FAQ: Earlier this year USDA officials announced they are going to consolidate a number of county FSA offices across the U.S. to save the government money. Where does that plan now stand?
Answer: Recently testifying before Congress, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack provided an update.
Vilsack said he plans to approve consolidation of 131 Farm Service Agency (FSA) service centers in the United States in 90 days. That would mean the target date is in late May. There are three Iowa FSA offices slated for closure. They're in Union, Decatur and Appanoose Counties in southern Iowa. By proposing to consolidate 131 FSA offices nationwide, USDA aims to help balance budget reductions and staff reductions while the agency has increasing workloads, he noted.
As part of a continuing effort to build a USDA that meets the evolving needs of a 21st century agricultural economy, Vilsack informed Congress that in 90 days he plans to approve consolidating the 131 FSA offices with other USDA service centers, consistent with provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Under the Blueprint for Stronger Service announced on January 9, 2012 Vilsack laid out USDA's plans to modernize and accelerate service delivery while improving the customer experience through use of innovative technologies and business solutions. The Blueprint included USDA's plan to close 259 offices, facilities and labs in the United States, including the proposed closure of 131 FSA offices, and also close seven foreign offices.
USDA is taking next step to modernize department as part of "Blueprint for Stronger Service"
Consistent with provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill, FSA held public meetings in every county in which an FSA office was proposed for consolidation. USDA did that in early 2012. Members of the public were invited to make public comments at the meetings, and/or to submit comments in writing for up to 10 days following the public meeting. All comments were reviewed and considered prior to the issuance of the Secretary's notification letters to Congress.
USDA followed two steps in identifying FSA offices to propose for closure. First, USDA fulfilled its obligation under the 2008 Farm Bill to propose first for consolidation, to the maximum extent practicable, all offices that are located within 20 miles of another office, and which employ two or fewer permanent full-time employees. In addition, FSA identified all offices that currently have zero employees, regardless of location.
By proposing to consolidate 131 offices nationwide, FSA is striving to balance budget reductions, staff reductions, and increasing workloads while focusing the efforts of our staff on continuing to provide high quality service from the remaining 2,113 office locations. The agency's goal is to strengthen service, notwithstanding reduced budgets and fewer workers. And the Blueprint for Stronger Service helps to achieve FSA's goal.
The Blueprint is based on a USDA-wide review of operations, in which USDA took a hard look at all USDA 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.
When fully implemented, Vilsack promises that these office consolidation actions, along with other recommended changes, will provide efficiencies valued at about $150 million annually and ensure that USDA continues to provide optimal service to the American people within available funding levels.
In addition, USDA is implementing a series of other changes that will save taxpayers' money while eliminating redundancies and inefficiencies, he says. The Blueprint for Stronger Service details 133 recommendations that affirm processes already in place, as well as 27 initial improvements, and other, longer-term improvements. The initial improvements include the following:
- 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 the quality of our work.
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. For more, visit www.usda.gov/strongerservice.