NASCOE Legislative Update: December 7, 2018

From Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant:

Appropriations Update — As expected, the House and Senate have agreed to another continuing resolution funding the government through December 21. The President signed the measure on Friday, December 7, 2018

Farm Bill Reauthorization — We expect the 2018 Farm Bill conference report will be released early next week. We will forward all summary documents and legislative language.

Legislative News Flash–2018 Farm Bill & FY19 Appropriations Updates

NASCOE Legislative Update for November 26

With the elections nearly complete, we are actively working to finalize both the 2018 Farm Bill and the 2019 Agriculture Appropriations bill. Let us know if you need additional information about the topics listed below.

Elections – Today’s Mississippi Senate race between Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy will be the final federal election.  If Hyde-Smith wins, the Senate Republicans will continue their control by a margin of 53 – 47.  As previously noted, the House of Representatives will shift to Democratic control allowing Congressman Collin Peterson to chair the Agriculture Committee.

Farm Bill Reauthorization – The House and Senate Ag Committee leadership are working tirelessly to finalize Farm Bill negotiations.  As of noon today, an agreement had not been reach regarding the conservation title and forestry related provisions. However, we still believe the process is wrapping up and the final details should be available soon.  We have been able to address most all of our concerns and believe the final agreement will be an improvement for both FSA and production agriculture.

Appropriations – Five appropriations bills representing 75% of the Federal budget have been enacted and signed into law (DoD, LHHS, Energy & Water, Milcon/VA, Legislative Branch).  Of the remaining seven bills, four (Agriculture, Financial Services/General Government, Interior, Transportation/HUD) are in a minibus which has largely been conferenced, and substantial work has been done between the House and the Senate on the other three bills (Commerce/Justice/Science, Homeland, and State/Foreign Operations).

The agencies covered by the seven outstanding bills are currently being funded by a continuing resolution (CR) that expires on December 7th.

Reportedly, there is agreement between the House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairs and Ranking Members on a schedule to move the remaining seven bills in one package. The White House agrees with that approach.  To complete action on a seven bill appropriations package and move it through both the House and the Senate before the CR runs out on December 7th, decisions on outstanding issues and funding levels should be made by Sunday, December 2nd.  The most difficult remaining issue is the funding level and conditions on funding for the Border Wall/Border Security — the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations bill contains $1.6b and the House version contains $5b.

Over 100 House members who are retiring or who lost their seats are currently working out of cubicles (they’ve been kicked out of their offices so those spaces can be available for incoming members).  Predictably, those 100 members are less than enthusiastic about dragging this Congress out any longer than necessary.  There is likely to be some emergency funding included for recovery from this year’s hurricanes and wildfires in the final appropriations vehicle moving through this congress, as well as some extraneous legislative items (Farm Bill, Flood Program extension, etc.).

Since the President can veto any spending bill that doesn’t satisfy his desires on funding for the Border Wall/Border Security, the confrontation/negotiation on the issue could easily result in an impasse that precludes completion of a seven bill wrap-up appropriations package.

Should an agreement be unattainable by the 7th of December, another continuing resolution could be passed to prevent any government shutdown.

Everyone wants to complete action on the FY 2019 appropriations bills. Everyone wants to go home as early as possible. Everyone understands that everyone else wants to finish and go home and accordingly, the party who is willing to hold out the longest and inflict the most pain on themselves and everyone else may believe a willingness to stay and precipitate a partial government shutdown would give them leverage in the negotiations.  

An orderly completion of the FY 2019 Appropriations process and timely passage of a seven-bill wrap-up package is possible but unlikely given the rhetoric, staked out positions, and likely posturing to both parties’ bases on the Border Wall/Border Security Issue. 

If an agreement is reached before or on December 7th, a two or three day continuing resolution could be passed to avoid any government shutdown while the final agreement moves through the Congress. 

A number of Members of Congress met with President Trump this afternoon to continue budget negotiations. We will provide another update later this week regarding the chances of any government shutdown.  

Hunter Moorhead
NASCOE Legislative Consultant

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Legislative Update: FY19 Appropriations and 2018 Farm Bill Reauthorization

Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE’s Legislative Consultant, has provide us with the below up-to-date information on the status of both the FY19 Appropriations and 2018 Farm Bill.

Thanks,
Donny Green & Neil Burnette
NASCOE Legislative Chairpersons


The current budget and legislative information is being provided to NASCOE membership and is intended to update full membership regarding both federal spending/appropriations and 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization.

Appropriations
The President is scheduled later today to sign the Defense and Labor Health and Human Services appropriations bills. This legislation will fund the government through December 7, 2018. There will be no government shutdown.

For Agriculture appropriations, the Bill has been negotiated and will likely be formally agreed to following the November mid-term elections. Once final, we will provide details about salaries and expenses funding and any relevant legislative language.

Farm Bill
The House and Senate continue to negotiate the final agreement. Unfortunately, the September 30 deadline will pass without any final resolution. The deadline will have very little impact on commodity and conservation programs. We expect negotiations will continue throughout the Fall. In a perfect world, they would wrap up negotiations before the end of 2018.

Hunter Moorhead
NASCOE Legislative Consultant

NASCOE Legislative Update — Senate Passes Farm Bill

Donny Green, NASCOE Legislative ChairToday, the 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2) passed the Senate with a strong show of bi-partisan support with a 86-11 vote.

The Bill sets federal agriculture and food programs/policy for the next five years. Passage of the Senate Farm Bill moves Congress one step closer to sending a bill to the President before the current legislation expires September 30.

Both the House (passed 6/21/18) and Senate bills will now move to conference, where they must reconcile the bills before they head to the President for his signature. We will work to review all adopted amendments and prepare for conference negotiations between the House and Senate passed bills.

NASCOE will continue to monitor the progress of the Farm Bill and keep membership updated as developments occur.In addition, we will soon release an update regarding FSA’s hiring process.

What is the Farm Bill and Why is it Important?

Donny Green, NASCOE Legislative ChairOn April 18, the House Agriculture Committee passed its Farm Bill, H.R. 2, the “Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018”. The full legislative text of H.R. 2 is 641 pages. The Section-By-Section version (link attached at end of this article) is much more condensed and offers highlights of the legislation. The Bill passed the House Agriculture Committee and will now move to the full House which is expected to vote on the measure next month. The Bill will move through the Senate Agriculture Committee next and the Senate is expected to release its version in the next few weeks.

Passage of the House Bill is just one early step in a series of many steps that must be taken before a Farm Bill becomes law. The process can be confusing and therefore we hope to shed a little light on the process to make it a little easier to understand.

So you might ask, “What is the Farm Bill and why is it important?” The Farm Bill is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. An omnibus bill is a single document accepted in a single vote by Congress that packages together several measures into one or combines diverse subjects. Titles in the most recent farm bill encompassed farm commodity price and income supports, agricultural conservation, farm credit, trade, research, rural development, bioenergy, foreign food aid, and domestic nutrition assistance. Because it is renewed about every five years, the Farm Bill provides a predictable opportunity for policymakers to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues.

The current Farm Bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, expires September 30, 2018. When a farm bill expires, not all programs are affected equally. Some programs cease to operate unless reauthorized, while others might continue to pay old obligations. The farm commodity programs not only expire but would revert to permanent law dating back to the 1940s. Nutrition assistance programs require periodic reauthorization, but appropriations can keep them operating. Many discretionary programs would lose statutory authority to receive appropriations, though annual appropriations could provide funding and implicit authorization. Other programs have permanent authority and do not need to be reauthorized. These permanent programs include LFP, LIP, ELAP, and TAP.

The second page of this article contains a flow chart that will serve as a guide to help NASCOE members understand the legislative process and how a bill becomes a law.

NASCOE’s Legislative Team is working hard for our members to stay informed and proactive as the 2018 Farm Bill process continues. We not only monitor Farm Bill issues, but other issues that affect membership such as benefits, annual appropriations and re-organization. NASCOE is proud to represent employees who want our customer service and program delivery to align with Secretary Perdue’s motto to “Do right and feed everyone” in a fiscally responsible manner to benefit our agricultural economy.

H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2019, Section-By-Section:

https://agriculture.house.gov/uploadedfiles/agriculture_and_nutrition_act_of_2018_section_by_section.pdf

How a Bill Becomes a Law Flow Chart

NASCOE News Flash: 2018 Negotiation and All Association Meeting with Management

NASCOE President Dennis Ray

NASCOE President Dennis Ray

The week of April 2-6 was very busy for NASCOE leadership and the NASCOE negotiation team. We traveled to Washington DC to participate in the 2018 All Association Meeting and to conduct NASCOE’s annual negotiation meeting with management. Those traveling included officers Dennis Ray, Brandon Wilson, Curt Houk, Marcinda Kester and Wes Daniels; Area Executives Chris Hare, Rick Csutoras, Jay Goff, Mike Mayfield and Jessi Colgrove; Area Negotiation Consultants Debbie Staley, Tracy Wilson, Sabrina Conditt, Jenae Prescott and Jessica Walls. Also traveling to WDC were National Programs Chair Michelle Stahl and National Legislative Chair Donny Green.

Monday was a travel day for most of the team however Brandon and I traveled in on Sunday in preparation for Monday meetings with some key members of management. Brandon and I began by meeting with Acting Administrator Steve Peterson and his chief of staff Kathy Sayers to follow up on some pending issues. We discussed staffing numbers and the critical need to hire. We then met with Undersecretary Northey and discussed that our ability to provide the service as mandated is being severely hampered in some parts of the country due to the low staffing numbers. Both the acting Administrator and the Undersecretary expressed optimism that another round of hiring would be coming soon, possible within a few weeks. FSA has been developing a workload and staffing tool that NASCOE has been involved with for the past two years. The ability to use the tool to help determine where staffing needs are, and the passing of the Omnibus spending package should help assure the decision makers that FSA can effectively determine the staffing level needed and the locations where they are needed most.

Tuesday the NASCOE negotiation team held a meeting at our hotel to make a final review of our negotiation items and to prepare for presenting our positions to management. This year, NASCOE submitted 11 new items for consideration and revisited items from previous years that were still pending. Negotiating County Office concerns with management is one of our main purposes as an association. Also, it is important to point out that NASCOE is the only organization that can negotiate with management on behalf of county office employees.

Wednesday, April 4th, was the All Association Meeting held in the Jefferson auditorium. All FSA employee associations were invited to attend including National Association of Farmer Elected Committees and the Retired Association of ASCS/FSA Office Employees. Among the presenters were Acting FSA Administrator Steve Peterson, Undersecretary Bill Northey, Joy Harwood, Tom Christenson, Kim Graham, Linda Treese and Patrick Spalding and Brad Karmen.

Thursday April 4th was the actual negotiation session with management. One of the carryover items was the Aspiring Leadership Program for PT’s. This item was agreed upon a couple of years ago and development of the program had started but not completed. NASCOE asked the status and was pleased to hear that the program development is nearly completed, and the program will be offered in FY-2019. This program will offer a training program for PT’s who wish to develop their leadership skills. There will be a limited number of participants so be looking for more information as it is released.

Shared management operations are an annual discussion topic at negotiations and it was again this year.  There are changes coming in 27-PM (Rev. 2) that will contain language about the requirements for pre-decisional involvement by the affected county committees and the state association to accompany the request to DAFO when shared management operations are proposed. Management also agreed to begin work on the shared management task force within 60 days of the negotiation session. This has been tabled for the past couple of years, but they have agreed to establish the work group and begin discussions. The negotiation session was mainly positive, and the results of the negotiations will be made public once NASCOE and management can review the wording of the resolutions for accuracy. These will be posted to the website as soon as they are received back from management.

I know that the current staffing level and delays to hiring are a couple of the biggest concerns expressed to NASCOE leadership. We have been pressing as hard as we can to encourage management to add staff to get back to the level of funding enacted by Congress. We bring that up during every conversation at every level where we have the opportunity including at the Secretary, Undersecretary, FPAC and FSA level. We have also expressed staffing concern with the Senate Ag Committee and many members of Congress. Our legislative Consultant and National Legislative Chair made 14 Hill visits last week and discussed staffing levels, customer service, Farm Bill Reauthorization, county office structure and the importance of the county committee.

I would like to thank all the negotiation team and those who traveled to Washington for this meeting for the hard work, dedication and the long hours spent during the trip. It takes a lot of effort beginning in December to be prepared for this type of meeting with management and I want to publicly express my thanks. I would also like to thank Wes Daniels, Past NASCOE President for his service to NASCOE the past seven plus years. Wes has taken a DD position and will be providing his leadership in a new arena going forward. Please thank Wes when you have the opportunity for the years of service to NASCOE.

The actual negotiation session happens once a year, however employees are encouraged to submit items throughout the year via the online submission form. Those items are reviewed periodically to see if they are time critical. If meritorious the item may be escalated for consultation by the President and the Vice President during our trips to Washington, DC.

Respectfully Submitted,

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

NASCOE Legislative Update: Federal Appropriations for FY18 & Congressional Meetings

NASCOE_LogoTo:                     NASCOE Membership
From:               Hunter Moorhead
Subject:          Federal Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018 and Congressional Meetings


This memorandum outlines the recent budget agreement for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The two-year budget agreement allowed for finalization of the 2018 bill which runs through September 2018.  The higher spending limits also allowed Congress to end sequestration cuts and add funding to certain programs.  In addition, the second portion of this document details recent Congressional meetings.

The final budget agreement included specific funding for the below policies.

Budget agreement:

FY17 FY18 FY19
Current law defense cap 551 549 562
Cancel defense sequester 54 54
Security priorities 26 31
New defense cap 551 629 647
OCO/emergency 83 71 69
Defense discretionary total 634 700 716
——————————————————– ————- ————- ————-
Current law nondefense cap 519 516 529
Cancel nondefense sequester 37 37
Domestic priorities 26 31
New nondefense cap 519 579 579
OCO 21 12 8
Nondefense discretionary total 539 591 605

Agreement includes:

  • National Institutes of Health – $1B for 2018 and $1B for 2019;
  • Opioids and Mental Health – $3B for 2018 and $3B for 2019;
  • Veterans Administration healthcare backlog – $2B for 2018 and $2B for 2019;
  • Infrastructure – $10B for 2018 and $10B for 2019;
  • Child Care Development Block Grant – $2.9B for 2018 and $2.9B for 2019; and
  • Higher Education – $2B for 2018 and $2B for 2019.

Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations:
On March 23, the Congress approved and President signed the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill.  The agreement was positive for NASCOE and we believe will lead to additional employees.

The bill includes $23.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $2.1 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. In total, the bill allows for $146 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding – $7.6 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.

The legislation provides $1.70 billion for farm programs, which is $2 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. This funding will continue support for various farm, conservation, and emergency loan programs, and will help American farmers and ranchers. It will also ensure customer service through full staffing of local county Farm Service Agency offices, including additional funding for farm loan officers, and meet estimates of demand for farm loan programs.

FSA Salaries and Expenses:

2017 Enacted 2018 Request Final Bill Final Bill vs 2017 Final Bill vs Request
1,515,720,000 1,428,051,000 1,519,756,000 +  4,036,000 +  91,705,000

The final agreement provides an increase of 22,216,000.  Based on the FPAC reorganization, the Committee transferred $4,944,000 for the Warehouse Act and $13,236,000 for international food procurement to the Agricultural Marketing Service.

  • Please know that certain NASCOE members have requested details about FSA’s salaries and expenses spending levels. The information will be provided soon.

Public Law / Bill Language:

FARM SERVICE AGENCY SALARIES AND EXPENSES
(INCLUDING TRANSFERS OF FUNDS)

For necessary expenses of the Farm Service Agency, $1,202,146,000: Provided, That not more than 50 percent of the $78,013,000 made available under this heading for information technology related to farm program delivery, including the Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems and other farm program delivery systems, may be obligated until the Secretary submits to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress, and receives written or electronic notification of receipt from such Committees of, a plan for expenditure that (1) identifies for each project/investment over $25,000 (a) the functional and performance capabilities to be delivered and the mission benefits to be realized, (b) the estimated lifecycle cost, including estimates for development as well as maintenance and operations, and (c) key milestones to be met; (2) demonstrates that each project/investment is, (a) consistent with the Farm Service Agency Information Technology Roadmap, (b) being managed in accordance with applicable lifecycle management policies and guidance, and (c) subject to the applicable Department’s capital planning and investment control requirements; and (3) has been reviewed by the Government Accountability Office and approved by the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress: Provided further, That the agency shall submit a report by the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018 to the Committees on Appropriations and the Government Accountability Office, that identifies for each project/ investment that is operational (a) current performance against key

H.R.1625—14 indicators of customer satisfaction, (b) current performance of service level agreements or other technical metrics, (c) current performance against a pre-established cost baseline, (d) a detailed breakdown of current and planned spending on operational enhancements or upgrades, and (e) an assessment of whether the investment continues to meet business needs as intended as well as alternatives to the investment: Provided further, That the Secretary is authorized to use the services, facilities, and authorities (but not the funds) of the Commodity Credit Corporation to make program payments for all programs administered by the Agency: Provided further, That other funds made available to the Agency for authorized activities may be advanced to and merged with this account: Provided further, That funds made available to county committees shall remain available until expended: Provided further, That none of the funds available to the Farm Service Agency shall be used to close Farm Service Agency county offices: Provided further, That none of the funds available to the Farm Service Agency shall be used to permanently relocate county based employees that would result in an office with two or fewer employees without prior notification and approval of the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress.

House Report language:
The Committee does not: 1) provide the one-time FY 2017 increases of $6,000,000 (this language was included in the House language but was not part of the final budget agreement); 2) accept reductions in non-federal full time employees (FTE); 3) accept savings from farm program modernization; and 4) accept any reduction in FTE for international commodity operations and food aid programs including Food for Peace Title II and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program.

The Committee does: (1) accept savings from FTE attrition; (2) provide funding for CCC audit readiness; (3) accept savings from federal and non-federal operating expenses; (4) direct farm program modernization savings to be used for other IT purposes proposed and as determined by the Secretary; and (5) accept IT operation maintenance and imaging savings.

CLEAR Initiative.—The Committee is encouraged by FSA’s announcement of the new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiative, the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative, which creates a funding mechanism for the installation of saturated buffers and denitrifying bioreactors (NRCS Standard Codes 604 and 605, respectively) into CRP buffers (CP 21 & CP 22). The CLEAR announcement established policy to incentivize and allow the installation of bioreactors into new, existing, and re-enrolled CRP buffers. However, saturated buffers were only allowed in new and re-enrolled CRP buffers. The Committee understands this has limited the ability of stakeholders to install saturated buffers into CRP without penalty. The Committee recommends FSA look into changing the CLEAR guidelines to allow the installation of saturated buffers in new, re-enrolled and existing CRP contracts to allow FSA cost-shared installation of saturated buffers, and to examine allowing for installation of saturated buffers through non- federal programs and initiatives without penalty to landowners.

Emergency Conservation Program (ECP).—The Committee encourages USDA to continue providing updates of funding needs for ECP, especially in the aftermath of drought, wildfires, and other natural disasters. The Committee encourages FSA to be flexible in meeting new challenges as it was during recent wildfire outbreaks when it allowed grazing on CRP lands.

Senate Report language:
Deputy Under Secretary for Conservation.—The Committee recognizes that NRCS, FSA, and RMA each play an important role in helping farmers, ranchers, and foresters manage risk and build the resilience of their operations. Additionally, better coordination and data sharing between the three agencies can limit inefficiencies, improve conservation outcomes, and enhance USDA’s ability to serve its customers. The Committee therefore encourages the Secretary to establish a Deputy Under Secretary for Conservation under the Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area to facilitate such coordination and ensure that each of the three agencies is supporting the conservation objectives of the producers that they serve.

Emergency Response.—The Committee directs USDA to produce a report outlining the average and longest length of time it takes USDA to provide reimbursement under the following emergency assistance programs: crop insurance; Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program [NAP]; Livestock Indemnity Program [LIP]; Livestock Forage Disaster Program [LFP]; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program [ELAP]; Tree Assistance Program [TAP]; Emergency Conservation Program; and Emergency Forest Restoration Program [EFRP]. USDA is also directed to include in the report any barriers to implementing a more efficient reimbursement process and recommendations to the Committee on potential improvements.

Continuous Conservation Reserve Program.—The Secretary is strongly encouraged to, within the total acreage made available for enrollment in the conservation reserve program and without reducing the periodic availability of general signup, enroll, to the maximum extent practicable, acreage for activities included in the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement practice or other similar administratively established wetland and habitat practices that benefit priority fish and wildlife species identified in State, regional, and national conservation initiatives with a priority for initiatives that provide large blocks of cover ideal for wildlife nesting.

Information Technology.—The Committee remains dedicated to ensuring FSA has reliable and functioning IT systems because it is critical that farmers and ranchers have access to the tools they need to succeed. The Committee has invested significant taxpayer dollars to modernize outdated systems and continues to provide resources above the budget request. The Committee continues statutory language that allows funds for IT to be obligated only after the Secretary meets certain reporting requirements. The Committee has reviewed the third-party IT analysis and expects the agency to follow the recommendations where applicable.

National Agriculture Imagery Program.—The Committee recommends that funding shall be allocated to purchase imagery products to meet programmatic requirements.

Congressional advocacy efforts:
Donny Green, NASCOE Legislative Chairperson, and Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant, recently spent two days on Capitol Hill raising the importance of additional county office staff and rebuilding our footprint.  According to FSA’s Leadership, the agency lost over 150 employees between October 1 and December 23, 2017.  The current county office staffing level is unacceptable and hiring new employees is our top priority.

We met with the following offices;

Senator Thune – R-SD                Senator Gillibrand – D-NY            Senator Daines – R-MT
Senator Klobuchar – D-MN    Senator Heitkamp – D-ND            Senator Donnelly – D-ID
Senator Fischer – R-NE             Senator Smith – D-MN                     Senator Perdue – R-GA
Senator Hoeven – R-ND            Senator Casey – D-PA                     Senator Grassley – R-IA
Senator Boozman – R-AR         Senator Bennet – D-CO
Senate Ag Committee Staff – Majority         Senate Ag Committee Staff – Minority

Donny spoke about the below staffing numbers and the agency’s inability to service customers.

Years Total CO Total GS Total
17-18 Totals 6785 1745 8530
16-17 Totals 7104 1838 8942
15-16 totals 7180 1639 8819
14-15 totals 7145 1586 8731
13-14 totals 6944 1724 8668
12-13 totals 7484 1625 9109
11-12 totals 7678 1621 9299
10-11 totals 8636 1863 8636
09-10 totals 8661.5 1934 10595.5
08-09 totals 8651 1908 10559
07-08 totals 8637 1866 10503
06-07 totals 8647 1820 10467
05-06 totals 8823 1854 10677
04-05 totals 9209 1860 11069
03-04 totals 9329 2110 11439

Passed and Signed! Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 was passed by the House Thursday and by the Senate on Friday. The President signed the Bill this afternoon (3/23/18).

We are happy to report that passage of this Bill funds government operations through Sept. 30, 2018.

The entire Bill is 2,232 pages and we are currently reviewing it. As we learn more, we will be providing further updates.

Have a good weekend!

Donny Green & Jackson Jones
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairpersons