Update on Delayed Background Checks for New Hires

Over the last few months, NASCOE has received a substantial amount of feedback in reference to the length of time it takes new hire background checks to be completed by USDA.  Many office managers are concerned that new hire temps will not receive their background check before their “Not to Exceed” comes and goes. 

The backlog of background checks stems from two sources:  Re-assignment of background check duties to the newly created Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Business Center and FSA’s hiring of more permanent and temporary employees. 

Once a background check is initiated by a state office, the check is routed to the FPAC Business Center Homeland Security Division (HSD).  After cases are submitted to HSD, they are monitored by way of a new process which was implemented in October of this year.  This process involves tracking the new employee through the entire background check process.  The desired outcome is increased visibility of the background check by stakeholders as it travels through the process between FSA and the Business Center.

Both FSA and the FPAC Business Center are optimistic about the new tracking process.  Tracking of the background checks allows FSA state offices and Washington DC staff to see:

  • When the background check request was submitted
  • When the prospective employee receives their email security survey (e-QIP Survey)
  • When the e-QIP survey is received back at HSD
  • When the Security Initial Determination (SID) is made.

By now state offices should be familiar with this new tracking process.  It is likely that your state office Administrative Division is keeping a running record of when checks are submitted to the HSD and they are following up if there are apparent delays.  State offices can tell if cases are moving forward, or if they are stalled.  When following up, state offices can contact the FSA national office and alert them to a delayed background check.  Follow-up is usually initiated if county offices and state offices don’t have results within three weeks.

If the background check is delayed, the county office may follow up to see where the process is stalled.  County offices should:

  • Contact your state offices through normal channels and inquire about the status of the background check
  • Contact NASCOE by way of your state association if no response is received of the state office and NASCOE can follow-up

As of today, timeframes are improving since implementation of the system in early October.  It is expected that timeframes will improve even more in the next few months.  State offices and WDC staff are actively looking for delayed background checks and following up with HSD.  The personnel at HSD have been responsive to concerns as they are brought to their attention.  In cases where county offices have concerns, they can prompt their state office for additional information or reach out to NASCOE for additional assistance.  As we move forward, NASCOE intends to continue to monitor the progress of the project and ensure that it moves in a positive direction.  The ultimate goal is to continue reducing timeframes for background checks to be completed.

Continuing Resolution

Clint Bain and Neil Burnette, Legislative Co-Chairs
December 11, 2020

The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have both passed a stopgap spending bill which the President is expected to sign late Friday.  This CR will fund the government for one week, setting a new deadline of December 18.  Congressional Leaders are optimistic that they can complete work on an omnibus appropriations bill that will fund all sectors of the government prior to the proposed new deadline of December 18.

Your Legislative team will continue to monitor the situation over the next several days and inform membership if there are any major unexpected developments.

COAC Update: COC Elections, Ballot Count, and NAFEC

This NASCOE County Office Advocacy Committee (COAC) Committee update provides membership with brief, but important updates and reminders concerning COC elections, ballot counting and COC involvement with the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC). 

We understand this is a busy time and we are all preparing for COC elections and ballot counting during unprecedented times.  This is certainly no easy task.  Moving forward, county offices will bring new COC members on in January.  As always, informing and educating our new and old COC members about NAFEC is important.  NAFEC is the employee association for County Committee members.  NAFEC represents committee members just like NASCOE represents county office employees.  As a reminder, NAFEC handles numerous issues for not only County Committees, but also County Office Employees across the nation. 

Recently, NAFEC has stressed the importance of conducting ballot counting in a safe manner, while also following the processes outlined in statue, regulation, and handbook policy.  The attached letter from NAFEC, is a great example of what NAFEC is doing for COC members, while highlighting their concerns, as we prepare for COC elections and ballot counting in the coming days. Please continue to look for future bulletins concerning NAFEC and other information prior to January Organizational Meetings.  As always, if you have any questions, please reach out to the NASCOE County Office Advocacy Committee by emailing .

NAFEC-Letter-on-Conducting-County-Committee-Elections-

NASCOE Legislative Update – November 25, 2020

This legislative update provides our NASCOE family with information about hot topics as we enter the holiday season.

Federal Appropriations

Currently, the government is funded through December 11, 2020.  It is likely that Congress will extend the continuing resolution again before enactment of any new law.  We do not expect any government shutdown as Congress approaches the December deadline.

The House of Representatives has approved their Fiscal Year 2021 Agriculture Appropriations bill.  Following election day, the Senate released draft bills and reports allowing the two bodies to begin negotiating any final product. 

The House provides significant increases for FSA Salaries and Expenses and continues previous law provisions related to both employees and county office closures. The below information highlights important funding levels for both the House and Senate proposals.

Fiscal Year 2021 Proposed Funding Levels

FSA Business Center:

FY 2020 EnactedProposalsProposed FY 2021 vs
FY 2020 Enacted
$280,186,000House – $292,852,000House – + $12,666,000
 Senate – $293,057,000Senate – + $12,871,000

FSA Salaries and Expenses:

FY 2020 EnactedProposalsProposed FY 2021 vs
FY 2020 Enacted
$1,414,214,000House – $1,446,437,000House + $32,223,000
 Senate – $1,434,279,000Senate+ $20,065,000

2020 Election

While not yet official, we believe President-elect Biden will be sworn in next January as the 46th President of the United States. 

The election results have set off a scramble for cabinet level posts and numerous political appointments.  According to our contacts, the Secretary of Agriculture position is a race between former Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH).  These individuals know the importance of our organization and the role we play in delivering farm programs. We were pleased this summer when Congresswoman Fudge invited NASCOE’s President to lead a roundtable discussion regarding the need for additional County Office workers. We will keep you all updated as the transition team announces USDA political appointments.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats continue to watch their majority shrink.  At this point, the Democratic Party will control the body by about 13 seats.  This is a decrease from the 33-seat majority during the 116th Congress.  An important decision will come soon when Democrats choose who will lead the House Committee on Agriculture.  The race for chairmanship is between Congressman David Scott (D-GA) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA).  Today, Congressman Scott is considered the favorite and will likely be chosen the first week of December.

In the Senate, Republicans are defending two Georgia seats that most believe will remain in the Republican column.  If the two senators are re-elected on January 5th, Republicans will control the 52 – 48 Senate.  With Senate Pat Roberts (R-KS) retiring, we expect Senator John Boozman (R-AR) will be chosen as Chairman for the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Protecting Employees from Surprise Taxes Act of 2020, S. 4810

NASCOE sent a letter to Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) supporting legislation allowing federal employees to opt out of the payroll tax deferral. The legislation would simply allow employees to determine how the collection of taxes impacts their individual financial status. We have heard from employees preferring to not delay the tax bill until next year. This legislation provides the flexibility that would allow employees the opportunity to make the best decision based on their need for additional take home pay.

Conclusion

Please do not hesitate to reach out to our legislative team should you need additional information.

Our entire NASCOE Legislative Team would like to wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Negotiations: Your idea could be NASCOE’s next major win!

NASCOE’s labor management agreement states that NASCOE has exclusive rights to represent County Employees in negotiations with management and USDA. Once a year the NASCOE Executive Committee, along with consultants from each area, take your submissions (after scrubbing your PII) straight to Washington D.C. where we sit down with DAFO, DAFP, Program Specialists, Budget specialists, and anybody else that might be needed to consult on these topics. These meetings are formal but productive, and they have yielded some very successful and tangible results.

Many of you know that the Key PT positions was the result of NASCOE negotiations with FSA. The Leadership Excellence program for PTs and CED’s getting FSFL loan recommendation authority are also both great examples of FSA leadership not only listening to your suggestions but implementing them. NASCOE also regularly submits items concerning shared management, performance, WebTA codes, and so much more.

Negotiations are your voice to FSA and USDA and they can be a powerful benefit for membership. We are busier than ever implementing the Farm Bill, Trade Programs, and Disaster Programs. I am confident that we out in the field have some really great ideas on how to be more efficiently and effectively deliver these programs. Let NASCOE help you get them up to leadership.

As you know, 2020 has been an atypical year. We are still working with DAFO on the 2020 Negotiation session and hope to get resolution on those items soon. We know there were a lot of important submissions that our members need action on as soon as possible and we’re committed to that goal. However, we are also moving forward with 2021 Negotiations with the expectation our timeframes and processes will be more inline with traditional years. We have already collected many great ideas and there is still time for you to send in your concerns and suggestions. You can send in items through your area consultant or directly from the submission form on the NASCOE website. The Deadline for submissions is December 1st, so please get those sent in soon! Your idea could be next major NASCOE win!

New NASCOE Position: Technology Coordinator

Our lives are increasingly affected by modern technologies that improve the way we live and work. Whether we are talking about communicating with others, tracking assignments, getting forms signed, sending and receiving funds, archiving documents, etc., the solution is now typically digital. At work we use instant messaging, online surveys, digital signatures and more. We rely on tools like SharePoint and GovDelivery. At home we increasingly go online or use apps on our phone to get our news, research issues, or even shop for our groceries.

NASCOE currently utilizes some of these measures, including hosting a website and sending bulletins through an email service. However, recently the Executive Committee has recognized that adopting more of these technologies would provide an opportunity to better conduct business and serve our members. Those technologies that we are using fall under the Webmaster position which is currently an ancillary duty for our Publicity Chair. These IT duties already take up a lot of time and adding new digital solution would be beyond challenging for any existing committee chair. Therefore, the Executive Committee is looking to establish a Technology Coordinator Position to help manage our existing infrastructure as well as assist in adopting various new digital solutions.

NASCOE has approximately 6000 members made up of a diverse group of people from all over the country. We know that many of you not only use these technologies daily, but some of you have detailed knowledge or experience in implementing them. Now is a great opportunity to assist NASCOE in improving or building key infrastructure that could assist your fellow members. Some potential responsibilities are listed below. This is a unique chance to help influence the creation of a national level position from the ground up. So if you have skills or even a passion in elements like web design, app management, database management, or any other IT solution, please reach out. Even if you are not interested in the Technology Coordinator position but possess these talents, please consider letting us know and volunteering.

In order to be considered, please send a brief introduction of yourself and your attributes, skills, and/or abilities to the NASCOE President at . NASCOE positions can take up a substantial amount of volunteer time, so please indicate your general availability.

Potential Responsibilities and Duties

  • Assist Executive Committee (EC) with questions and issues regarding access and use of NASCOE infrastructure. Examples include assisting with logging in, setting up meetings, troubleshooting errors, etc.
  • Implement automated NASCOE processes and forms
  • Develop and maintain cloud based repositories, such as OneDrive and SharePoint. This includes designing interfaces, educating users, and enforcing good IT policies
  • Create, maintain, and refresh a modernized and user-friendly website
  • Research beneficial technology for the association, makes recommendations to the EC, and works with contractors to implement as directed.

Qualifications

  • A passion or hobby for technology
  • Approachable and patient
  • Works well independently or as part of a team
  • An ability to prioritize and delegate
  • Problem-solving skills
  • A keen eye for detail

Download Flyer

Tech-Coordinator-Bulletin

New Benefit for NASCOE Members

In our continued efforts to provide valuable benefits, we have partnered with Allstate Identity Protection to bring you Allstate Identity Protection Pro. 

Your identity is made up of more than your Social Security number and credit score. That’s why they do more than monitor your credit reports. They help you look after your online activity, from financial transactions to what you share on social media — so you can protect the trail of data you leave behind.

Introducing the next evolution in identity protection. For over 85 years, they’ve been protecting what matters most. Now they’re providing protection from a wide range of identity threats, so you can keep loving what technology adds to your life.

NASCOE members can receive identity theft protection for $7.95 per person / month or $13.95 per family / month.

With Allstate Identity Protection Pro you’ll be able to

  • Check your identity health score
  • View and manage alerts in real time
  • Monitor your TransUnion credit score and report for fraud
  • Receive alerts for cash withdrawals, balance transfers, and large purchases
  • Get reimbursed in the event of fraud with our $1 million identity theft insurance policy

Protect yourself and your family (everyone that’s “under your roof and wallet”).

Members who would like to enroll in coverage through payroll deduction, can simply call Benefits Direct to speak with a benefit counselor at (877) 523-0176.

Annual Leave Carryover

Greetings fellow NASCOE Members

  • This is your NASCOE President, Brandon Wilson coming to you from the farm where I’ve been using a little annual leave to help with harvest.
    • Things are definitely crazy around here…  we are harvesting soybeans and corn.  Also, we are planting wheat and moving cattle around.
    • Busy is good and I wouldn’t trade this mini-vacation for nothing.

And speaking of annual leave, we know many of you haven’t been able to take leave this year since you’ve been busy administering important programs such as: MFP2, ARC/PLC, Disaster Programs (such as WHIP, ECP, ELAP, LFP AND LIP) and acreage reporting.

  • MOST important however, has been your work on administering CFAP 1 & CFAP 2 during the national health emergency. 
  • This unexpected work was (and is) being administered in a very quick fashion because of your tireless efforts and extra time spent at work.  -your farmers and ranchers appreciate your efforts very much – and they thank you.

In addition, we’ve heard from many of you about the inability to use leave because of your dedicated time at work to administer these programs which are critical to the citizens of the United States. 

  • The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) realizes the predicament Federal employees face with use or lose leave. 
  • OPM has determined that a new benefit may apply to Federal employees who helped our nation during the national health emergency.  Agencies (such as USDA) can decide to allow some employees to carry more than 30 days of annual leave into calendar year 2021, provided they were unable to schedule that leave due to their work responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
    • If USDA decides to qualify COF employees, like you and me,  they will be able participate in a streamlined process for “essential” employees to carry over leave next year.  This streamlined process would mean we do not need to schedule leave in advance for it to be considered cancelled.
    • While we all agree that carrying over leave is not ideal and can create problems in the long run, we also know that 2020 was an unusual year AND we have earned leave and we have a right to take it.
  • NASCOE believes the FSA COF employees should have the opportunity to have this benefit- similar to other Federal employees in other agencies that helped provide relief. 
  • Furthermore, NASCOE agrees with OPM that agencies must let their employees know soon if they qualify for the leave carry over assistance benefit.  Employees would need to know IF their services have been designated as essential during the emergency employees so they can begin planning. 
  • NASCOE has urged management at USDA to not hesitate in designating FSA COF employees as essential during the health emergency.  It is key that they declare our work on COVID-19 relief an “exigency of the public business.” AND that they notify employees soon of this status so that employees can make leave plans.
  • Look for an announcement and information to come from FSA management on the status of leave carry over for FSA COF employees.  Additional reading on the subject can be found in the link contained in the video in the bottom in description: https://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2020/08/opm-outlines-process-restoring-leave-after-covid/167597/.

I’d like to close by saying “thank you again” for your support of NASCOE.  Your support empowers the NASCOE team to make sure that you get the benefits you deserve.

I hope to see you all again very soon.  Good night.

Continuing Resolution Vote

Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs
September 23, 2020

By a vote of 359 to 57, last night the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government open through December 11, 2020.

The bill provides 30 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation to replenish depleted funds. Also included in the measure was nearly 8 billion for a variety of food nutrition assistance including funding to feed children affected by the pandemic that normally receive school lunches.

The deal was worked out between House Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. The Senate is expected to schedule a vote on the bill prior to funding expiring on September 30th. The White House has indicated that President Trump will sign the bill.