USDA Unveils Plan to Consolidate 131 FSA Offices, Other Efforts for Budget Savings

January 10, 2012 01:47 AM
 
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'Blueprint for Stronger Service' would affect other areas as well

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


Consolidating 131 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices and reducing the number of Food Safety and Inspection Service district offices to 10 from the current 15 are some of the key recommendations that USDA is making relative to generating budget savings, according to plans announced Monday.

Under the “Blueprint for Stronger Service,” USDA said the effort when fully implemented would “provide efficiencies valued at about $150 million annually -- and eventually more based on future realignment of the workforce.”

In that package, USDA proposes a series of USDA office consolidations (closings), a typically hot-button item. The overall plan, as detailed by USDA, would include the following by agency: 

  • Farm Service Agency (FSA): Consolidate 131 county offices in 32 states; more than 2,100 FSA offices would remain

  • Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS): Close 2 country offices; more than 95 FAS offices would remain throughout the world

  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): Close 15 APHIS offices in 11 states and 5 APHIS offices in 5 foreign countries; more than 560 APHIS offices would remain throughout the United States and 55 remain throughout the world

  • Rural Development (RD): Close 43 area and sub offices in 17 states and U.S. territories; approximately 450 RD offices would remain throughout the United States

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): Close 24 soil survey offices in 21 states; more than 2,800 NRCS offices would remain throughout the United States

  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): Close 5 district offices in 5 states; 10 district offices would remain throughout the United States

  • Agricultural Research Service (ARS): Close 12 programs at 10 locations; more than 240 programs would remain throughout the United States

  • Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (FNCS): Close 31 field offices in 28 states; 32 FNCS offices  would remain throughout the United States

As for the FSA consolidations proposed, USDA said those were “based on criteria that the offices are either not staffed or staffed with just one or two employees and within 20 miles of other offices.”

Under the plan, the most consolidations are in the South. Consolidations in the key farm areas in the Midwest include five in Minnesota, four in South Dakota, three each in Indiana and Iowa, one in Michigan and North Dakota but none in Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the plan at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting currently taking place in Hawaii, and said there would be public hearings on the FSA consolidations that are proposed in the plan.

Other efforts besides office consolidations would include consolidating cell phone plans (from the current 700 to around 10), streamlining of civil rights training and purchase of cyber security products and moving to more centralized civil rights, human resource, procurement, and property management functions.


Comments: The plans outlined by USDA are not surprising given the focus on budget in Washington. Now it will be interesting to see how farm-state lawmakers where FSA office consolidations are planned react given the current focus on cutting spending. Many of the locations targeted, but not all, are closer to major metropolitan areas and are not likely as ag intensive as they historically have been. Still, lawmakers in the past have greatly altered prior FSA office closure/consolidation plans that been proposed by USDA at times when budget pressures are nowhere close to what the country is facing today.  



NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


 

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