions, creating millions of dollars in efficiencies without sacrificing work quality.
Detailed fact sheets on the Blueprint for Stronger Service can be found here, by USDA Mission Area: Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS); Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS); Food Safety; Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP); Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE); Research, Education and Economics (REE); and Rural Development.