NASCOE News Flash
NASCOE President Wes Daniels and Vice President Dennis Ray recently traveled to Washington DC to meet with agency leadership and discuss important issues affecting NASCOE members. Please see their notes below for updates regarding several issues currently faced by FSA county office employees.
We started the meeting by thanking all parties involved with getting the recent OPM determination regarding creditable service for CO employees reversed.
Due to limited resources and the need to plan accordingly, Administrator Val Dolcini asked for a list of dates for next year’s area rallies and national convention. Administrator Dolcini would like to see the Employee Associations plan joint rallies and conventions to reduce travel, time commitments and cost for the national office possibly by 2017.
Membership has expressed concerns regarding the multiple sources of instruction. With directives coming through handbooks amendments, notices, email, share point files and info bulletins, it is sometimes difficult to know that you are applying the most current procedure. Associate Administrator Beyerhelm has started the review process of consolidating directives and has made that a priority for FY-2016. NASCOE was asked for feedback from the field regarding recent 25-AS changes.
Deputy Administrator Greg Diephouse discussed that FY-16 performance plans will include a standard related to Receipt for Service for all employees and would provide a copy of the language that would be in the performance plans.
Associate Administrator Mike Schmidt gave a quick overview of his new position. He is responsible for Farm Loan Programs, Farm Programs, External Affairs and Commodity Operations. Topics raised by NASCOE included ACRSI, the re-write of the 2-CP handbook, spot-check procedures and Redelegations of Authority.
The results of the ACRSI pilot were discussed and it was reported that FSA fared very well in the pilot. Mike indicated there were issues such as error corrections that were exposed during the pilot that are being addressed. Mike indicated that we need to maintain our reporting standards and not reduce them to make it work for someone else.
NASCOE revisited that procedure was changed in 2-CRP giving the CED the authority to approve contracts without the COC having to redelegate that authority. That change was made when county committee meetings were being restricted due to funding issues. With county committees meeting regularly again Mike agreed to review the handbook and consider reinstating that the COC would need to delegate that authority to the CED.
The spot check selection has not been sent to counties timely. Some counties are not receiving the names of the person to be spot checked until after crops have been harvested. There was some discussion about only spot checking a percentage of the fields or tracts if the person selected has an excessive number of farms to be spot-checked and we were encouraged to visit with DAFP.
We met with DAFO and staff members and asked for an update on items that were negotiated during the most recent negotiation session.
DAFO has made PT training a priority for FY-16 and begun a review of the old counter skills training and will be looking to modernize it and broaden it to include more customer service training.
NASCOE asked about the virtual task force that was proposed at the negotiation session to discuss shared management operations issues. This task force has not been formed yet but is still planned. John Chott asked NASCOE to send up issues and recommended best practices.
NASCOE appreciates the support of the Key PT position by DAFO and for expanding the number of possible Key PT’s per state. While not every state is taking advantage of the position, the number of Key PT’s is increasing. NASCOE asked for a report of the number of district directors, CO Key PT’s and GS Key PT’s, and DAFO agreed to provide this report.
The Lead PT position was discussed and the discrepancy between the agreement NASCOE negotiated with management and the actual handbook procedure. The agreement states that one PT in a shared management operation shall be a Lead PT if the CED is absence from the office more than 40% of the time and the handbook states that one PT may be a Lead PT. DAFO agreed to correct the procedure to match the agreement in exhibit 8 of 27-PM.
Compensation for CED’s with 2 grade 12 counties in a shared management operation. DAFO agreed to continue to review this and look at other possibilities to make this increasing situation more desirable.
DAFO reassured NASCOE that County committee meetings are fully funded and should not be restricted.
Performance ratings for FY-15 and development of FY-16 plans were discussed. A standard for Receipt for Service will be included in the FY-2016 performance Plan. DAFO also agreed to work on ratings being more consistent through all of FSA.
A priority for HR has been to fix the hiring issues. It was noted that qualified applicants are failing to make the certificates due to the application process. The main problem is with the USAJobs website. It was noted that candidates can review the information submitted prior to transmitting the final application. Barbara Boyd mentioned that an applicant tool kit is being developed to aid applicants and help them in completing the process. They are looking to have a review group look at the CO hiring process in the next 6 months. They have also hired a contractor to look at the hiring process.
One of the negotiation items from earlier this year was the Aspiring Leaders for PT’s. A contractor has been hired to develop this program. NASCOE has previously submitted names to participate in this process and all names were accepted. They are just waiting on the contractor to begin work.
We also discussed the EEO/Civil Right Element for non-supervisors and how that seemed to be the most difficult element to achieve an exceeds fully successful. Barbara reminded us that it is more than EEO/Civil Rights. It also includes Diversity and Inclusion and that maybe we are missing the efforts made in those areas when we do our ratings. She also indicated that the draft version of proposed changes to 5-PM had been sent to the NASCOE President for review.
We also discussed some confusion on the Employee Viewpoint Survey when it comes to the CED supervisor. When the survey asks the CED to answer questions regarding their supervisor it is referring to the County Committee. NASCOE asked this to be made very clear in the instructions as some members have shared that they felt like it possibly was referring to a District Director.
There was quite a bit of discussion regarding the Citrix Task Force. NASCOE representatives on the task force were disappointed in the pilot program of the new Citrix platform and felt that it did not make sufficient improvements over the old version. The IT group explained where they were on the pilot and that they would try to improve communication with the task force members. Larry Gross and members of his staff agree that the new Citrix environment has not met expectations and they are exploring new possibilities in this area.
Larry informed us that they have started holding quarterly all SED conference Calls to discuss IT issues. He encouraged NASCOE to ask DAFO for a copy of the minutes from those calls.
NASCOE reported that members had been instructed to not send in a remedy ticket in some situations. They told us that the only time that should happen is if an info bulletin specifically stated that IT was aware of the problem and said to not send in any more tickets. Any request to not send in a remedy ticket that is not specifically referenced in an info bulletin should be reported to your NASCOE representative so it can be elevated for review.
NASCOE received an update on the status of the Acreage Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative (ACRSI) project. ACRSI is designed to facilitate the flow of information between FSA, RMA and NRCS in an effort to reduce the administrative burden on producers and was mandated in the current farm bill. The goal of ACRSI is for producers to report their acreages at one location and then the information could be electronically shared between all agencies that need that information.
The initial pilot project consisted of 15 counties from Illinois and Iowa. That phase has been completed and ACRSI is in the early steps of implementing phase two which expanded the pilot to all counties in 15 states. In rolling out the ACRSI version of CARS to the pilot states there have been a couple of problems that need correcting and that was being worked on as we met.
Crop reporting has been and remains the foundation that all FSA programs are built upon and ACRSI does not change that. It is important that regardless of where the report is filed that it meets the standards necessary for participation in programs administered by each respective agency.
Acting Deputy Administrator Brad Pfaff gave a quick update on ARC/PLC payments that had been approved for release. He indicated close to $3.9 billion dollars would be issued during the cycle.
We discussed the fact that some counties have triggered for LFP recently that had not previously offered the program. In many cases the acreage reporting dates have passed. As was seen in the initial offering of LFP for 2011, 2012 and 2013 many of the affected producers have not been participating in our programs. As a result many are now faced with paying late filed fees for their acreage reports. Since those late filed fees were waived in the counties that offered previous LFP programs it was questioned if something could be done for these producers. Brad Pfaff agreed to look into the possibility that first time applicants for LFP have their late-filed fee waived.
The timing of Compliance Spot Checks was discussed and the number of fields that were being required to be checked. DAFP agreed to look into a way to make the process more timely and efficient.
The last topic discussed was the 848 form and how to make that form less cumbersome and more user friendly.
NASCOE has long supported a reliable workload tool to assist the National Office in making staffing decisions. The OBF/FSA workload reporting system has been under review to see if it can better collect usable data for measuring workload. During one of our discussions, Associate Administrator Chris Beyerhelm offered us the chance to see the new activity reporting system demonstrated. We were encouraged by what we saw and would like to thank Chris allowing us the chance to see the progress they are making.