Program Submission Response: CCMS interface with Subsidiary for AGI

ISSUE:

CRP approvals require AGI forms on file prior to approval.

FACTS:

CRP-1s approved prior to obtaining applicable AGI requires STO and National Office attention.

SOLUTION:

Would it be possible to modify the software to read from the subsidiary file?  CRP software should be modified to read the AGI file similar to payment processes for the CRP approval process.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:

We have been working on adding the ability to check if AGI has been filed at time of contract revision/division approval and development for this new functionality is approved but has not yet started due to resource constraints.  After the enhancement is moved into production, additional information will be provided to the field on the use of the new functionality.

Program Submission Response: MIDAS Farm Records Enhancement

ISSUE:

Farm record changes such as ownership changes, operator changes, and other tenants.

FACTS:

Handbook policy requires notification of farm record changes.

SOLUTION:

MIDAS software will generate an automatic FSA-476 in letter form to notify reconstitution participants of changes to base acres.  Would it be possible to enhance the software to generate a letter when changes are made to ownership, operation and tenants added? It would be more efficient if the software automatically generated a letter, and it would save employees time.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:

Thank you for the suggestion on automating the notification letters when producer changes occur on a farm.   I agree that this would benefit the county offices and help insure that the required notification letters are being sent to all applicable producers. I will add this to our list of software enhancements, though implementing this change will be up to prioritization and budget.

Additionally, another specialist, who handles the policy side of Farm Records, and I have discussed the need to have a standard letter available in 10-CM to be used when notifying the associated producers when any acreage change occurs on a farm . We hope to have this standard letter included in a future amendment to 10-CM.

Program Submission Response: Bridges to Opportunity Enhancement

ISSUE:

Bridges to Opportunity – New Customer Interaction – Receipt for Service

It is possible to make the menus for the customer service, items provided to customer, items received from customer, and receipt drop-down menus, instead of the current scroll menus.

FACTS:

When trying to see which options to choose, it is hard to find them because you only see four options at a time.

SOLUTION:

Would it be possible to incorporate drop down menus to see more available options.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:

We have discussed various ways to make that aspect of the application more user friendly. We will pursue improvements as you suggest in the coming weeks and months. One solution that may be possible is having autocomplete fields in which one starts typing what they want and a list of possibilities are shown. This may be even more effective than drop down menus. Either way, we will be improving the interface soon.

Program Submission Response: NAP NCT prices

ISSUE:

Handbook 1-NAP paragraph 4B states STC shall establish average market prices and payment factors at least 120 calendar days before the sales closing date for the crop.

FACTS:

The average market prices and payment factors are not posted until after the closing date so producers have no way to accurately estimate risk management.

SOLUTION:

Set the software to lock the prices loaded by 120 days before the sales closing date for the crop.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:

Thank you for your submission.  The purpose of the requirement to have the STC establish the average market prices and payment factors at least 120 calendar days before the application closing date for the crop is so producers will know the potential coverage and can make an informed decision as to whether or not obtaining NAP coverage is a good risk management tool for them in advance of the application closing date.  It was because of this requirement that the rules were changed to no longer require the most recent crop year when establishing the price or yield because we knew those prices and yields might not be available far enough in advance to establish the crop data timely.

Based on the issue that was raised in your email, it seems as though the applicable state does not understand the importance of not only establishing the average market price and payment factors, but updating that information in the NCT in a timely manner.  We will look for the best method to communicate to State Offices the importance of both of those things because as the submitter indicated, producers should be aware of their potential coverage in advance of making the decision of whether or not to obtain NAP coverage.

Program Submission Response: COLS Search Enhancement

ISSUE:

CRP – COLS
New GIS Offer (Search by Tract Option Needed)

FACTS:

All CRP offers are placed by Tract Number.

When placing a new offer for CRP there are a number of steps. One that would simplify the process would be to add a Tract Search on the New GIS Offer screen. Currently, offers are not removed from the signup list. They start out in Farm Number Order then Tract, but then the numbers randomly change. The data within a signup is not sorted in an ascending order. Therefore it is a constant scroll and search, which wastes time.

SOLUTION:

It would be much more efficient method to include a Tract Number Search when selecting the State/County/Signup.

If a search is not a viable option, at least update the listing for the signup to be sorted by ascending Tract Number.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:

This will be added to the enhancement list and we will see what we can do.  COLS is slated for a redesign in a couple years and we had already identified this as a pain point needing fixed.  Whether or not I can get it in before the redesign will be up to management and funding allocations.

Program Submission Response: ARCPLC Enrollment Reports

ISSUE :

ARCPLC Enrollment Reports.  It is difficult to locate farms that are missing enrollment in ARCPLC when comparing to previous years.  When trying to locate farms that were enrolled/approved in the previous year, but are missing in the current year, we are having to use multiple excel spreadsheets to cross reference, which can lead to human error.

FACTS:

Currently there is no report for enrollment that will list and compare enrolled/approved farms for the previous year as compared to the current year.

SOLUTION:

Would it be possible to make available a report to cross reference previous year to current to aid in enrollment?

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:

We will put this request on our list of enhancements.  The key issue is funding.

Program Submission Response: Conservation User Guides

ISSUE :

Field offices spend a lot of time trying to locate procedure and instructions found in user guides and program guides that have not been incorporated into a particular handbook.  For example, COLS and CCMS. Some of these user guides also need to be updated to reflect software that is currently in use.

FACTS:

Most guides are located on various sharepoint sites and are extremely difficult to locate.  It is also difficult to determine if the guides are current.

SOLUTION:

Since handbooks and notices are now stored in electronic format, searching for this information could be much quicker if it were stored on the same page as access to handbooks.  Eliminating excessive searching, and having current versions of user guides will result in field personnel performing their jobs more timely and with greater confidence.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:

The current software user guides for all Conservation Systems are all located here:

https://sharepoint.fsa.usda.net/mgr/dafp/CEPD/User_Guides/SitePages/Home.aspx

We are working towards putting all of this documentation into FSA Handbook format that will be located on the handbooks website when completed.

NASCOE Legislative Update – Federal Retirement

Below is a legislative update from Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant, with information on the House and Senate actions regarding federal retirement benefits and other budget actions. Please distribute widely to membership:


The US Senate has completed Committee consideration of the 2018 Budget Resolution. I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t include language impacting Federal retirement benefits. The full Senate is expected next week to consider the Committee’s budget resolution.  Following adoption by the full Senate, House and Senate negotiators will conference the two resolutions. At that point, the House will insist on including the retirement cuts and the provision will be negotiated between the two bodies.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

President’s Budget:

On May 23rd, 2017, President Trump announced the Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget request. In this request are proposals to make significant changes to the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System. Included in the changes are:

  • Cost-of-living allowances for current and future FERS retirees eliminated.
  • COLAS for CSRS retirees would be reduced by 0.5 percent each year.
  • FERS employees would see employee contributions to their annuities increased by one percent each year for the next six years, without any corresponding benefit increase.
  • The FERS annuity supplement would be eliminated for new retirees starting in 2018.
  • Federal pensions would be based on the average of the highest five years of salary instead of the highest three.

Following the President’s FY 2018 request, the CBO argued that these changes would better align federal practices with those in the private sector through:

  • Basing pensions on five-year average earnings.
  • Many employers not offering health insurance benefits for retirees.
  • Many companies shifting from lifetime annuities to defend contribution plans that require smaller contributions from employers.

However, the CBO also noted that these changes would lessen the attractiveness of the overall compensation package provided by the federal government, potentially affecting the ability to attract and retain a highly-qualified workforce. Additionally, under the President’s proposed changes, positions requiring professional and advanced degrees may become harder to fill, private-sector counterparts already provide a higher compensation to comparable federal government positions.

Under the current budget circumstances and within the current political situation, it will be difficult for the President’s proposed changes to become reality. The President’s budget request is the first step in a long process to actually forming the budget.

House Budget:

On July 19th, 2017, the House Budget Committee approved their FY 2018 Budget 22-14. At this time, the House of Representatives has not yet scheduled floor or full House consideration of their Committee proposal.  However, Speaker Ryan has publicly stated that the House will consider the budget in September.

The House FY 2018 budget instructions dictate that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to submit changes in laws within its jurisdiction sufficient to reduce the deficit by $32 billion for the period of fiscal years 2018 through 2027. The House FY 2018 budget includes measures affecting changes to federal government retirement practices, including ending the supplement only for future retirees, how much to raise the required contribution, over how long a period, and whether it would apply to all employees, to reach this required $32 billion savings over the next 10 years.

The Budget committee report includes the language, “Reform Civil Service Pensions. The policy describes in the Income Support, Nutrition, and Related Programs section of this report would increase the share of Federal retirement benefits funded by the employee. This policy has the effect of reducing the personnel costs for the employing agency. The budget assumes savings from a reduction in agency appropriations associated with the reduction in payments that agencies make into the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund for Federal employee retirement.”

Additionally, the Report includes the following policy statement on the same, “Reform Civil Service Pensions. This budget adopts a policy proposed by former President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility. The policy calls for Federal employees, including members of Congress and staff, to make greater contributions toward their own defined benefit retirement plans. It would also end the ‘‘special retirement supplement,’’ which pays Federal employees the equivalent of their Social Security benefit at an earlier age. This would achieve significant savings while recognizing the need for new Federal employees to transition to a defined contribution retirement system. The vast majority of private sector employees participate in defined contribution retirement plans. These plans put the ownership, flexibility, and portfolio risk on the employee as opposed to the employer. Similarly, Federal employees would have more control over their own retirement security under this option. President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a phased-in increase to contributions federal employees pay into the Federal Employee Retirement System so that both employees and the government are contributing an equal amount.”

And finally, the Report encourages limiting Federal Health Coverage Funding for federal employees. It states, “currently, Federal contributions to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program grow by the average weighted rate of change in these programs. This budget supports restricting the growth in these plans to inflation. It also proposes restricting Federal employees’ retirement benefits based on length of service, which would bring Federal benefits in line with the private sector model.”

Thanks,

Jackson Jones & Donny Green,
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairpersons

NASCOE News Flash – Update from President Dennis Ray

NASCOE President Dennis Ray

The NASCOE executive committee, national committee chairs and the legislative committee all met in Sioux Falls, SD the weekend of September 15-18, 2017 for the organizational meeting.  The meeting was held at the Ramkota Best Western and Convention Center which will be the site of the 2018 National Convention.  The South Dakota association is preparing for a great convention and I hope that you all plan on attending.

With several new team members present, we started the meeting by going around the room and introducing ourselves.  I was once again amazed by the dedication and generosity of NASCOE members.  Several members of the team were missing family gatherings, children’s ballgames and other important events just to be there on behalf of all membership.  I am extremely grateful for everyone who donated 4 days of their time to work on NASCOE business.

Our legislative consultant, Hunter Moorhead, was unable to attend due to obligations in Washington but he met with the group by phone in the Saturday morning session.  He also spent about an hour and half on the phone when the legislative committee was holding their breakout session on Sunday.  In addition to setting their action plan for the upcoming year, the legislative committee worked on finalizing their new PAC promotion.

Teresa Dillard and John Lohr of Dillard Financial Services met with the team to review the past year accomplishments and to go over their plans for the upcoming year.  They shared their training plan, which has been reviewed by the Acting DAFO, for the coming year.  They also presented a request to extend their contract for an additional 4 years.  The executive committee took the request under consideration and also initiated a comment period from membership.  You should have received an email through your area exec asking for feedback and where to respond.

Any time the executive committee meets together we address the business of the association but the main purpose of the organizational meeting is to set a course of action for the coming year.  The national committee chairs all presented their goals and plans for the year and the executive committee discussed and acted on their requests.  The remainder of the meeting was spent setting the goals and priorities of the executive committee.  I will list a few below.

  • Maintaining and strengthening the authority of the County Committee. This includes educating our members on the history of the county committee and the importance of the grass roots system of government.  NASCOE has a working group devoted to protecting the authority of the county committee.
  • Improving our communication with membership. Breakdown in communication has been one of our biggest issues for as long as I have been a member.  We have several ways of distributing information including the NASCOE NEWS Facebook page, the NASCOE webpage itself, a distribution chain through the area execs and a national database for distributing sensitive information.
  • Building and maintaining relationships with management. This process has been delayed due to the lack of appointees in the national office but will be a high priority as they come into office.
  • Working with management and the Managerial Cost Analysis working group on a workload tool that provides valid data down to the county level.
  • The reorganization of the mission area announced by the Secretary and how it might affect field the footprint of our agency will be a point of emphasis. We have a task force looking at current operations and how that might change going forward.  This task force is also reviewing shared management operations to see if there are ways they can be made less burdensome for the staff.  NASCOE also has a representative assigned to a National Office task force on shared management operations.

There isn’t enough space to provide a complete list and we go into this year realizing that circumstances will come up that will require immediate attention.   That is part of why we stress an effective communication strategy.  We want to be able to share information with you but we also need for you, our membership, to have an avenue of contacting us when a new issue comes up.  Please feel free to contact your area exec or a national officer if you have an issue or concern.  You can also contact me directly if you prefer that.  My personal email is djray2239@sbcglobal.net and my cell number is 573-382-2087.

The entire leadership team is here to serve you and I thank them all for volunteering their time, talents and personal resources.  We look forward to having a good year and invite you to share any thoughts or concerns you may have.

Sincerely,

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President