This week, USDA announced its decision on Farm Service Agency (FSA) county office consolidations proposed in January as part of USDA’s Blueprint for Stronger Service. In total, FSA will consolidate 125 of the 131 offices originally proposed for consolidation with other USDA service centers. That action is in accord with provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Under USDA’s blueprint, the agency is modernizing and accelerating service delivery while improving the customer experience through use of innovative technologies and business solutions, USDA officials say. The blueprint included USDA’s plan to close or consolidate 259 domestic offices, which includes the FSA offices, additional facilities and laboratories as well as seven foreign offices.
USDA followed statutory requirements provided by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill for FSA office consolidations, officials note. Two sets of criteria were used to identify FSA offices for consolidation. First, USDA identified FSA offices located less than 20 miles from another FSA office that had two or fewer permanent, full-time employees. Additionally, the proposal included all FSA offices with zero permanent employees regardless of location.
Public meetings were held within 30 days of the original announcement in every county affected by the proposal. Comments gathered during this period were reviewed by the department prior to formally notifying Congress of the proposal on Feb. 27, 2012. During the following 90-day Congressional notification period, the department reviewed data used to create the proposal and public comments received during this period. During this review, USDA determined that six of the original 131 proposed offices did not meet the 2008 Farm Bill criteria for consolidation. As a result, they are not included in the final plan.
FSA will provide farmers and ranchers affected by consolidations an opportunity to choose the most convenient neighboring county office to conduct their future business. In addition, all employees in a closing office will be provided an opportunity to continue their work with FSA.
FSA is striving to balance budget reductions, staff reductions, and increasing workloads while focusing the efforts of agency staff on continuing to provide high quality service from the remaining 2,119 office locations, USDA says. The agency’s goal is to strengthen service, notwithstanding reduced budgets and fewer workers.
Since 2011, FSA has seen 1,230 permanent employees leave the agency through voluntary early separation and normal retirement that were needed due to budget reductions made by Congress. FSA has also reduced discretionary administrative expenses by more than 30 percent in the last fiscal year alone.
The six proposed county offices that will continue operating are: Lafayette County, Ark.; Boulder County, Colo.; St. Mary Parish, La.; Pamlico County, N.C.; Mayes County, Okla.; and York County, S.C. For a complete list of FSA county offices affected by this decision, click here.
The Blueprint for Stronger Service is based on a Department-wide review of operations conducted as part of the Administration's Campaign to Cut Waste, launched by President Obama and Vice President Biden to make government work better and more efficiently for the American people. The agency took a hard look at all USDA operations, from headquarters to field offices. The result was a plan that will create optimal use of USDA's employees, better results for USDA customers, and greater efficiencies for American taxpayers. For additional details, click here.