NASCOE “Touch Card” On-The-Way!

June 2021

Dear County Office Employees,

In the coming days, each county office will be receiving an inaugural NASCOE “touch card” explaining the history of NASCOE and the advantages of becoming a member of NASCOE.   This informative card will enable our co-workers to better understand NASCOE and the role it plays in representing all county office employees.  Development of the touch card was a collaborative effort of the NASCOE Membership Work Group.  This group was comprised of PT’s and CED’s from around the nation. 

Along with the touch card, you will receive a letter from NASCOE President, Brandon Wilson.  We encourage you and your co-workers to take a look at both the touch card and the letter from President Wilson.  The touch cards are a great way to engage in conversation about NASCOE and the voice it provides for our co-workers both on the local and national level.

If you would like further information about NASCOE or joining NASCOE, please contact your state association leadership or visit the NASCOE website at https://nascoe.org/.

Thank you for all you do in serving your producers and your FSA Family.

County Committee Orientation Training

Training County Committee members to properly and effectively carry out their roles and responsibilities is a foundational part of county office program delivery.  Last fall, the FSA National Office asked NASCOE, along with the National Association of District Directors (NADD) to be part of a working group to revise the existing County Committee Orientation training material which was created in 2010.  The group revised and updated the training material. 

On October 16, 2020, national notice AO-1763 was issued.  The notice released the newly created COC training material which the task force had developed.  Further, the notice provided for the following:

  • Mandatory use of the revised material by all States
  • Requirement of States to continue to record the completion of training in Ag Learn
  • Revised training materials
    • Participant Guide
    • PowerPoint presentation
  • Materials located on the DAFO SharePoint site:

It is imperative newly elected and appointed COC members receive basic orientation and training as soon as possible after being elected.  Although States were not instructed or given a timeline to have training complete, it is important for COC members to receive proper training to effectively carry out their respective roles and responsibilities, as well as understand the history and importance of the COC system. 

NASCOE urges all county office staff (COC’s, CED’s and PT’s) to review the updated training material at upcoming COC meetings this year.  Completing the training will help COC members reinforce an understanding of their responsibility to the county office, agency and farmers and ranchers in their respective counties.

Membership Awards! – Deadlines Approaching!

The NASCOE Membership Awards deadlines are coming up quickly! Please take a few moments and submit the necessary forms to recognize our members!

  • NASCOE Membership Consecutive Year Awards are due by June 15th
  • NASCOE Memorial Submissions are due to Andrea Stafford by July 1st
  • NASCOE Membership Drive Contest dues must be postmarked by July 10th
  • Honorary Lifetime Membership Submissions are due as retirements occur throughout the year—no deadline, just a reminder to please submit these as soon as possible.

All of the necessary forms and awards information can be found on the NASCOE website at: https://nascoe.org/membership/

(*) The NASCOE Membership Awards are awarded to individuals and county offices who have had 25 years or more of continuous membership. The eligible individuals receive a very nice NASCOE pin with the years of service and a certificate. The county offices will receive a continuous plaque at the National Convention held this year in Wilmington, North Carolina.

We need to recognize our members for their continued years of service! Please provide the necessary information before the applicable deadline.

Thank you for everything that you do to make NASCOE great!

Thank you,

Glenn Thomas
NASCOE Membership Committee

Emergency Paid Leave Concerns

By Brandon Wilson, NASCOE President
May 26, 2021

Recently you may have heard that the new Emergency Paid Leave (EPL) provisions contained in the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) do not apply to County Office (CO) employees.  NASCOE has been working to address this issue for some time and shares the concern of members regarding this benefit not being equally available to CO employees.

Historically, through the labor management agreement, NASCOE has requested that USDA allow CO employees the opportunity to enjoy benefits like those provided for GS employees by Federal law.  USDA has normally responded to those requests favorably such as they did in the fall of 2020 by allowing CO employees access to the Paid Parental Leave benefit. 

The EPL benefit provides paid leave to covered Federal (GS) employees when they are unable to work due to certain COVID-19 situations.  Although this is a great benefit, it is important to note that when this leave is used, it will be reduced from the total service used to calculate Federal civilian annuity retirement benefits.

While in negotiations with USDA regarding this benefit, it was brought to NASCOE’s attention that USDA’s Office of General Counsel believes they cannot grant EPL benefits to CO employees.  ARPA language defined eligible employees as those individuals “for whom annual and sick leave is provided under subchapter I of chapter 63 of title 5, United States Code.”  The USDA Office of General Counsel says County employees do not meet this definition, as their annual and sick leave is provided under Title 7. 

Moving forward, NASCOE remains in discussions with USDA about rectifying outstanding concerns associated with allowing the leave to be available for CO employees.  In addition, the NASCOE Executive Committee will examine demand for this benefit and consider other proposals for similar CO COVID-19 leave alternatives. 

Rest assured, NASCOE leadership fully understands how important new benefits, as well as all our existing benefits, are to each of you.  NASCOE is committed to tirelessly fighting for them on your behalf no matter how long it takes.  We cannot do it alone and appreciate the support of membership as we work to ensure that you continue to have the same privileges that other GS employees enjoy. 

The Convention Cash Club Contest is now Open!

May 18, 2021

The NASCOE Publicity Committee announces that the NASCOE Convention Cash Club Contest is now taking entries through June 15, 2021.

NASCOE members in good standing who have never attended a NASCOE National Convention are invited to enter the contest.  Applicants will submit a one-page essay of 500 words or less discussing the following topic:

“This year’s NASCOE convention theme is: Have a Ball in Indiana.  How is NASCOE like a baseball team and
what position do you play on that team?”
 


A maximum of five stipends of $500 each will be awarded.  One winner will be chosen from each NASCOE Area.  Winners must attend the 2021 NASCOE Convention in Fort Wayne, Indiana and be present for all general sessions and the awards banquet.  Failure to meet the attendance requirement will result in forfeiture of the stipend.

Please visit the NASCOE Convention Cash Club Contest page for full contest details and information on how to enter.

Thank you,
Teresa Holmquist
NASCOE Publicity Chair / Webmaster

Candidacy Announcement Reminder

NASCOE Secretary, Richard Csutoras reminds members that NASCOE will post to the NASCOE Website announcements of persons desiring to run for any NASCOE office. In order to be published on the NASCOE website, announcements must be received by the Secretary no later than May 15.

All announcements will be posted at the same time as soon after June 1 as practical. In no way is this to be construed that announcements must be publicized in this manner as candidates may, if they so desire, initiate their own mailing.

Please transmit any Candidacy Announcements to NASCOE Secretary, Richard Csutoras at . Announcements must be received no later than May 15, 2021.

If no announcement for an Officer, Area Executive or Alternate Area Executive is received by May 15, a statement will be placed on the NASCOE Website that no candidates have announced at this time for the respective position(s).

Neither the NASCOE newsletter nor area bulletins are to be used for announcements of candidates. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that the announcement has been correctly posted.

FSA National Office Work Details Available

The National Office has two, that’s right TWO work details open to FSA employees.  The first detail is to assist with DAFP and closes on April 7, 2021.  The second detail is to assist with the Conservation Division and closes on April 9, 2021.  NASCOE realizes the abundance of talent FSA employees have across the country and wants to make sure everyone has the opportunity to apply.  If you or a co-worker are interested in applying, this is a great way to be a part of our agency at a national level.


Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs (DAFP) Detail

Duties:
Seeking current FSA CO or GS employee with strong FSA program knowledge and experience to assist the Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs (DAFP) with new and existing program implementation and policy.  (Two positions available).

Timeframe:
8-week detail starting in mid-April 2021.

Location:
Remote, with potential for travel to Washington DC (travel is optional).

Response Date:
COB April 7, 2021 (include brief overview about yourself and your work experience at FSA).

Contacts: Please send requested information/responses and/or questions to: and

Summary:  Selected individuals will work from their current location and can split their time between their current duties and this temporary assignment.  They may be able to work in Washington DC for a two-week period, but travel is not required.  They will assist DAFP to implement existing and new programs.  Applicants must obtain approval/written concurrence from their supervisor(s), before applying.  Applicants should respond by COB April 7th 2021 and include a few bullets about themselves.  Include information about FSA work experience.  It is anticipated the assignment will start in mid-April and last 8 weeks.  Both CO and GS employees are encouraged to apply.


Conservation Division Detail

Duties: The FSA Conservation Division is seeking up to 3 individuals to serve as Agricultural Program Specialists to assist the Program Managers of the Conservation Division.  Tasks may include, but are not limited to:

  • Reviewing and editing FSA State Office amendments to Handbook 2-CRP regarding specific CREP Agreements.
  • Reviewing and editing FSA State Office amendments to Handbook 2-CRP regarding specific SAFE projects.
  • Reviewing and recommending edits to Handbooks (2-CRP, 1-ECP, and 1-EFRP).
  • Develop a method to identify and track approved management activities.
  • Assist in developing a new CRP emergency haying and grazing tracking system.
  • Assist in automating the CRP haying and grazing provision in CCMS.
  • Assist in responding to requests from FSA State Offices.
  • Assist in the development of briefing materials, notices, and training materials.

Qualifications:

  • GS-9 or higher.
  • Working knowledge of the FSA Conservation Programs.
  • Experience writing clear, informative documents.
  • Ability to communicate and work collaboratively.
  • Open to all FPAC employees.

Timeframe:
Detail assignment will be for up to 120-days, beginning on or about April 12, 2021.

Location:
Duties will be completed mainly from the employee’s current duty station with potential for 1-3 weeks in Washington, D.C. National Headquarters or Kansas City, as needed.  Travel duration and timing will be determined with the individuals upon selection.

Response Date:
Apply to this detail by close of business April 9, 2021, by submitting your resume including specific relevant experience (not more than 2 pages), and a short cover letter stating your interest in this detail.

Contact:
Please send requested information and/or questions to: Dana Ashford-Kornburger at

Summary:

Apply to this detail by close of business April 9, 2021, by submitting your resume including specific relevant experience (not more than 2 pages), and a short cover letter stating your interest in this detail.  Written approval from your immediate supervisor and/or concurrence from the State Executive Director/State Conservationist/Senior Supervisor must also be included.  All documentation and questions should be submitted directly to Dana Ashford-Kornburger at

Legislative Committee Update – March 29, 2021

By Clint Bain and Neil Burnette

We hope this legislative update finds you all well.  With COVID-19 continuing to impact our work environment, we are doing our best to serve NASCOE members and production agriculture.  Recently, the Department of Agriculture announced our offices would be operating under limited capacity.  We continue to urge our leadership to make decisions regarding office status based on data in the local area as opposed to government wide mandates.  It is our belief that the new team leading USDA understands the importance of allowing our county offices to operate and service our customers.

In addition to COVID office concerns, we have heard about various states lowering annual employee ceilings.  Despite FSA receiving a budget increase this year, some state offices have cited “budget cuts” as the reason for lowering the total number of county office employees NASCOE leadership is working to better understand the budget challenges our agency faces for the current fiscal year. FSA employees continually respond to every challenge as they do their part to support American farmers.  Over the past two years, county office employees have worked tirelessly implementing trade adjustment and COVID relief payments.      

The chart below provides details about recent FSA spending levels. These funding levels can be found in the annual Agriculture Appropriations report.  The funding chart appears as the Comparative Statement of Budget Authority (CSBA).   

FPAC Business Center (including transfers)FSA Salaries and Expenses (including transfers)
FY 2021 = $291,960,000FY 2021 = $1,437,038,000
FY 2020 = $280,186,000FY 2020 = $1, 414,214,000
FY 2019 = $292,659,000FY 2019 = $1,375,177,000

NASCOE has been diligent showing members of Congress the need to provide funding increases year after year.  To assist Congress with preparing this year’s budget, NASCOE visited with the House Agriculture Chairman and spoke about staffing concerns before the House Agriculture Sub-Committee on Nutrition and Forestry. 

Please keep us updated should you hear about employee ceilings in your state being lowered based on funding reductions.  NASCOE leadership shares the frustration and concerns of those states that had a reduction in staffing.  We will continue to work with the new administration and use every avenue available to seek resolution to these issues.

American Rescue Plan Act

NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
March 10, 2021

The House approved the $1.9 trillion COVID Relief Bill which is now headed to President Biden for signature. The following provisions are a few of the items contained in the bill:

AGRICULTURE The measure would appropriate $4 billion to the Agriculture Department to purchase and distribute food and agricultural commodities, including seafood, and to make grants and loans to small and midsized food processors and distributors.  

The package also would appropriate such sums as may be necessary for loan modifications and payments to farmers and ranchers who are members of groups that have been socially disadvantaged in Agriculture Department programs. The department could pay as much as 120% of each such farmer or rancher’s debt on loans it made or guaranteed.

It would provide $1.01 billion for grants and loans to improve land access for socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, as well as scholarships, outreach, financial training, and other technical assistance. A portion of this funding will support the activities of one or more equity commissions that will address racial equality issues within the Department of Agriculture and its programs.

FEDERAL EMPLOYEE LEAVE – The measure would provide $570 million for an Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund to be administered by the Office of Personnel Management. The funds could be used to reimburse federal agencies for emergency leave taken by civilian employees and postal workers which include the following purposes: employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis, obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine, subject to quarantine orders, or looking after children participating in virtual learning classes.

Paid leave could not exceed 600 hours per employee or $2,800 for a biweekly pay period, and it would have to be used by Sept. 30, 2021. Any leave provided to an employee would reduce the total service used to calculate retirement benefits.

TAX PROVISIONS – The bill provides another round of direct payments of as much as $1,400 for an individual, $2,800 for joint filers, and $1,400 for each qualifying dependent. The payments would begin to phase out for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 and would be zero for AGIs of $80,000 or more. Those amounts would be doubled for joint filers. Payments would be based on 2019 or 2020 tax returns.

NOT INCLUDED – Senate Democrats did not include the House passed $15 an hour minimum wage provision.

NASCOE President’s Message on USDA Facility Staffing

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.