As you may know, FPAC has issued updated guidance regarding COVID-19 staffing at all USDA facilities. The guidance calls for staffing in facilities at 25% of normal employee presence. Understandably, NASCOE has received significant feedback from our membership on how this new guidance will impact our ability to meet customer demand. NASCOE has contacted USDA leadership about our concerns. As with previous COVID-19 decisions, we have learned this will likely be implemented across the entire federal government.
The safety of our members will always be NASCOE’s number one priority. Recent safety measures and office protocols implemented by county office employees has contributed to decreased COVID-19 cases. We believe county office decisions regarding safe staffing levels should be made locally based on sound science and established criteria.
Please know that our work with USDA is focused on identifying any opportunity to keep our offices staffed with appropriate safety measures, which will allow our employees to service production agriculture. In the meanwhile, NASCOE is working to resolve concerns about deficient supplies of laptops and low internet access available for telework. The support and feedback you provide to NASCOE during this challenging time is greatly appreciated.
As we begin 2021, we continue to be faced with unprecedented times, which often make our job in the county office more difficult. We have been challenged to find new, innovative ways to reach our producers, carry out and meet program deadlines, as well as conduct COC meetings, in a safe and healthy manner.
COC meetings are considered mission critical and should continue to be conducted according to COVID-19 protocol either remotely or where feasible, in service centers or other suitable locations where proper social distancing can be achieved. As a reminder, according to 16-AO (Rev.3) paragraph 176 E, more than one-half of the members or alternates serving for them are required as a quorum to conduct official committee business. When official business is being conducted, COC members must be paid according to 27-PM. This requirement encompasses all types of meetings including in-person, teleconference or virtual.
When elected, COC members are given authority to carry out certain statutory and regulatory functions and responsibilities. The National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC) has worked to compile various COC functions and responsibilities from federal statutes, federal regulations, and FSA handbooks in one document. A link to the compilation is located below. We encourage you to access this document for your reference and review.
NAFEC is an employee association for current and past COC and STC members. NAFEC’s mission is similar to the mission of NASCOE. Anyone who wants to support NAFEC can join as an associate member. More information about NAFEC can be found at https://www.nafecfsa.com/.
The NASCOE County Office Advocacy Committee works with NAFEC to protect, enhance, and provide continual education for the farmer-elected committee and county office system for the betterment of NASCOE’s membership, county office FSA employees, and the agricultural communities we serve. If you have any questions, please reach out to Morgan Limmer, County Office Advocacy Chairperson at .
The unavailability of the retirement calculator for retirees has left a backlog of employees needing retirement benefits calculated and analyzed. The NASCOE benefits provider is helping by offering the same calculation services to our members with their software. This is a complimentary service for NASCOE members, so please reach out to them to obtain a calculation and analysis of your retirement benefits. You can call 1-800-692-7643 or email them at .
In our continued efforts to provide valuable benefits, we have partnered with Age of Learning to provide their flagship programs, ABCmouse and Adventure Academy to our membership.
During these trying times with COVID and remote learning, ABCMouse and Adventure Academy is a great way to supplement your children’s education. Members will receive a 74% discount for both programs on the full monthly price for the first two months. After that, the price is just $9.95/month for ABC Mouse and $9.99/month for Adventure Academy until cancelled.
The 2021 higher annual leave carryover limit established under section 1111 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (H.R. 6395), was enacted on January 1, 2021. Since the enactment, OPM has issued their determination of how this new rule will affect Federal employees.
As you may recall, NASCOE consulted with legal counsel, our legislative consultant and contacted various Executive and Legislative branch officials regarding the legislation and the potential adverse effect it could have on county office employees. We believed then and it is now confirmed that this provision will not negatively impact county office employees. FSA employees who were deemed essential due to an exigency of public business will be able to have all their excess leave restored as previously granted by the FSA administrator.
According to OPM, Section 1111 of the NDAA does not eliminate the annual leave restoration rules in 5 U.S.C. 6304(d), which are applied after annual leave hours in excess of the normally applicable annual leave carryover limit are forfeited. The following table issued by OPM, shows key differences between excess leave under section 1111 and restored leave under 5 U.S.C. 6304(d):
Section 1111 (NDAA)
Section 6304 (d)
Approach to allowing carryover above normal limits
Higher carryover limit prevents forfeiture (conditions for applying higher limit are determined by OPM Director)
Leave in excess of the carryover limit is forfeited and then restored if certain statutory conditions are met
Time limits on usage
Must be used during leave year 2021
Varies, but at least 2 years. (See 5 CFR 630.306- 630.310.)
Inclusion in lump-sum annual leave payment upon separation
May not be included.
Limitation on amount
Leave carryover ceiling is 125% of normal ceiling (for most employees, 300 hours instead of 240 hours)
No limitation (but cannot be more than a given employee can accrue in a full leave year)
In conclusion, county office employees who were previously concerned about having their leave restored or receiving lump sum payments for restored leave at retirement can now be assured that OPM has made a clear interpretation of Section 1111 of the NDAA bill. Restoration of forfeited carryover leave should be processed as scheduled with no adverse effects to county office employees.
The NASCOE Distinguished Service Awards and Scholarship deadline is approaching on January 15, 2021 at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. The Awards and Scholarship Committee would like to encourage you to get your submissions in today!
The Distinguished Service Award is designed to recognize your fellow NASCOE members for their hard work in the Community, in FSA/Ag or for NASCOE. Even if the nomination is not selected to be an area or national winner, it is still an honor to be recognized by a fellow member. After deadlines, Ad Hoc programs, and new producers in 2020, fellow FSA collogues could all use a boost in recognition for their hard work.
Do you, your spouse, child or grandchild have plans on attending post-secondary education this coming fall? The NASCOE scholarship program is designed to assist members and their families attend college. There are six different categories for applicants and awards at both the area and national level. Also, check with your state association. Many state associations use the NASCOE scholarship application for state scholarships.
County Committee (COC) ballot counting is behind us, but organizational meetings are upon us. As you have your organizational meeting this month, it is a good time to talk about the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC).
Since 1965, NAFEC and NASCOE have jointly worked to support the COC system of government. NAFEC officers and directors from all across the U.S. regularly visit and work with NASCOE’s leaders on issues and concerns that require working with FSA Management at the state and national level. Working on behalf of FSA COC’s and FSA County Office Employees, NAFEC and NASCOE can jointly accomplish more, for the benefit of agriculture.
Strong membership is one way to ensure goals are met. As your office has their organizational meeting, we urge you to put NAFEC on your agenda. Inform your COC about the association out there that can be a powerful ally. With NAFEC on their side, your COC is protected, reinforced, and strengthened.
Today you are receiving a NAFEC membership packet and a fact sheet with more specific information concerning NAFEC and the COC system. NAFEC believes in our COC system of government and is committed to keeping it strong, useful, powerful, and meaningful. We encourage you to make it a point to include NAFEC on your January COC meeting agenda. If you have any questions, please reach out to Morgan Limmer, County Office Advocacy Chairperson at
MorganLimmerNational County Office Advocacy ChairINTERNET
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress passed legislation that will allow Federal Employees to carryover an additional 25% of their annual leave into year 2021. President Trump recently vetoed the Legislation; however, the House and Senate are expected to override the veto making this year’s NDAA bill public law.
NASCOE is hearing that some State Offices are indicating the NDAA may have an unintended negative effect on employees who have accumulated “restored” annual leave, particularly those who plan to retire in 2021.
NASCOE has consulted legal counsel and contacted various Executive and Legislative branch officials about the legislation’s effect on FSA employees. We believe Congress did not intend that this provision would negatively impact our County Office employees carrying over “restored leave” and should not lead our members toward early retirement. We believe the intent of the Legislative branch is to allow “non-essential” employees, who did not have restored leave, the ability to carryover an additional 25 percent of annual leave for use during 2021.
Even though we believe the language will not affect county office employees with restored leave who were deemed essential, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will have the sole responsibility of interpreting the intent of this new law and how it is applied to Federal employees. At this point we do not anticipate any scenario where OPM will nullify any earned leave that was “restored” due to an exigency of public business.
We will update membership with any subsequent Department or OPM guidance.
Last night, President Trump signed the annual appropriations and COVID relief stimulus package. The signing of this measure provides a full year spending allocation for government agencies and averts any further shutdown concerns. We highlighted key aspects of the USDA budget in our December 22nd News Flash.
The COVID Relief Bill also makes available significant additional funding for farmers as referenced in our December 21st News Flash. Farm Bureau has recently released their assessment of forthcoming programs. If you wish to read their analysis please click here. Note: while some groups are offering their interpretation of provisions, FSA will release final rules and regulations for the programs in the near future.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette, NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs December 23, 2020
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress passed legislation that will allow Federal Employees to carryover an additional 25% of their annual leave into year 2021. While this sounds like a great benefit for Federal Employees, NASCOE is hearing that it may have an unintended negative effect on County Office employees who plan of retiring in 2021 and have accumulated “restored” annual leave. The language in the bill states the extra leave (60 hours) will not be included in lump sum payments that federal employees receive when they leave federal service.
NASCOE has been working over the past week to research the following concerns on behalf of the membership:
Does this language exclude prior leave restored in previous years from being paid out? For example, in August of 2020, OPM allowed employees in Federal agencies to carry over leave due to carrying out COVID-19 relief in their respective agencies. The FSA Administrator subsequently restored excess leave for all County Office employees who assisted with COVID-19 relief.
NASCOE reads the language provided in the NDAA to be separate from any other provisions which allowed prior leave to be carried over into the new year due to COVID-19 relief efforts. Is this interpretation accurate?
Currently, USDA states that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will have the sole responsibility of interpreting the intent of this new law and how it is applied to Federal employees. We realize that immediate retirement decisions may hinge on how this legislation will ultimately be implemented. We also know that some State Offices are notifying employees this new provision may make any previously restored annual leave ineligible for a lump-sum payment upon retirement. It is our hope to find out more information regarding the intent of the legislation, and pass this along to you as soon as possible.