USDA closing FSA offices to save money
No FSA closings are currently planned for Illinois. We have an audio report from USDA's Rod Bain.
Published: Jan 10, 2012
U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled “tough choices and tough calls” aimed at slashing USDA budget costs, including plans to close 249 agency offices.
During American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, Vilsack reported 131 smaller Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices would be slated for closure across 32 states. Texas would lose the most offices -– 15 -- followed by Arkansas with 10 proposed closings and Tennessee with nine.
No FSA closings currently are planned in Illinois.
“We found there were 35 (FSA) offices that had no employees at all,” Vilsack related. “That meant there were locations we had equipped that someone would periodically come to, but not on a regular basis.”
The USDA plan proposes closing 43 Rural Development (RD) offices in 17 states and 24 Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) soil survey offices in 21 states. Again, Illinois has been spared proposed RD or NRCS closings.
USDA’s five Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) district offices will be consolidated, while 31 Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services offices in 28 states will be reorganized along regional lines and 12 Ag Research Service (ARS) programs will be terminated across 10 labs nationwide. Peoria’s National Center for Ag Utilization Research is not affected by the current USDA plan.
According to the secretary, consolidation of agency offices overall should save $150 million a year toward deficit reduction. USDA nonetheless should be able to maintain “a strong presence in virtually all counties in the country as well as around the world,” he said.
Targeted FSA offices should begin closing between now and July 1. Most other agency closings will commence over the past seven to nine months, though Vilsack argued FSIS consolidation will require “quite a bit more time.”
Vilsack told FarmWeek USDA’s plan is “separate and distinct from the program (funding) discussion that’s obviously going to take place in the context of the farm bill.” “I want to make sure Congress understands that we’re doing our part,” he said, however.
Within the past few years, USDA has achieved a 12 percent reduction in its operating budget, in part through an “early out” program for employees near retirement. The goal has been to avoid layoffs or temporary staff “furloughs” that would prove “disruptive” to agency services, Vilsack said.
He noted “we’re doing a record amounts of work” related to farm programs, crop insurance, record conservation acres, and high USDA farm and home loan volumes. USDA thus has sought an added $90 million in annual savings through reduced travel and purchases and greater staff efficiency through consolidation of crop and other annual agency reports.
USDA also plans to trim a current 700 department cell phone contracts to 10 and employ greater “strategic sourcing” of technology and equipment.
In some cases, new cost-saving moves could bring some strain to USDA and its constituents. USDA plans to close two international Foreign Ag Service offices despite a heightened workload resulting from a bump from four to 20 U.S. free trade agreements and a rising number of non-tariff trade barrier issues over the past 10 years.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) faces elimination of 15 offices in 11 states and offices in five foreign countries. Vilsack insisted APHIS closings would not affect efforts to monitor “what comes into this country.”
“We’re not going to sacrifice the quality of the work we do; we’re just going to do it in a different location,” the secretary said.
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