It was in sunny Hawaii where Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack unveiled the Blueprint for Stronger Service initiative - a move to close redundant offices and tighten up the overhead costs for USDA. USDA announced its decision Tuesday defining which Farm Service Agency offices will be consolidated this year.
In total, FSA will consolidate 125 of the 131 offices originally proposed. Those will be pulled in to other USDA service centers, consistent with provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill. Under the Blueprint for Stronger Service, USDA is modernizing and accelerating service delivery while improving the customer experience through the use of new technologies and business solutions, the agency announced.
The Blueprint included USDA's plant to close or consolidate 259 domestic offices including the FSA offices, additional facilities and labs, and seven foreign offices.
USDA followed statutory requirements provided by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill for FSA office consolidations. 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.
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, visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov/officeconsolidations.
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. The agency’s goal is to strengthen service, notwithstanding reduced budgets and fewer workers.
USDA reports that since 2011, the agency 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 also cut discretionary expenses by more than 30% in the last fiscal year alone.