NASCOE leadership was fortunate to be able to meet with management during our trip to Washington, DC on February 23-24, 2016. We had meaningful conversations with FSA Administrator Val Dolcini, Associate Administrator Chris Beyerhelm, Deputy Administrator of Field Operations Greg Diephouse and his team, Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs Brad Pfaff and his team, Thomas Mulhern and Barbara Boyd of HRD and Tonye Gross who leads the ACRSI Initiative.
Administrator Dolcini and Deputy Administrator Diephouse
NASCOE thanked Administrator Dolcini for inviting the leaders of the employee associations to attend recent national training sessions. NASCOE was represented at the recent CRP Training and the national Farm Loan Training. This allowed the leadership teams from all of the associations an opportunity to discuss common issues and to collaborate on solving those issues.
The Administrator indicated he would have good representation from the National Office at the 2016 National NASCOE Convention in Cedar Rapids, IA. This is a tremendous opportunity for field office employees to meet and interact with FSA’s upper management. In addition to the National Convention, FSA management will be attending the Area rallies and we encourage you to attend if at all possible.
Administrator Dolcini notified NASCOE that he would be holding a Town Hall meeting again this year. The meeting will be streamed live or available by teleconference and focus on workforce engagement. The meeting will also be recorded for those unable to participate on the date of the meeting. Be looking for additional information announcing the official date and time.
The Administrator gave a quick update on the Acreage Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative (ACRSI). FSA has been working with RMA and Approved Insurance Providers (AIP’s) at various stages of the development of ACRSI. There are still some technology glitches that need to be addressed. The expanded deployment of ACRSI will include 13 crops which will encompass over 90% of the total reported acreages. They are reviewing the Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) to determine best business practices. The SED’s received an update on ACRSI recently and Administrator Dolcini offered to share that with NASCOE.
Administrator Dolcini and Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs Brad Pfaff will be attending the Commodity Classic to demonstrate FSAfarm+. Producers should find this a useful tool, however Level 2 eAuth privileges are needed for access.
Associate Administrator Chris Beyerhelm
NASCOE appreciates the extra effort made by Associate Administrator Beyerhelm to meet. An unexpected meeting conflicted with our originally scheduled time however Chris made time in his schedule for us. Chris gave an update on his initiative to review, consolidate and update directives. The goals of the initiative are to update handbooks and to limit actual policy to notices and handbooks. He is updated every two weeks as to the status of the review. He has also started a process where each amendment or notice is tracked through the clearance process to identify where any potential delay may occur. This should result in reduced time for directives to make it through clearance. There was a brief discussion on the hiring process and how it can be improved. During our last visit with management, Associate Administrator Beyerhelm had arranged a demonstration of the ARS based workload model being developed. Not all decisions pertaining to the workload model are final at this time but we are cautiously optimistic that this tool will be beneficial.
Deputy Administrator of Field Operations Greg Diephouse and his Team
We met with Greg and his team and were able to follow up on some concerns that membership had expressed. DAFO is continuing to address the Lead PT issue and some states avoidance in utilizing the position. There are discrepancies in the handbook and the shared management agreement that was previously negotiated with NASCOE. DAFO is working diligently to address those differences and to encourage SED’s to use this valuable tool. NASCOE continues to stress to membership that we need to utilize all of our opportunities to promote deserving employees when policy allows.
NASCOE has received comments from several areas of the country that funding for temporaries is becoming a critical issue and that many temporaries will not be able to stay on board after March 31, 2016. States were initially allocated funding for temporaries through the first and second quarter of FY-16. Some states have had to staff more heavily than others so they may have completely used that initial allocation. Other states may have not used the full allocation. The temporary staffing and funding level is a moving target depending on the amount of past and immediate workload demands. Internal discussions are being held to determine availability of funding temporaries for the remainder of the fiscal year. A decision on the availability of temporary CO employees should be made around the first of March.
During the 2015 negotiation session, management offered to establish a shared management virtual task force to explore ways to improve shared management operations. NASCOE has provided the names of a CED and PT from each of the 5 NASCOE areas for consideration to serve on the task force. With shared management ever increasing it is imperative that we find ways to improve the system.
NASCOE was notified that DAFO has received the data from the FY-2015 performance cycle but has not had the opportunity to fully examine the results. Greg was encouraged by the initial review of the data and feels that progress has been made in the overall implementation on the process. NASCOE will be able to see the results once DAFO has completed their review.
In addition to these general topics, we also appreciated the opportunity to discuss some specific employee and county committee issues with Greg and his team.
Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs Brad Pfaff and his Team
ACRSI and other program issues were the big topics of the meetings with DAFP Brad Pfaff and the members of his team. NASCOE very much appreciates the privilege of participating in the weekly ACRSI national conference calls and looks forward to contributing to the success of ACRSI in any manner we can. As Administrator Dolcini indicated in our discussion with him, there are some technology glitches that are being corrected. In addition to that, there are some policy gaps that are still being resolved.
NASCOE provided DAFP leaders several of the documents that some of the Approved Insurance Providers have mailed producers soliciting them to not report to FSA but to them instead. This has been troubling to county office field level personnel and NASCOE membership. ACRSI was designed to be able to transfer common data between RMA and FSA. The two pilots have reinforced that FSA is good at taking comprehensive acreage reports. Regardless of what some of these AIP documents are saying, producers should have every confidence that FSA stands prepared to continue to accept the producer supplied aerial photos and complete the producer’s comprehensive acreage report.
Another topic of discussion was the inconsistency in 2-CRP regarding delegations of authority. Due to the restricted number of county committee meetings allowed a couple of years ago, the requirement for the COC to delegate contract approval to the CED was removed and authority was automatically granted to the CED. However, some sections of 2-CRP indicates that the CED can approve without the delegation of authority and other places it indicates the COC has to delegate authority. Since we are no longer restricted in holding county committee meetings, NASCOE was previously told the inconsistencies in 2-CRP would be corrected to show the COC needing to delegate authority to the CED.
We asked about the tree thinning initiative and were informed they are trying to finalize details. We are expecting to receive additional information soon.
National Notice PL-271 has been a major concern from the field. NASCOE had previously submitted questions to the national office through the program submission process. NASCOE learned that the issue was still under discussion and the effective date of February 26, 2016 would be delayed. More information is expected as it becomes available.
IT issues were a common theme in almost all of our discussions. Steve Peterson informed NASCOE that at the beginning of each day he gets a report from a staff member of what programs are experiencing problems. Their responsibility is to access each and every application to see if it is functional at the start of the day and report to him. Any deficiencies are immediately notified to the appropriate section for solutions.
Tonye Gross, ACRSI
We only had a few minutes to meet with Tonye because originally she was not scheduled to be in Washington during our visit. However, her travel plans changed and we were able to visit for a few minutes. We shared our concerns about the advertisements from some of the AIP’s. We thanked her again for letting NASCOE participate in the conference calls and we asked her for some talking points that NASCOE leaders can share with membership during our upcoming state conventions and area rallies. Tonye indicated she would provide a set of talking points and a short PowerPoint presentation for NASCOE to share with membership at the conventions.
Thomas Mulhern and Barbara Boyd from HRD
We would be remiss if we didn’t start this section of the notes out with an extra thank you to Thomas Mulhern and Barbara Boyd. Since this was our last meeting of the day, our 30 minutes scheduled meeting turned into a 2 hour discussion and we are grateful for the extra time given.
Our discussion began with an update of the CO hiring process. For the most part NASCOE had received positive comments about the CO hiring process and that the timeline of getting vacancies announced and filled had slightly improved. However, there have been isolated reports of lengthy delays in getting vacancy announcements advertised and positions filled. HRD informed us that there are 6 or 7 current vacancy coordinators and that 2 more were being added. They also reminded NASCOE these are not permanent positions and the vacancy coordinator responsibilities are collateral duties that are assigned in addition to their current obligations.
At our October meeting with HRD, we were informed that a contract had been awarded to develop the PT Aspiring Leadership Program. During our update on the status of this initiative we were informed that the contractor that had been awarded the initial contract was not performing as expected and was in the process of being replaced. While this will obviously delay the program being implemented we were assured the program development would proceed once the new contractor is selected.
We had a lengthy discussion with HRD on CO supervision of GS employees. While this discussion was prompted by a specific situation, the overall discussion was more general in nature. GS employees can supervise CO employees so why shouldn’t it work the other way also. The easy answer is that statute does not allow it so any changes to that will require some changes in the law. The discussion also revealed some potential unintended consequences since a change in the law would also subject CO supervisors to some of the constraints that exist on the GS side.
In summary, NASCOE was warmly welcomed by each and every person we visited while in Washington. It is a tremendous feeling to be able to freely discuss issues and solutions that can improve the service we provide to our producers while at the same time improve the working environment for employees. NASCOE would like to thank Administrator Dolcini and his entire team for their willingness to let us express membership’s thoughts and concerns.