Questions About FSA Office Closures

Questions About FSA Office Closures

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley asks for more details about USDA's plan to shut down three Farm Service Agency Offices in Iowa.

Senator Chuck Grassley is raising questions about the Farm Service Agency office closures recently announced by USDA. USDA has proposed closing 259 offices and other facilities nationwide, to help save the federal government some money. In Iowa the proposed shutdowns include three Farm Service Agency offices. They are  in Appanoose, Decatur and Union counties.

Grassley recently held town hall meetings in the three impacted counties and said that several concerns were raised at each of the meetings.

"Farmers raised some valid questions, and it's important that we get answers to those questions," Grassley says. "I recognize that some offices may need to be closed, but we should understand how these proposed closings came about and the rationale used for each of the closings to ensure that they are fair in comparison with what's happening in other states."  Following is a copy of Grassley's letter to Vilsack.  A signed copy can be found here.

The Honorable Thomas Vilsack, Secretary                                       January 31, 2012

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

On January 9, 2012, you released your "Blueprint for Stronger Service," which contained your plan for finding cost savings in the Department of Agriculture through office closings and creating other efficiencies.  I am encouraged that you are looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars and create a more efficient USDA.  That being said, I don't need to explain to you how important the functions performed by county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices are to Iowa farmers.  Iowa farmers rely on their local FSA office to provide guidance and assistance with the many farm programs available to them.

In the press release announcing the proposed closings, and in briefings to congressional staff, USDA has stated the main criteria used for choosing which offices to close are the guidelines set by Congress in P.L. 110-246 (Sec. 14212), in short, the office proposed for closure needs to have two or fewer employees and be within twenty miles of the next nearest FSA office.  However, there have been questions raised about inconsistencies with what USDA has stated regarding the criteria used for selecting offices for closure. 

One concern raised by constituents is that none of the Iowa offices slated for closing are in fact within 20 miles of another FSA office.

For Appanoose County, the FSA office is located at 501 N. 12th St., Centerville, Iowa. The nearest FSA office is located up Highway 5 in Monroe County, at 1701 South B. St., Albia, Iowa.  Even with the most direct route on Highway 5, these offices are more than 20 miles apart.

For Union County, the FSA office located at 904 E. Taylor St., Creston, Iowa. The nearest FSA office is located in Adams County, which is west on Highway 34. The Adams County office is located at 2243 Loomis Ave., Corning, Iowa. Taking the most direct route along Highway 34, these offices are separated by more than 23 miles.

For Decatur County, the FSA office located at 303 SW Lorraine St., Leon, Iowa.  The nearest FSA office is located in Wayne County, which is east on Highway 2.  The Wayne County office is located at 300 S. Lafayette St., Corydon, Iowa. Taking the most direct route along Highway 2, these offices are separated by more than 23 miles.

Another concern is the conflicting information we have received regarding whether or not these offices have two or more employees. As of December 6, 2011, the Decatur County office had 4.75 employees (See enclosed USDA staffing summary for Iowa). A constituent has informed us that three employees from this office retired as of December 31, 2011, and one retired as of January 3, 2012.  USDA officials have indicated they had looked at staff numbers in "mid-December" to confirm the offices slated for closing had two or fewer employees. In addition, USDA has indicated planned retirements did not factor into whether a county office had two or fewer employees.

Could you please address these inconsistencies and concerns?  In addition, could you please answer the following questions constituents have raised?

What, if any, additional criteria did USDA consider when deciding to close the FSA offices in Iowa?

What are the estimated annual savings for each of the three FSA offices being closed in Iowa?

What does USDA plan to do to address the needs of the farmers who operate farms in the counties that will no longer have FSA offices?

What is USDA going to do regarding the county committee structure in the affected counties to ensure farmers in those counties have their interests represented at the county committee level?

What weight and significance is USDA going to give to the information, questions, and concerns raised at the public meetings to be held in each affected county?

Enclosed is the FSA "Iowa Staffing Summary" detailing what county offices in Iowa are overstaffed, understaffed and each office's level of productivity based upon the number contracts.  Please describe how this information was utilized in deciding which offices to close in Iowa.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or my staff.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

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