2017 NASCOE Negotiation Items

ITEM 1: LOAN APPROVAL AUTHORITY

Issue:  Currently, 1-FLP, Par. 25 outlines that SED’s, in conjunction with FLC, should identify areas of their State that could justify and benefit from CED having loan approval and servicing authority.

The office or area where CED would be designated by SED to obtain loan making and servicing approval authority must meet both of the following conditions.

– Direct and/or guaranteed caseload in the office or area is high, complex, or geographically challenging and FLM, SFLO, or FLP team servicing the office or area needs additional help.

– CED has sufficient time for additional responsibilities required to obtain and maintain loan making and servicing authority without negatively impacting CED’s current farm program obligations.

The announcement of the new Microloan-FSFL program is an exciting opportunity to reach a new customer base with a streamlined loan product, but an already heavy workload of FLP loans may be an obstacle in this implementation.

NASCOE Position: Many Farm Loan teams already have a broad portfolio of direct and guaranteed loans, including microloans. Their workload in some locations is at a level that already equates to delayed processing of FSFL applications.  This impacts our ability to deliver Microloan-FSFLs, which by nature are intended to be streamlined, easily accessible, and quickly processed.

A good number of CED’s have either educational background or work history that includes finance, and equips them to be a candidate for Farm Loan approval authority.

When loan applicants present to FSA with a proposed project and are assigned to work with FLO/FLM to determine credit worthiness, we may see situations where customers could be redirected to the FLP Microloan program, instead of the FSFL.

A change in policy that would allow for CED’s to have a limited Loan Approval Authority specific to FSFLs up to $50,000 or $100,000, this would allow for a much more streamlined implementation of the FSFL Program, specifically the recently announced Microloan-FSFL.

A suggestion is for CED’s be required to complete Phase 1 of the FLOT program as currently prescribed in 6-PM, Part. 13, but then complete Phase 2 in a modified format to include meeting the state-established credit quality standards on a prescribed number of independently prepared files, which consist only of FSFLs up to $50,000/$100,000, or comparable direct microloans.

This delegation of authority would apply to loan approval only for FSFLs. It would accomplish a significantly improved delivery of service for FSFL applications, particularly in counties without a full-time FLP presence.

DAFLP Response: According to 1-FSFL Handbook, the COC or STC is the approval official for FSFL loans, and FLP loan approval officials only provides a recommendation.  FSFL loans are not mentioned in the loan delegation section of FLP Handbook (1-FLP), only Exhibit 15 for FBP, which describes how to document the recommendation.  Our FLP handbooks only cover FLP functions and program policies and procedures. We believe changes for approval of FSFL Microloans be a Price Support/DAFP, rather than DAFLP, decision.

DAFO Response: This would be a sea-change in CED duties requiring major discussions with DAFO, HRD, and FLP. Likewise, any such changes in the duties of the CED would require the assent of respective county committees to determine if the CED would be able to assume added duties.

DAFP Response: We appreciate the suggestion submitted requesting a change to FSFL policy where CED’s can be trained to have limited loan approval authority for FSFL’s up to $50,000 or $100,000.

The National Price Support Division and Farm Loan staff will work together to develop a modified “no cost” loan approval authority training package.  At a later time, we will share more details about the loan approval authority training package and intended audience.

Agreement: As resources may permit, DAFLP and DAFP agreed to put together a pilot program to give CED’s authority to conduct financial analysis on Farm Stored Facility Loans under the County Committee approval limits. The COC would still have final approval up to $100,000.00 for all FSFL loans. NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 2: MAILING CONTRACTS TO OTHER COUNTIES

Issue: Mailing of original FSA-578 certifications and ARC/PLC contracts after they are faxed or emailed to the office when working in nationwide customer service. I took a certification for a county and emailed the signed 578 & map to the county, now I have to take the time to also make out an envelope, make a copy of the original and mail the original to the county office that I just emailed the paperwork to. What a waste of time and finances (46.5 cents for each certification I have to mail to different offices.) Plus why do I need a copy of the contract since I have the copy of the email that I sent?

NASCOE Position: According to procedure State and County Office Action State and County Offices that process nationwide customer service FSA-578’s must: • immediately FAX a copy of the signed FSA-578 and map to the producer’s administrative county • mail the original signed FSA-578 and map to the producer’s administrative county • maintain a copy of the signed FSA-578 and map. When taking a FSA-578 or ARC/PLC contract under Nationwide Customer Service we must immediately fax or email the administrative county a copy of the certification or contract and then we must mail the original to the administrative county and keep a copy.

To remove the redundancy of having a lot of paper work in both offices by eliminating the mailing of the FSA-578 and/or ARC/PLC contract when working in Nationwide Customer Service because it will already either faxed or emailed the information and the original can be kept on file in the office. The forms should be emailed or faxed and the original filed in the office that took the form. The emailed form could be stored in a sent folder with the County’s name on it, but the original would still be available if needed.

DAFP Response: DAFP is not opposed to only requiring the emailed or faxed copy of the document being sent to the administrative county of the farm, however, there are some concerns that must be addressed.

Generally, the policy for sending/receiving contracts and certifications is outdated when compared to the technology available.  While this technology is usually reliable, there are times when it fails.  Also, the scanned and emailed copy of a map or the faxed copy of a map is not of the best quality which would necessitate the mailing of at least the map from one county to the other.

Policy for the sending and receiving of certifications and contracts needs to be removed from each program’s policy handbook and included in handbook 1-CM.  DAFP will move towards developing a more user friendly format in handling producers that are using the Nationwide Customer Access function to enroll or certify farms.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 3: AGLEARN TRAINING

Issue: Training on various topics is provided for through the AgLearn website and employees are to log on and take the required training when the training has been posted to AgLearn and before the deadline.

NASCOE Position: Notification of training requirements are ongoing throughout the year, some have several months to complete, some have a relatively short timeframe to complete the training. During heavy workload times, it is difficult to complete the trainings with the short turnaround timeframe.

Have all required training issued and posted to Ag Learn at the beginning of the FY and have the year to work on the required training, or at least be able to see all the training at once and when it is due to be completed and be able to manage the completion of it more efficiently.

HRD Response: HRD appreciates NASCOE’s idea in this area. However, the Ag Learn courses are typically created by a specific program area (civil rights or IT) or at the Department level.  As a result, HRD cannot load the courses prior to their availability from the appropriate area.  HRD will; however, make a note and load the course just as soon as it is available thus giving employees the maximum amount of notice to complete their training requirement and meet the established deadlines.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response. HRD will work with the AgLearn contractor to enhance the software to add an email notification feature for when courses have been added to an employee’s worklist and the possibility of a 30-day deadline notification reminder email.


ITEM 4: STAFFING/PERSONNEL

Issue: The SWA RSO pilot has become an approved organization and consists of employees in state offices throughout the southwest area. There have been several job opportunities within the RSO, but they only list state offices as potential duty locations.

NASCOE Position: By limiting duty stations to state offices, numerous highly-qualified candidates do not apply because they don’t want to move across the state. If a job can be carried out across state lines, it doesn’t make sense that the same job couldn’t be carried out remotely in a county office.

RSO positions, as well as many other NOF jobs that allow STO duty stations, should allow the selected employee to work out of a county office.

HRD Response: HRD will defer to DAFO on this issue for the RSO positions.  If DAFO wishes to pursue this option, HRD can certainly accommodate the “area of consideration” in the vacancy announcement process.   As a side note, there are some STO positions which are located in county offices.

As far as National Office positions, this would be left up to the selecting official’s discretion. However, once again, HRD could certainly accommodate the “area of consideration” in the vacancy announcement process.

DAFO Response: The previous SED RSO Council established a policy, which strongly encouraged the duty station of RSO employees in SWA STO’s; however, they also afforded some latitude to the Selecting Official (in consultation with RSO Manager) to duty station an employee in a County Office.  A compelling reason for doing so was required.  Only one such request has been approved.

DAFO has discussed this item with the Manager of the RSO, who feels that the RSO needs its employees co-located, not scattered.  Concentrations of employees provide for a number of benefits including training, cross-training, and enhanced privacy protection because of the nature of the work performed, all of which ultimately provide payback to the end-user/customer in form of available and informed personnel to respond rapidly and efficiently.

There is also the issue of space to accommodate both the newly hired RSO employee in small offices.

Agreement: This item will be considered in the future. They will discuss the possibility of doing remote positions with the RSO management.  NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 5: CRP CONTINUOUS CONTRACTS

Issue: 7 CFR 1410.22 states “For general signup and continuous signup contracts except grasslands, mid-contract management must be conducted to implement management activities, such as disking and prescribed burning according to an approved conservation plan, as part of the CRP contractual obligation on all contracts entered into under general signup and continuous signup, as specified in 7 CFR 1410.30”.

NASCOE Position: Continuous CRP offers are made and approved based upon a determined resource need on the offered land. By requiring that the cover established on this resource concern be disturbed by a mid-contract management activity, it defeats the purpose of establishing a practice to correct a resource need

To maintain the intent of the Continuous CRP program, which is to address a resource concern and incorporate the appropriate practice to correct the resource concern, an update to the regulations needs to be made. Not all CRP contracts need to have mid-contract management practices which will disturb the established cover.

DAFP Response: The requirement for at least 1 management activity during the contract period for all practices, except CP87 and CP88, is to ensure the approved cover, applicable plant diversity and wildlife benefits are maintained, while ensuring the resource concern(s) continues to be addressed.  Management activities are site specific, developed in coordination with the appropriate technical agency with the experience necessary to ensure the resource concern(s) are not jeopardized during the approved management activity, and are included as part of the producers conservation plan of operations.  This is applicable to all practices, not just those enrolled under the continuous CRP signup provisions.  In addition, participants may receive cost-share for approved management activities to lessen the cost of such activities and further ensure the approved cover is in compliance with the practice standards and conservation plan of operations.   Over 30 years of experience with CRP cover establishment, maintenance, and management activities has shown that appropriate management activities performed at the appropriate time helps ensure the approved cover, plant diversity, and wildlife benefits are present and maintained throughout the contract period.  Such activities also assist participants in maintaining compliance with their contract requirements, which results in fewer contract violations for non-compliance, fewer contract terminations, and fewer required refunds of payments.  In addition, the required management activities ensure that tax payer funds are used in an efficient and effective manner for the benefits obtained, while treating all participants in a fair and equitable manner.

Though not specifically referenced in 2-CRP (Rev 5), Mid Contract Management is required by the CFR and Statute.

As you have referenced, 7 CFR 1410.22 states “For general signup and continuous signup contracts except grasslands, mid-contract management must be conducted to implement management activities, such as disking and prescribed burning according to an approved conservation plan, as part of the CRP contractual obligation on all contracts entered into under general signup and continuous signup, as specified in 7 CFR 1410.30”.

Further, Section 1232(a)(5) DUTIES OF OWNERS AND OPERATORS.

(a) IN GENERAL — Under the terms of a contract entered into under this subchapter, during the term of the contract, an owner or operator of a farm or ranch shall agree (5) to undertake management on the land as needed throughout the term of the contract to implement the conservation plan.

Agreement: Farm Bill discussions are going on currently and there could be some discretion used in the future to work with NRCS technical determinations. At this point, mid contract management could be modified but it must be followed.

NASCOE accepts this response.


ITEM 6: COC ELECTION BALLOTS

Issue: There are no clear instructions on the election ballot that a title is required if the voter is an entity.

NASCOE Position: Clear instructions should be added to the election ballot stating that a title for an entity is required.

Under Step 3, Sign on label to the right, it says “You must sign on the label next to Signature (By) or your ballot cannot be counted”, we could add an additional sentence that states, If you are an entity, trust, corporation, partnership, etc., you MUST include a title such as trustee, member, etc. or your ballot will not be counted. This sentence could even be in bold or red print.

DAFO Response: Below is what the label looks like now. The suggested addition could be added under the directions for Step 3.  The label has not changed for years, and there have been no issues so far.  However, it is doable. We will have to discuss this matter with MSD and the various contractors involved in the ballot process.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response. DAFO has agreed to insert a statement (note) in red to list example titles for persons to enter for signing authority. DAFO also agreed to update procedure to allow County Committee’s discretion to determine validity of individuals signing on behalf of an entity without entering a title on the ballot.


ITEM 7: COT OPENINGS AND PLACEMENTS

Issue: Currently COT’s are hired, trained and then apply for county office openings. During 2015 negotiations, NASCOE proposed hiring COT’s for the county office where the COT would be permanently placed and then training would take place.  NASCOE noted that this proposal would increase applications from individuals who wanted to be in that specific county which would lead to a stable county office into the future.  Management expressed openness to consider NASCOE’s suggested changes and NASCOE provided a white paper with concepts on how these changes might benefit county committees looking for stability and provide more opportunities for county office employees.

NASCOE Position:  Just like the FLOT position, NASCOE feels that a COT should be hired for the county office where the CED position is needed.  Further, this proposal is of high priority for our membership.  Management has not formally responded to NASCOE’s suggested changes to the COT program hiring process.  NASCOE requests that management respond in writing to the concepts to allow further discussion on this topic and search for solutions to NASCOE’s and management’s differences.  A PT would be able to apply for a specific CED position and be trained for that position, in other than for hard to fill positions

The COC would make the selection for the county and the state committee would actually hire the COTS.   The position would be advertised for a specific county, the application is done through USAJOBS, the STC selects COTS and would submit 3 names for county openings. (This item was also submitted in 2016)

HRD Response: The decision on how to select and train COTs as well as place them upon completion of the training program is an agency choice.   Obviously, there are pros and cons associated with the current at-large method as well as the specific location method which NASCOE supports.  There is certainly value in the at-large program as it allows states the ability to hire and train COTs before actual vacancies occur.  This way, when the vacancy does occur, there are individuals ready to be interviewed and selected for the CED position rather than just beginning the training process.  HRD will defer to DAFO for their determination on what is best for the States and County Offices on this issue.

DAFO Response: Not all FLOTs are hired for a specific office, as the past.   DAFO continues to believe that states cannot determine with complete accuracy where vacancies will be in the future.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 8: ENHANCING MIDAS SOFTWARE

Issue:  Currently MIDAS users can search farm number, tract number, owner, operator etc.  Being able to search in Midas by CRP contract # would be useful for farms that have multiple contracts on the same tract number.  For instance, if a farm was reconstituted and the farm number changed, every CRP contract would have to be revised. Every field with CRP would have to be revised in Midas as well to add the suffix to the CRP contract #.  If you could search by contract, you could ensure that all the field numbers were updated correctly.

NASCOE Position: Modify the search options in MIDAS to include being able to search by CRP contract number and have all CLU’s associated with that shown in the search results. This will lead to fewer omissions on the CRP mismatched report.

DAFP Response: This suggestion is being added to our list of enhancements and will be implemented as soon as resources and budget can be allocated to the enhancement.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 9: MODIFY THE CCC-576

Issue: The Issue is that when you enter multiple losses for a producer and the notice of loss application prints, it prints to a continuous run of pages. The first page of the CCC-576 Notice of Loss, has the producer’s name, crop year and state and county code listed.  However, the continued pages of the CCC-576 do not have any information listed regarding to name, crop, year, state and county code or page number.  If the pages get out of order or mixed with another producers notice of loss you cannot tell which page goes where.

NASCOE Position: Modify the CCC-576 to include the producer’s name, crop year, state code, county code and page number in the header to each page of the CCC-576 when it prints.

DAFP Response: This enhancement is being adopted and will be implemented in the near future.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 10: USING CO SLOTS AND HIRING PROCEDURE TO FILL GS POSITIONS

Issue: Several states have routinely utilized CO ceiling slots to fill positions for the GS side. More and more often this is being done because it is usually less complicated and quicker than going through the GS hiring procedure.  Many times the intent is to convert the position to GS in a few months but there are several cases around the country where this has not been done or has not been done timely.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE understands that FSA is understaffed both on the CO and GS side and that SED’s have the ability to flex ceiling slot from CO to GS and vice versus. While this might be a tool that is available for states to consider it should not be a common occurrence and the slots should revert back to the original ceiling as soon as possible.

HRD Response: While this can be done, HRD would caution offices on doing this as a way to circumvent merit promotion hiring policies on the GS side. This hiring method should truly be used when we don’t have an FTE available for the position needing to be filled.

DAFO Response: The “flexing” of staff years from CO to GS and vice versa is a tool used by some SED’s to mitigate short-term staffing short falls and meet critical needs. It should be understood that positions are not flexed, rather it is the staff year (I.e., funding) that is flexed to fill a critical need.   It continues to be DAFO’s policy that the flexing of staff years is a short term situation and not a common occurrence.  It is DAFO’s policy that approved flexing does not carry beyond the fiscal year for which it is approved.  In recent years, many State’s individual employment levels have been below their State ceiling levels and the need for flexing has been minimal. 

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 11: INCLUDING THE NASCOE NEW HIRE PACKET PART OF EXHIBIT 6 IN 28-PM

Issue: NASCOE and management have agreed in previous negotiation meetings that State Offices shall make NASCOE membership informational brochures and application forms available to all new hires. This has been communicated to SED’s and AO’s through emails and memos from DAFO to the state offices.  However, with routine turnover in SED’s and DAFO, NASCOE has to make subsequent requests that State Offices be reminded of this agreement.

NASCOE Position: If the membership informational brochure, membership application and FSA-444 were added to the new hire checklist in exhibit 6 in 28-PM it would be made available to all new employees as previously agreed to by NASCOE and Management.

HRD Response:  While HRD recognizes NASCOE as an employee organization, we do not feel that putting informational material in our agency handbooks is appropriate.  Exhibit 22 of Handbook 22-PM, contains a copy of the Labor-Management Relations Agreement between USDA/FSA and NASCOE, and Section 3, Item 15 of this handbooks specifically states that solicitation of membership shall be conducted during non-duty hours of the employees involved.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response. HRD has agreed to add the FSA-444 to the checklist of required forms in the exhibit of 28-PM in a handbook update. HRD also agreed to insert a link to all employee associations for information in 28-PM.


ITEM 12: IT CYBERSECURITY

Issue: Our Country is in an ongoing battle of cyber threats and attacks. In fact, several thousand Federal employees have had their SS#’s stolen. After which, and over the past 18 months, Federal employees have been offered a free service of identity protection through CSID.

NASCOE Position: The threats on our identity are still very real and the need for cyber security has only increased. Would like to see all employees offered Identity protection during their employment years and possibly at a reduced cost for retirees.

HRD Response: The decision as to what type of credit monitoring and identity protection employees/retirees will receive as a result of the cyber incidents falls with the jurisdiction of OPM rather than HRD.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 13: IT/WEBTA

Issue: WebTA 4.2 is not user friendly. The screens are hard to read/follow when loading time and attendance. The screens in the new WebTA system are very hard on the eyes when reading them, and program codes are not listed in order.

NASCOE Position: Several modifications would greatly increase the efficiency of recording our time and attendance. Those would include differentiating each line, grouping the activities alphabetically and locking the header so that the day is always visible when you scroll to the bottom of the entries.  In addition, it does not read very easy when the CED’s time and attendance is printed for the County Committee’s review and approval.

OBF Response: OBF concurs with this recommendation. OBF and HRD are working together to have a change implemented by the NFC to address this at a future date to be determined.

HRD Response: The WebTA 4.2 dashboard issue came up after implementation. NFC responded that the WebTA 4.2 system is 508 compliant and the current display is as designed.   NFC advised that any requested screen changes to the application would be an enhancement. On February 27, 2017, HRD submitted a follow-up inquiry to OHRM to determine whether USDA has any plans to requisition the enhancements and if so, what specifically, and when might they be available in WebTA 4.2.  HRD will continue to follow-up on this issue.

Agreement: The request has been made to list activities alphabetically. There has been assurance from Kronos to simplify WebTa.  To ensure the headquarters team is notified of the problems.  They are working on setting up a SharePoint site for state offices to input problems and issues.  They are aware that there are attempts to address issues and this has bypassed headquarters and this is not a good situation.  Everyone is facing the same problems.  There are people from the field involved in testing.  NASCOE accepts the response.  A list will be compiled and submitted through STO.  A NASCOE POC (Dennis Ray) will have access to the SharePoint site to submit issues.


Items from 2016 NASCOE Negotiations (Resubmitted)

ITEM 2: SHARED MANAGEMENT PROCEDURE

Issue:  “Before STC approval of the establishment of a permanent shared management operation, the SED will consult the NASCOE state affiliate.”  At present, many STO’s are not following this procedure.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE recommends that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedures in 27-PM, paragraph 52C. SED’s are to consult in pre-decisional format before the establishment of a shared management operation.

HRD Response:  We agree that the policy requires the consultation and defer to DAFO on any reminders to or reinforcement of the policy with the States.  We do stand ready to assist if any clarifications or changes to the handbook need to be issued.

DAFO Response:  States routinely send in requests for approval of shared management proposal.  DAFO always ascertains if consultation has taken place.  If this is not happening, we should be informed.

Negotiation agreement: NASCOE would like an official response from the state association attached to the decisions regarding shared management to ensure the NASCOE state affiliate is involved. DAFO will review this issue to come up with a solution to show a written NASCOE position accompanying the State request for permanent shared management.  A response will be sent back to NASCOE within 30 days.  This is to ensure the states are following current policy.  NASCOE will provide feedback in the consultation.  Written documentation of the consultation with the state association included in the submission to DAFO for permanent shared management. An email will be sufficient for a response.  HRD can draft policy for DAFO review to be submitted to NASCOE.

DAFO Response: Shared management is and has been a reality for many years. Given budgetary and   legislative restrictions, we see no realistic alternatives in the near future.  DAFO approves all shared management requests and ensures that NASCOE affiliates have been contacted and that all requisite COC and STC approvals have been obtained. 

HRD Response: HRD will defer to DAFO on this issue; however, if the decision is made to incorporate this into the handbook, HRD can certainly update Handbook 27-PM, Paragraph 52C accordingly.

Agreement: Management will agree to consulting the associations during the proposed establishment of a permanent shared management situation and having COC involvement.   There will be an amendment to 27 PM to include such reference.  NASCOE accepts this response.


ITEM 4: TEMPORARY SHARED MANAGEMENT-LENGTH OF TIME

Issue:  Provisions in 27-PM paragraph 53C “temporary shared management operations shall not exceed 120 calendar days.”  At present, many STO’s are not following this procedure.

NASCOE Position:  NASCOE recommends that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedures. Procedures shall be followed in instances where shared management operations exceed 120 days by SED’s meeting with COC’s to “work out a permanent solution.  Any exceptions to the 120 calendar day limitation shall be approved in advance by DAFO.”

HRD Response:  We concur with the statement of the policy and defer to DAFO on any reminders to or reinforcement of the policy with the States.  We do stand ready to assist if any clarifications or changes to the handbook need to be issued.

DAFO Response:  All extensions are approved by DAFO after it is determined how long the shared management operation will continue and what plans the State has to end it.  As was have reiterated many time, budgetary and current Congressional restrictions prevent us from taking necessary steps to ease the situation of so many shared management office.

Agreement: DAFO agreed to have temporary defined as 6 months and the review will have attached COC minutes showing the consultation with the state affiliate of NASCOE was done.

DAFO Response: Given the many variables is each situation, it is often difficult to determine prospectively when it might be feasible to discontinue a share management operation. DAFO always asks the state what their future plans are.

HRD Response: The 120 days has already been changed to 6 months in Handbook 27-PM. As soon as Revision 2 is released, this will be visible to all employees.

Agreement: Management agreed to have COC’s involved in shared management extensions. DAFO agreed to have temporary defined as 6 months and the review will have attached COC minutes showing the consultation with the state affiliate of NASCOE was done.

NASCOE accepts this response.

Updates from the NASCOE President

I just got home from an amazing trip for NASCOE that started in Dayton, Ohio, with the MWA Rally. Acting FSA Administrator Chris Beyerhelm thanked everyone for their service to the American Rancher and Farmer. He reminded us that we made $22 billion in payments that truly strengthens the economy in rural America. He emphasized that we need to tell our story to the American people and Congress. We need to tell them what the 22 billion dollars that we disperse does. Mr. Beyerhelm also said that he was hopeful that budget cuts would not be as bad as originally thought and to remember it’s a process and that Congress will ultimately determine our funding. We are important to rural America; especially to agriculture. He also encouraged us to recognize our peers with nominations for Administrator and other awards. You could hear the passion that our Administrator has for recognizing our employees for their excellent work; this is an opportunity to show case our best employees and is something management is encouraging us to do. As the NASCOE President, I was impressed that he knew how many outstanding and superior performance ratings CO employees had earned nationwide and compared that to the number of nominations for Administrator Awards they had received. We also heard from Brad Karmen, Acting DAFP. He shared with everyone that, as he arrived at our meeting, the Whitehouse was trying to gather information on the devastating fires in several SWA states. The Whitehouse wanted the information by 12:00 p.m., which gave them less than 1.5 hours to get it together. This information was collected from each state, compiled, and delivered to the Whitehouse by 11:59 a.m. This is just another example of why FSA is known as the “can do” agency. We were reminded that Congress is aware of the job we do and dollars we disperse across the country. It’s important that we continue to do our jobs to the best of our ability.

The next stop was Washington, D.C., for the NASCOE Negotiations Meeting with FSA Management. We met in a conference room in the Whiten Building that has been used by Presidents of the United States of America and numerous Secretaries of Agriculture. Sitting in this esteemed room gave me the sense of how important our negotiations process is. Where it may not compare to discussions between a United States President and his cabinet, it did make me appreciate the seriousness of our dialogues with management. The NASCOE team did an amazing job representing you and the issues you asked us to discuss on your behalf with Management. We were very successful in reaching positive agreements with Management on most of the items. A detailed report will be forthcoming when the final results are released by Management. Thanks to FSA Management for listening and working with NASCOE to help all of us do the best job we can in serving our producers. I also want to thank the NASCOE team for all of their preparation and professionalism in presenting your issues and concerns. We also worked with Management on the possibility of some relief for recent CP Notice concerning late-filed certification and, as always, strengthening COC authorities.

Next I flew to Fargo, North Dakota, with MWA Executive Chris Hare to attend the MNASCOE Convention in Alexandria, Minnesota. We flew into Fargo because our good friend Gwen Uecker had offered to pick us up at the airport and show us a lot of the farming around Cass County and carry us to and from Alexandria, Minnesota. Some good friends joined us on our tour, and while we discussed all aspects of our various FSA jobs, we really enjoyed the vast countryside and all the rich soil and abundance of water. The convention was well attended and very informative. There is an exciting trend happening at recent conventions and rallies. There were 17 first-timers in attendance at MNASCOE Convention. I was impressed and excited as I got to visit with them and encourage them to become active members of NASCOE.

As I have traveled around the country, I have become very concerned about the County Committee (COC) delivery system and especially the COC’s authorities and responsibilities. We all should know that the COC hires and supervises the CED. The CED hires and supervises the program technicians in their office or offices. The CED manages the office. District Directors are liaisons between the State Committee and the County Committee, supervise farm loan managers, and are a tremendous resource for the county offices. DD’s have an important role in FSA, but they do not supervise county offices, as some assume. Because COC members do not have access to our government computers, DD’s electronically approve the CED’s time and attendance for the COC in WEBTA. NASCOE has also received a small number of concerns across the country with District Directors changing the COC’s performance evaluation of their CED. DD’s should always consult with the COC’s and provide factual information to support or lower the COC’s appraisal of the CED. These discussions should be taking place throughout the rating period and documented in the COC Executive Minutes. We hear too many instances where our COC’s are not adequately involved. County Committees and CED’s must understand their obligations to document performance metrics and operational progress in the monthly county committee minutes. Are you documenting sign-up numbers and your efficiency of meeting deadlines? Are you doing a good job documenting your outreach efforts and anything you do above your normal duties? It is very important to keep your COC well-informed and involved in everything going on in your office. Keep your DD informed of your COC’s actions and requests. Remember, we are a team and ultimately it is about serving our farmers and ranchers. When we need to improve, let’s recognize that and hold ourselves accountable. When we excel, let’s highlight our accomplishments. As our Acting Administrator, Chris Beyerhelm, said in Dayton, let’s recognize our employees that are doing superior and outstanding work.

It’s good to be home after an extended NASCOE trip. I tremendously enjoyed getting to spend the last ten days working with the NASCOE Team. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you do for our membership! I would like to thank my FSA office staff, Christel Youmans and Tiffany Howard, for all they do for the producers of Dillon County, SC. I simply could not serve NASCOE if it were not for them and the support of my COC. Last, but not least, thanks to my wife, Anne, for supporting my efforts and travels on behalf of NASCOE, and to my son, Will, for taking care of our livestock while I am away from home.

Respectfully Submitted by,

Wes Daniels
NASCOE President

Reports from Pre-Negotiation Meeting

The annual pre-negotiation meeting was held in Washington DC on January 14th and 15th. Please see the reports below from President Wes Daniels and Vice President Dennis Ray for a recap of the weekend’s events.

NASCOE held its pre-negotiation meeting in WDC over the Martin Luther King weekend. The purpose of the pre-negotiation meeting is to discuss the topics submitted by NASCOE members from across the nation and assign those topics to the negotiations team. Your Vice President and I arrived in DC on Friday around lunch, and went straight to meet with management on budget and staffing issues.  Dennis and I both appreciate that management has continued to be willing to sit down with us and address your issues and concerns, even in times of transition.

NASCOE’s negotiation process is one of the most important aspects of what the NASCOE Executive Committee and the Area Consultants do for our membership. The NASCOE National Chairs along with Consultants and second year Alternate Area Execs dissected the 32 items that were submitted for negotiations. All of these items will be addressed by NASCOE either through the negotiations process, our legislative process, or through our Programs Committee process. After the items were discussed and reviewed with the Executive Committee, they were assigned to an exec and a consultant if they are going to be sent to management for negotiations. If they were assigned to the programs or legislative committee, those committees will start working them through their processes immediately. A few of the items have already been discussed with management and have been given to the NASCOE President and Vice-President so they can continue to consult with management on your behalf.

Val Dolcini, FSA Administrator, and Greg Diephouse, Deputy Administrator of Field Operations, stopped by on different days to meet with the entire NASCOE negotiation team to give us an update and tell us good-bye. Comments were made about the dedication of the group being there working on a Saturday and Sunday for the betterment of others. They both talked about the value of the work that NASCOE and the other associations do.

Aaron Way from Crowd Compass also gave us a live demo of an event app. This app has a lot of functions including some that could be used during the year outside of our major events to aid in communicating with membership. More information on this will be coming shortly, but one of the functions of the app would allow us to have a moderator for our National Convention Q&A session and have the questions loaded at real time during the session.

We were given a short demo of an acreage reporting tool with geospatial capabilities. We discussed with the software company the need for efficiencies to expedite our task of acreage reporting. We were impressed with several aspects of the tool.

Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE’s Consultant, gave us an update that was covered well in the Legislative Committee report. The Executive Committee approved a bonus for Hunter for all the work he has done for NASCOE. The Executive Committee wanted to make sure that during this transition and the upcoming farm bill that Hunter and Crossroads Strategies were on board. Hunter has continued to work well on our behalf with the Ag Committee and with the Ag Appropriations Committee. Hunter also has helped us build relationships within the department of USDA and within FSA. NASCOE looks forward to continuing to work with Hunter and Crossroads Strategies.

Dillard Financial Solutions gave us their annual report, and the total contribution to NASCOE and its State affiliates was over $130,000.00 plus their printing services and other outside of contractual services they have done for NASCOE. They can help us with our membership drives as well as retirement training. Please contact John Lohr or Teresa Dillard to discuss your state’s needs.

As you can see, it was a busy weekend. I wish everyone had the opportunity to see what your Executive Committee, National Committee Chairs, and Area Consultants do on your behalf. How many government employees work on their own time on Saturday and Sunday for all the rest of us? One of Greg Diephouse’s parting comments was that you have to appreciate the dedication and passion of government employees that, on their own time, work to make things better for their peers and the agency. I am very proud and honored to be a part of this association, thank you.

Respectfully Submitted by,

Wes Daniels
NASCOE President


Because the 2017 Pre-Negotiation meeting was held in Washington, DC, the team was able to enjoy several unique experiences. In addition to the normal business meeting and review of membership’s submitted items, the negotiation team was privileged to have Administrator Val Dolcini and Deputy Administrator of Field Operations Greg Diephouse stop by on Saturday and Sunday mornings respectively. Neither of these visits could have happened if the meeting had not been held in Washington. The NASCOE executive committee expressed our sincere gratitude to both of these gentlemen for their willingness to engage in meaningful discussions during their tenure on how to better serve our producers and membership. The fact that they gave up part of their holiday weekend to meet with the NASCOE negotiation team should prove their dedication to FSA employees and NASCOE members. We will miss their leadership and wish them well in their next endeavors.

We talk about grass root government when we talk about the County Committee structure and rightfully so. We are the only agency where locally elected farmers and rancher are elected by their peers to administer federal programs. In much the same way, the negotiation process is a grass root effort. Each member and employee has the right to submit items to be considered for negotiation. NASCOE is the only association that has the right to negotiate with management on behalf of County Office employees. As in years past, we received several items that were considered meritorious and will be submitted to management for consideration. It is a huge effort to research, discuss and prepare these items prior to sending them to management. I want to personally thank the entire negotiation team for their willingness to serve. One of the most precious gifts you can give a person is your time and this team gave up their holiday weekend to work on behalf of others. That is what makes NASCOE work and that is what inspires many of us to serve.

If you want to really understand what NASCOE is all about you need to get involved. There were 23 members of the team in Washington, DC this past weekend and those that were new to the process were shocked at what all gets done at these meetings. Friday was a travel day. Saturday was a full day starting at 8:00 a.m. and running close to 5:00 p.m. before adjourning for the day. Sunday was similar with the exception of starting at 8:30 instead of 8:00. These were two days filled with NASCOE business and preparation of the negotiation items. While we were very busy it was a good busy.

Not everyone can be a member of the negotiation team but if you are asked I recommend you say yes. However, there are many ways for you to get involved at the various levels of our association and I encourage you to seek out opportunities to serve. Many of the leaders, from the National President; National Committee Chairs; Area Executives and State Presidents keep a list of people that are interested in serving. If you want to get involved but haven’t been asked yet please let someone know what interests you. As with many volunteer associations it is easy to fall into the habit of asking the same people to work on various tasks. That may be the easy way but may not always be the best thing to do. It is important to get fresh ideas and viewpoints as we work on the important issues going forward.

As we go forward from this weekend, the items will be submitted to management for their consideration and response. If NASCOE agrees with the response then that will complete the process. Those items that are not agreed upon will be further negotiated at our formal negotiation meeting this spring. That date has not been finalized yet with the transition taking place but is being discussed. We look forward to completing this important task on behalf of membership.

In addition to working on the negotiation items, conducting NASCOE business and getting to visit one last time with Val and Greg, the pre-negotiation meeting also accomplished a couple of other things for me. First, it reinforced the value in building relationships. Not only relationships with management but with our fellow members. If you pay any attention at all you will quickly realize that we are one big family and family takes care of each other.

Secondly, seeing the dedication and sacrifice the negotiation team made to be there on a holiday weekend reminded me of why I got involved in the first place. I am here because of the example of service that current and previous leaders have set and believing that it was my turn to help carry the load for a while. If you would have told me seven years ago that I would be in the second year of serving as NASCOE Vice President and preparing to run for President I would have thought you were crazy, but that is exactly where I find myself. It takes all of us working together for the common good for NASCOE to be successful. NASCOE has prospered in the past few years and working together as a team we can continue to flourish.

I encourage you all to attend and participate in your state conventions, area rallies and would especially like to invite you to my home state of Missouri for the National Convention this August. These are good opportunities to start meeting your NASCOE family and seeing firsthand the work that takes place on behalf of membership. It also provides you the chance to seek opportunities to serve if you want to get more involved. I look forward to seeing you all as I travel to the rallies and conventions. Please feel free to contact me if I can ever be of help.

Respectfully Submitted,

Dennis Ray
NASCOE Vice President

President’s Notes from NASCOE Meetings with Management

 

NASCOE Vice President, Dennis Ray, and I recently visited WDC and feel that we had a really productive trip. We met with the following people in management:

  • Val Dolcini, FSA Administrator
  • Mark Rucker, Deputy Administrator of management (DAM)
  • Greg Diephouse, Deputy Administrator of Field Operations (DAFO)
  • Radha Sekar, Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Brad Pfaff, Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs (DAFP)
  • Chris Beyerhelm, Associate Administrator
  • Mike Schmidt, Associate Administrator
  • Thomas Mulhern, Human Resources Director
  • Darren Ash, Chief information Officer (CIO)

We met with the Deputy Administrator of Management (DAM), Mark Rucker, on leasing, phone, and office environmental conditions, space issues and wavier requirements. DAM understands our county office environment and needs. We also talked about the CISCO phone system and the upgrades that seem to be helping improve the system. There are a few environmental issues across the country that were discussed, and DAM agreed to follow up on those. DAM is always receptive to improving our working conditions.

We met next with Greg Diephouse, Deputy Administrator of Field Operations (DAFO) and his staff Linda Treese, Pat Spalding, Rick Pinkston, and Trina Brake. DAFO agreed to send out a NASCOE Membership Packet for STO use with new CO hires. DAFO has mailed every SED and STO a NASCOE Membership packet. DAFO encourages all employees to join their respective associations and realizes the importance of each association’s mission. NASCOE appreciates DAFO’s effort and support with this, and many other issues. The status of the shared management negotiation item was discussed. There should be an amendment out soon that requires written confirmation that a proposed shared management arrangement has been discussed with all the COC’s involved, as well as with the NASCOE State Association President. Other topics included COC authority, BTO update, staffing issues, temps, county office footprint and structure, performance issues and the NAPA Study.

Radha Sekar, FSA Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and Bob McGrath discussed budget, workload, and staffing. The CFO says we are not tremendously understaffed, as most CO employees think, because we continue to meet most of our program deadlines and get payments out timely. We discussed several staffing issues, including that our FTE’s aren’t figured considering the permanent disaster programs like LFP and ECP. It was agreed that some administrative funds should come with the implementation of these types of programs. There currently are no provisions for this, and it was suggested that NASCOE work with DAFP on this issue. NASCOE asked about the workload tool and its release. NASCOE still feels strongly that we are understaffed across the country and that a workload measurement tool is needed. The CFO has agreed to share some data from the proposed workload tool with NASCOE for constructive feedback.

Brad Pfaff, Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs (DAFP), and his staff Brad Karman and Kim Viers (on a detailed assignment) met with us on COC authorities in 2-CRP. NASCOE has asked for DAFP to reinstate COC authority to approve CRP-1’s and delegate that authority to CED’s. The current handbook policy allows the CED to approve CRP-1’s without delegation. DAFP has promised to try and reinstate this policy. DAFP recently has asked NASCOE to review certain information on ACRSI as it would pertain to county office operations. NASCOE has had a task force working on ACRSI for over a year-and-a-half and appreciates management allowing us to provide constructive feedback on its impact to the field. NASCOE had asked DAFP for some relief for those states that just learned that their forage reporting date would now become November 15th. DAFP waived late file fees for those states for thirty days. NASCOE also shared some concerns with other agencies having the ability to make MIDAS edits. DAFP didn’t feel that any of these edits would interfere with FSA, but agreed to go back and look at a few concerns that NASCOE membership had. We wrapped up the DAFP session discussing our geospatial needs.

Dennis and I met next with Chris Beyerhelm, Associate Administrator, on directives, staffing, cost analysis update, county office footprint, COC authorities, WEBTA, and GovDelivery. The Associate Director intends to get all of our directives updated and simplified. As always, staffing and budget issues dominate most of the conversations with our Associate Administrator.

Val Dolcini, FSA Administrator, discussed what he thought FSA’s future looked like. He felt that NASCOE’s role with employee issues and negotiations has been very effective. He hopes we will continue to have the all-association negotiation sessions. The Administrator feels that there is a benefit to all the associations being in WDC at one time. The Associations, including NASCOE, feel that the joint negotiations meetings have been successful. NASCOE thanked Val for his leadership and the support he has given NASCOE during his administration. He has allowed us to work with all of FSA’s management personnel on a lot of different issues during his time in WDC.

Mike Schmidt, Associate Administrator, and his assistant, Katina Hanson, met with us on ACRSI and COC authority. The Associate Administrator supports the COC system and its role. As new farm bill talks begin, NASCOE will continue to stress the importance of a strong COC delivery system.

Thomas Mulhern, Human Resource’s Director, and Barbara Boyd, Deputy Director for Human Resources, met with us on the status of the PT position description task force. This task force has met with some success on rewriting PT position descriptions. NASCOE had asked for a task force, which resulted from a negotiation item from last year. The task force is also looking at adding a position with promotion opportunities for PT’s as well as continuing to look into the possibility of a grade reclassification. We also discussed the CO hiring process. It has been mandated that the CO hiring process will start using a questionnaire to replace the current KSA’s. NASCOE will have representation on this task force as well.

Darren Ash, Chief Informational Officer (CIO), met with us and gave us an update on IT issues. We discussed MIDAS edits and ACRSI. The CIO addressed our ability to have reports and query information that we need to perform our job at a more efficient level. There should be some much awaited information on this coming soon. We discussed the IT Steering Committee and its future. Darren has worked hard to communicate well with the field on all of our concerns and issues and is making progress in resolving them. NASCOE appreciates the time that the CIO gives us and the personal touch he has given the field in addressing our needs.

Respectfully Submitted by,

Wes Daniels
NASCOE President

NASCOE Negotiations Process

One of the most important functions of NASCOE is the negotiation process. This is an opportunity for NASCOE to present member’s concerns and issues to management in an effective manner and this process has been very successful in the past.

I encourage everyone to take some time and utilize the negotiation form at http://www.nascoe.org/Pages/Negotiations.aspx.

Be sure to clearly state the issue with background and facts, your position on the issue, recommendations for resolution, and any handbook/Notice references.

If you have any questions, please contact your area chairperson as follows:

Area Negotiating Consultants

MWA

NEA NWA SEA SWA
Sara Bateson
Illinois
Jamie McLane
Maryland
Harold Boggs
Idaho
Sabrina Conditt
Arkansas

Lynette Bond
Utah

Remember, this process is directed more toward member benefits. Program suggestions should be submitted through the program page on the website at http://www.nascoe.org/Pages/Programs.aspx and the submission form is posted there.

Please have all negotiation items submitted by December 1, 2016.

Have a safe harvest season,

Deb Esselman

NASCOE Secretary/Negotiation Chairperson

2016 NASCOE Convention Q&A Session with Management

Management Panel: Val Dolcini, ADM, Chris Beyerhelm, Associate ADM, Greg Diephouse, DAFO, Darren Ash, FSA CIO, Radha Sekar, CFO, Thomas Mulhern, Director, HRD, Brad Pfaff, DAFP, Mark Rucker, DAM, Glen Schafer, BTO, Doug Nash, OCIO-CIO, Clinton Swett, Deputy OCIO

Q: What is the timeline for the new MPS and is that the only kind of printer that will be sent to the county offices?

A: Clinton Swett: There was problem with the original provider contract. There will be a MPS 2, and that contract should be awarded August 24, 2016, but any printers ordered will not come in until March 2017. There are many components in the process and it will take time to get that all in place.  Service Centers will be able to order the new printers. If you have a MPS 1 printer, you can keep until the end of 2017. If you don’t have any new printers, you will be able to get one after February 2017.  CTS provides the service and it will be up to Darren Ash to order, but the MPS saves about 40% of the cost of using a regular printer. FSA printed over 10 million pages and the department used only 13 million pages.

 

Q: What would it take to get sick leave eligible to donate?

A: Tom Mulhern: It would take an act of Congress

 

Q: It has been 28 years since Program Technicians have had an increase to a grade 7, when will it happen again?

A: Greg Diephouse: They are looking at program descriptions line by line to determine the level the program technician is working at and the position descriptions will be revised and then it will be examined for reclassification. Tom Mulhern: It is difficult to get new grades, and if it can be supported, it will be considered. The work group is working on this now.

 

Q: Are the states still limited on how many COC meetings can be held?

A: Greg Diephouse: States are funded for 8-10 meetings, but they are allowed to meet monthly, but not all counties meet monthly.

 

Q: Why did you choose to work for FSA?

A: Darren Ash: He had been at NRC for about 9 years and was ready to take on a challenge and liked the FSA mission.

 

Q: For 2014, there was a sweep in ARC/PLC to remove approval dates; can the sweep date happen based on the enrollment date rather than approving them individually?

A: Brad Pfaff: There is a difference between the allotment and the apportionment. When the sweep happened, it was due to the sequestration rate. Rahda Sakar: When the contracts were accepted we had not received funding; there was a sweep to make sure they were approved when funding was available. The sweep for this year should happen in September.

 

Q: The current GPS units will be going offline and that will create a problem with accuracy when using these units. When will TRIMBLE be released?

A: Darren Ash: He wants to go back and get additional data before committing to a timeline.

 

Q: Temporary employees hired after 1989 cannot buy back their time. Will this be changed?

A: Tom Mulhern: This has been addressed and some legislation would have to be changed in order for that to happen. Val Dolcini said they would work with OPM to address this situation and see what they can do.

 

Q: Windows 10 is to be installed soon and training will be needed to understand this system. What kind of training will be provided?

A: Doug Nash: Windows 10 will happen over the next couple of years as new equipment is installed. They will work on the training as the equipment is upgraded. They will communicate with FSA on training.

 

Q: When an update is done with a new producer, new farm, and  you go back to the business file you need to refresh that information but it takes out all the information on all their farms and it is necessary to re-load all that data.

A: Brad Pfaff: We will help get that fixed. Darren Ash: They will get the fix.

 

Q: What process do you use when a COC imposes a decision and what do you do to override the determination?

A: Brad Pfaff: He described the process of appeals and how it is done from the county level to the state level to the Washington DC level. They look at procedure and compare that to the appeal and if it possible to provide relief, then they do. If something is a violation, then DAFP looks at the situation surrounding the problem.

 

Q: Are there any plans to use retired employees?

A: Tom Mulhern: There is an act for hiring retired annuitant. It is a half time employment opportunity, but only about 1% would be able to be rehired. More information will be coming out on this issue. The notice has been issued on this subject. Val Dolcini: The mentor program using retired employees is something they are looking at in the succession planning process. Greg Diephouse: Work with the state office regarding managing this tool.

 

Q: CRP rental rates can be reviewed every two years. Why can’t we review the rental rates annually so they move with the current prices more reflectively?

A: Brad Pfaff: It does cost FSA to do the survey used for the rental rates. There are conversations on doing the survey annually and he will take that back to Washington.

 

Q: Are there discussions regarding allowing NRCS to edit our CLU layer?

A: Brad Pfaff: Yes those discussions are happening to have NRCS edit the CLU and SCIMS. Darren Ash: They are looking at the impact it could have allowing other agencies to have that type of access.  The goal is to have agencies be able to share information since we have common customers, but they are looking for an appropriate way to administer this.

 

Q: Could proration be done with BCAP funds because there is not enough money for this program?

A: Brad Pfaff: There has been a lot of interest in this program. There is $15 million available annually and this creates a challenge to administer this program. It is very limited what is available in this program. He wants to hear suggestions and comments to make the program better. The factor question can be considered to determine if this would be feasible.

 

Q: The furniture refresh project expired, but some offices did not get new furniture. Will they get some in the future?

A: Mark Rucker: If funds become available, they will continue this project. Chris Beyerhelm: With the new discipline about spending money, there will not be money left over at the end of the year to use in the furniture refresh. It needs to be worked into the budget so it happens all year and not rely on a surplus at the end of the year for such projects.

 

Q: There is some confusion regarding staffing ceilings. Can you clarify this?

A: Greg Diephouse: Two years ago we were 400-500 under ceiling and now we are at non-fed ceiling of 7228, so just over one hundred vacancies. Only 6 positions are left to work on.

 

Q: When will we be able to get credit in the county where the work is done?

A: Chris Beyerhelm: They are looking at this enhancement and they are planning a prototype in about 6 months.

 

Q: AGI’s have been sent to IRS and information came back and said it has been updated, but it has not been updated in the system, so it has to be re-sent and this takes a lot of time. Can this process be changed?

A: Brad Pfaff: They are working on trying to get answers from IRS on this issue and he would like to see it happen that the COF could put in a determination after a set amount of time. This is something they are working on. Val Dolcini suggested that this topic be discussed at the SED conference.

 

Q: Can the COC’s or STC’s look at the projected ARC rates and how this is determined? The projections are not good for some counties and this should not be happening.  This is really a problem with irrigated and non-irrigated land; they have to use the same benchmark for irrigated and the dryland producers would not receive a payment.

A: Brad Pfaff: They will look at the rates and they will have more discussion with Extension about releasing projected rates. If 25% of the crop is irrigated in a county, NASS usually breaks out the differences in irrigated and non-irrigated land, but in some states this is not happening.

They use NASS data and then to RMA and then to NASS district and then to the state committee when determining some yields. SED’s can submit documentation to justify a change, but STC’s do not have authority to adjust yields. Val Dolcini: This will probably be a 2018 farm bill issue, it will not be changed in the current bill.

 

Q: FSA employees are strongly concerned about NRCS having access to CLU and business partner applications. Can county committee members have access to new web 4.2 WebTA to approve time sheets?

A: Tom Mulhern: It will have to be discussed, from a technology perspective, it can be done, but the policy would have to be clarified.

 

Q: In the past, there was a person in USDA service centers to update LincPass. In many cases now, these centers are long distances away. Can a person in the service center do this?

A: Mark Rucker: At this time, the answer is no. An activation station would be required and most of this is a resource question. The only thing that can be done is a PIN reset on regular stations. You need a special station to do certifications.

 

Q: Temps are to be released on 9-30-16. Is there a way to keep them longer?

A: Greg Diephouse: They had a commitment to try and keep the temps until September 30 of this year. The farm bill money is mostly spent and there may be some money left for the next fiscal year, but there would not be much. Until more appropriations are secured, this would not be possible.

Chris Beyerhelm: If we want to have temps, we would have to give up something else. Val Dolcini: Many temps have become permanent employees, but it is a resources issue at this time. It looks like there will be a continuing resolution and it will have to be determined if there will be money for temps. We are 20% down on FTE’s from a few years ago, so we use temps more strategically to help where needed. States should not plan on temps at this point.

 

Q: Since grazing is required for emergency programs, can grazing rights be identified in CARS?

A: Brad Pfaff: Yes, this can be done, but he wants more information on the policy implications.

 

Q: There are offices in IL that are empty and rent is still being paid. Why?

A: Greg Diephouse: There is a law in effect that will not allow closing such an office. The legal language would have to be changed in order for that to happen.

 

Q: Thanked them for the employee satisfaction survey. Could there be a comment box to explain answers? 

A: Chris Beyerhelm: He agrees that we should be able to clarify answers. They will continue to try to have that added. In the meantime, employees can send comments to the staff that are present.

 

Q: When will the COC approval authority be restored in 2-CRP?

A: Brad Pfaff: There should be information released in the near future regarding this issue. This was an issue that Brad wanted to work on right away. A notice should be out in the next few weeks restoring this authority.

 

Q: Is it law that the IRS must verify AGI’s and can this be restored back to the county offices?

A: Brad Pfaff: This came out as a result of the improper payment act. This is a requirement that the IRS check the AGI’s.

 

Q: Facility loans for movable equipment and trucks are causing some banks to complain that they cannot match the interest.

A: Brad Pfaff: There will be training the week of August 8 regarding the new policy. Trucks under loan must be box trucks for cold or dry storage. We are not providing loans for semi’s. There is tremendous interest in helping growers to move their product to market, mostly fresh food and vegetable. This will provide a means to move the product. This is something the COC is involved in and they will review these applications. He believes this will help some regional problems in moving products. The producer always has the opportunity to obtain conventional lending.

 

Q: There is concern about the 3 year useable life for a truck and that this could result in producers coming in more regularly.

A: Brad Pfaff: There will be more training on this program. Val Dolcini: Please let management know if there are more complaints from bankers.

 

Q: Safe acres are limited; there are many applications but the acres are very limited. Is there any anticipation to increase SAFE acres?

A: Val Dolcini: There is a lot of interest in SAFE acres but those acres are under the conservation cap of 24 million acres and they are bumping up against that ceiling. They will be releasing information regarding the acres that could be available. They hope to have a more definitive answer by fall.

 

Q: ACRSI: Some agents were telling producers that they did not have to come to FSA at all if they certified with their agent. FSA certified the crop report and when it was submitted to insurance, the system messed up the crop reports in FSA. FSA certifies in hundredths and insurance certifies in tenths and this creates problems. Agents only care about the insured crops and this creates problems with non-insured crops.

A: Val Dolcini: ACRSI is an initiative in the current farm bill and they have been working on making this work between the agencies. The approach taken in the initiative, by starting with 30 counties and now up to 95% of reportable crops, seemed to be a good way to approach this situation. They utilized people from across the country to provide input. It is very important that the message is the same with the agencies involved. 95% of farmers come to FSA and then it is sent digitally to RMA at this time.  Precision Ag industry will be involved and must abide by the standards created for this program.

 

Q: AO-1660 requires language proficiency, why are we doing this?

A: Greg Diephouse: This will be addressed in the future

 

Q: Why are we not getting comp time given at time and a half for working with the producers?

A: Greg Diephouse: This is a state by state decision and they want to provide adequate compensation for work done.

 

Q: What is the significance of having death notices for people who died many years ago?

A: Val Dolcini: Congress mandated that we work with social security to track deceased producers and that is why these are coming up. Periodically, mass mailings are sent to deceased producers and this is an attempt to clean up the files.

 

Q: There is concern about the state DNR agencies changing their rules when working with conservation programs, burning, mowing, etc.

A: Val Dolcini: They work with land grant agencies in the states and NRCS is the technical agency and other agencies are partnered in this effort. They will look at this in the future.

 

Q: There is concern about NRCS doing FSA work on the CLU and business partner. There is also a problem with closing offices with no real data and justification based on workload rather than lack of staff.

A: Greg Diephouse: There are instances that producers may have to drive further for agency service, but there are cases where the office is in an isolated area, but at this time they cannot close offices. There are cases where the offices should be closed, but at this time that cannot be done.

Chris Beyerhelm: Using the criteria that Congress mandated was not based on workload but staffing and that should not have been the criteria, so this will be looked at in the future.

 

Q: On farms with less than 10 base acres, could those payments be made to beginning farmers?

A: Brad Pfaff: This is something that will be discussed. There is a beginning farmer initiative and this will be looked into. Brent Orr: This would take congressional action to change that statute.

 

Q: With regard to BTO, in many cases FSA is the point of contact, what are the future plans and the timeline for such.

A: Val Dolcini: This has been very successful and they want to expand this program further. There is a plan to expand this program so that all county offices can enjoy the benefits.

 

Q: Currently the county is in shared management and the CED retired, so now an adjoining CED must cover. Will CED’s be compensated for doing more?

A: Greg Diephouse: They will try and get to this issue.

 

Q: Fall reporting of winter wheat can be a problem to be done timely. Is there any way to do this regionally and not charge a late filed fee?

A: Brad Pfaff: They have worked with RMA on reporting dates. They have waived fees in the past, but that is not in effect at this time. The regionalization of reporting is something he would like to discuss.

 

Q: Why isn’t the DD getting input from the PT’s for CED reviews and likewise, the CED giving input on DD reviews and likewise upward?

A: Greg Diephouse: SED input comes to him throughout the year. He feels additional input is helpful, especially for the COC. At this time there is no formal process for this.

 

A Message from FSA Management: FSA Handbooks Status Report

As Val and I have traveled around to employee association meetings and county offices we consistently hear about the need for the FSA handbooks to be up to date. We agree and consequently have directed our team in DC to get all handbooks current. Attached is a spreadsheet with most of the FSA handbooks and the expected time when they will be brought current.

Until all the updates are finished  we will be providing this report monthly.  Please distribute this report within your organizations.  If there are any questions, the contacts are:

  • Farm Programs:  Jane Ray
  • Finance and Budget:  Bob McGrath and Michelle Furchak
  • Management:  John Blanchard

We appreciate your patience and look forward to our continued collaboration to make FSA the best place to work!

FSA Leadership Pledge

I pledge to act as a role model who treats you with honesty  and respect, to create an environment that promotes diversity, empowers you, and fosters fair and equitable treatment. I will solicit your ideas and views, and recognize your important contributions. I will listen. I will have regular and open communication with you, and aim to give you the  resources you need.

Chris Beyerhelm,
Associate Administrator for Operations and Management

Click the link below to view the most current version of the status report referenced above:
FSA Handbooks Monthly Status Report_May 2016

NASCOE News Flash: 2016 Negotiations Items and Responses

The 2016 NASCOE negotiations session was a great success! We appreciate the items submitted by membership and are proud to present your concerns to management on your behalf. The negotiations process requires extensive research and preparation by NASCOE representatives, but it is one of the most effective methods of addressing issues faced by COF employees. Please see the report below for official responses to this year’s negotiation items. If you have a concern that was not discussed in this year’s session, we encourage you to submit it for inclusion in the 2017 negotiations process. Thanks to all who participated in this year’s meetings!

ITEM 1: Workload Formula
Issue: The workload report showing numbers for each state has not been shared with counties. SED’s have the option of not using the WDC formula for staffing without having any oversight of their plan. Further, NACS and NASE were provided the opportunity to input ideas into the current workload formula and NASCOE was not.

NASCOE Position: This is an item that we discussed last and were told DAFO’s response would be forthcoming. While we were at the national convention in 2014 we were told that we were understaffed by approximately 2,500 people. This number came from the workload report that we refer to as the Juan Garcia workload report model. NASCOE was told by management that this report would be shared with us. As of now we have not seen the report. Some STO’s shared this report with their employee associations but most did not share. NASCOE would like to see these numbers at the county level. NASCOE also feels that making staffing decisions based on the old Farm Bill instead of the new Farm Bill has its issues. NASCOE would also like to request an update on where we are with the development of a new workload tool.

DAFO Response: In June of 2014, DAFO provided SED’s and employee associations a PowerPoint presentation that described the workload report model used to help distribute both GS and CO ceilings. Additionally, DAFO provided each SED with their state’s county level workload report model data and guidance on using the data as a tool when making staffing decisions. It was never the intent that workload report model data be the sole source used in making staffing decisions for county offices. SED’s were encouraged to apply their knowledge of the state’s agriculture and infrastructure and to solicit input from their management team and employee associations to arrive at final county office staffing decisions. We agree that making staffing decisions based on previous Farm Bill programs could skew staffing needs; therefore, assumptions were made to anticipate potential workload generated by new programs introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill.

FSA does not currently have a staffing model (workload tool) to allocate staff years; however, once a staffing model is developed, it will be used to make recommendations regarding staffing requirements and reallocations. Currently there is a study being conducted to assist FSA in finalizing a staffing model.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the answer that there is a model in production at this point. The OBF numbers have not been released at this time. There is a demonstration on this issue tomorrow. The states will be encouraged to share their workload information with the state association. There is a need for transparency in any workload model that is used by the states. Ceilings are ultimately determined by budget, but should be reflected down to the county office level.

ITEM 2: Shared Management-Procedure
Issue: “Before STC approval of the establishment of a permanent shared management operation, the SED will consult the NASCOE state affiliate.” At present, many STO’s are not following this procedure.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE recommends that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedures in 27-PM, paragraph 52C. SED’s are to consult in pre-decisional format before the establishment of a shared management operation.

HRD Response: We agree that the policy requires the consultation and defer to DAFO on any reminders to or reinforcement of the policy with the states. We do stand ready to assist if any clarifications or changes to the handbook need to be issued.

DAFO Response: States routinely send in requests for approval of shared management proposals. DAFO always ascertains if consultation has taken place. If this is not happening, we should be informed.

Agreement: NASCOE would like an official response from the state association attached to the decisions regarding shared management to ensure the NASCOE state affiliate is involved. DAFO will review this issue to come up with a solution to show a written NASCOE position accompanying the state request for permanent shared management. A response will be sent back to NASCOE within 30 days. This is to ensure the states are following current policy. NASCOE will provide feedback in the consultation. Written documentation of the consultation with the state association included in the submission to DAFO for permanent shared management. An email will be sufficient for a response. HRD can draft policy for DAFO review to be submitted to NASCOE.

ITEM 3: Temporary Shared Management-Upgrades
Issue: “For temporary shared management operations expected to last more than 30 days, upgrades for CED’s and lead PT’s shall be on the beginning of the first pay period following the effective date of the shared management operation. CED’s and lead PT’s in current temporary shared management operations where the arrangement has been effective for more than 30 days shall be immediately upgraded according to this agreement.” At present, many STO’s are not following this procedure.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE recommends that SED and STC’s be reminded of the applicable handbook procedures in 27-PM Exhibit 8. STO’s and CED’s shall follow procedure by grading applicable employees one level higher than their normal grade effective the first day of the pay period following the thirtieth day of shared management.

HRD Response: The current policy and agreement published in 27-PM does indicate that that PT promotions shall occur IF the applicable PT is delegated responsibility for all activities in the office when the CED is absent. We agree that if the authorities (and therefore the responsibilities) are delegated to the PT then promotions should not be denied. The promotions are not absolute as they are dependent on delegation of the authorities. From an HR perspective, if the authorities are not delegated, the criteria for promotion is not met. However, with the proposed change to 27-PM Paragraph 133 the situations in which the authority is not delegated will be limited but does still allow for local management discretion where needed. We defer to DAFO on any reminders to or reinforcement of the policy with the states. We anticipate the amendment to 27-PM will be issued within the next 90 days.

DAFO Response: The following are proposed changes to Paragraph 133, Handbook 27-PM, which has been discussed with the NASCOE President and Vice President in a recent meeting in Washington DC:

One Program Technician position in the headquarters office and the suboffice in a shared management operation shall be:

  • designated by the CED as the lead Program Technician
  • graded 1 level higher than the grade determined by applying the criteria paragraphs 128 through 131, up to the CO-8 level, if all of the following conditions are met:
    • the Program Technician is designated as being responsible for all activities in the headquarters office of the suboffice when CED is absent
    • CED is absent at least 40 percent of the time
    • time-in-grade requirements are met
    • the candidate for the lead position has at least a fully successful performance rating
    • there are sufficient administrative and program activities to support a lead position

Note: CED shall document reasons for selecting a particular employee for a lead Program Technician position in the COC executive minutes.

We agree with HRD that such promotions are not a right unless all the criteria are followed.

Agreement: Suggested “sufficient management” rather than “sufficient administrative” language in the last bullet in Paragraph 133A. DAFO agreed that the language should be revised. DAFO agreed to change the wording to “management” rather than “administrative,” and still give the states the ability to review if this position is justified in the COF. NASCOE would like the opportunity to review the results of the change in the wording and review the process next to determine the success in this; the review will take place within 6 months of implementation.

ITEM 4: Temporary Shared Management-Length of Time
Issue: Provisions in 27-PM paragraph 53C “temporary shared management operations shall not exceed 120 calendar days.” At present, many STO’s are not following this procedure.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE recommends that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedures. Procedures shall be followed in instances where shared management operations exceed 120 days by SED’s meeting with COC’s to “work out a permanent solution. Any exceptions to the 120 calendar day limitation shall be approved in advance by DAFO.”

HRD Response: We concur with the statement of the policy and defer to DAFO on any reminders to or reinforcement of the policy with the states. We do stand ready to assist if any clarifications or changes to the handbook need to be issued.

DAFO Response: All extensions are approved by DAFO after it is determined how long the shared management operation will continue and what plans the state has to end it. As we have reiterated many times, budgetary and current Congressional restrictions prevent us from taking necessary steps to ease the situation of so many shared management offices.

Agreement: DAFO agreed to have temporary defined as 6 months and the review will have attached COC minutes showing the consultation with the state affiliate of NASCOE was completed.

ITEM 5: DCP/Overpayments
Issue: County offices are required to check twice a week the DCP Submitted Overpayment Report and Pending Overpayment Summary Report for 2009-2013 to verify if any new producers have been added to the reports due to SCIMS or ID changes that are made in 2015 and future years. These changes are triggering DCP overpayments in years 2009-2013.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE feels that payments were legitimately earned by producers in those years and any change made in Farm Records for years 2014 and beyond should not affect previous payments. NASCOE suggests that a software change be made in Farm Records to prevent pending overpayments.

DAFP Response: Changes in the system need to be recognized by the payment software to ensure producers are being paid properly as well as for the system to identify when producers are overpaid. Changes to information in Farm Records for 2014 and future years don’t affect the 2009 – 2013 DCP/ACRE payment calculation since the information used in the payment calculation is year specific. Since SCIMS is not year specific, changes to the ID in SCIMS will result in an overpayment for the old ID number and a new payment to the new ID which will be offset by the receivable created for the old ID number so, in this situation, the producer isn’t even aware of the overpayment.

Agreement: Accept DAFP response. It was noted that a comment can be put in the common name field and the handbook is being revised, so this information will be communicated to the field. The reports should be checked at least once a week.

ITEM 6: IT/Computer
Issue: Given the relatively slow internet connections in most of our field offices, connection to ArcGIS through Citrix is extremely slow. The slow GIS connection reduces efficiency and prevents CO employees who are skilled in GIS from fully utilizing their talents to produce/revise maps, analyze soils and other natural resources, extract individual parcels to assist with tract revisions in MIDAS and other sister agencies and customers. FSA is losing time and failing to take full advantage of employee skills by continuing this system. The primary issues county offices are experiencing are long delays when accessing and editing in CITRIX and Terra. Users are also experiencing timeouts while printing and the system takes even longer when trying to bring the system back up after being timed out. This is not user friendly for county office personnel.

NASCOE Position: At least one computer in each county office should have ArcGIS on the hard drive, allowing CRP and/or GIS PT’s to more efficiently use this incredible resource. Additional ArcGIS licenses should be purchased for the STO’s and distributed equitably to the county offices. At minimum, a testing period could take place under which STO’s get a few extra software licenses and COF’s with skilled/experienced GIS staff or high CRP workload offices receive these licenses.

DAFP Response: FSA participates in an ESRI Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) with other USDA agencies. The ELA provides FSA with unlimited license authorization for ArcGIS desktop software. STO GIS Specialists have been instructed for the last several years to identify individuals that want/need the software and to submit a Remedy ticket to request the software installation as appropriate. However, because the software is considered an “out of the box” application when accessed in this manner (as opposed to TERRA and Maintenance Tool, which are FSA custom software accessed only through CITRIX) it is also up to the STO GIS Specialist to ensure that appropriate training and support is provided to their State and County office users. It should also be noted that, as part of the ELA, FSA has access to online training that ESRI offers at no cost. Both of these topics will be covered at the National Training in Charlotte, NC March 14-18.

Agreement: The IT issue will be addressed more on Thursday when Darren meets with NASCOE. NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 7: IT/Computer-LincPass
Issue: Routinely county office computer users experience instances of their LincPass cards getting the message “your certificate has expired” or “your card is invalid”. Additionally, FSA application software is often non-functioning and accessible during the workday. Submission of Remedy tickets often do not result in any resolution of these daily IT outages in the county office. Appointments are often already made and, as a result, producers experience decreased customer service and many times have to come back to the office.

NASCOE Position: Agency CIO should develop comprehensive plan of action to identify and solve the system-wide IT failures, whether the inability of LincPass cards being read to regular sporadic outages of FSA application software. Employees must have reliable automation tools to enable them to provide top customer service and most importantly get their job done each day. Continued calls for more submission of Remedy tickets with no recognizable results are not the answer. IT problems continue to be the Achilles heel in the daily work of our county employees.

ITSD Response: The ITSD Information Security Office (ITSD/ISO) will leverage the State Offices’ Security Liaison Representative network to identify the root cause and systems being used when the “your certificate has expired” or “your card is invalid” error messages appear. ITSD/ISO will report back to the CIO the root cause and recommended corrective actions.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 8: Staffing/Personnel-Grades
Issue: For years now, NASCOE has expressed concern that CO PT maximum grade levels should be higher. NASCOE still believes that both PT’s and CED’s have increased responsibility and complexity due to demands created by new programs and technology. Decreases in staffing levels now have PT’s individually responsible for 4 or 5 programs instead of 2 or 3 programs. CED’s are now doing shared management with two grade 12 offices where in the past grade 11 offices were expected to be shared management. It is the opinion of NASCOE that the job of CO employees has evolved and changed requiring more diverse skills than ever before considering the staffing challenges and IT tools needed to be successful on the Farm Program side of FSA.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE requests a desk audit for both the CO PT and CED positions using private industry professional classification specialists that have knowledge of the Federal classification process.

HRD Response: HRD agrees that is time for a classification review of the CO positions but we believe that what is needed is a review of the positions as a whole, not a desk audit which deals with one individual position. We have no objections to a third party review subject to funding availability, however, please note that CO classification is not accomplished under the federal classification standards and therefore they do not apply. However, the comparison of what the classification would be IF they were reviewed under the federal classification standards could be helpful in formulating any changes to the Agency CO classification standards.

DAFO Response: DAFO agrees with HRD’s position.

Agreement: Suggest putting together a work group to review the position descriptions and determine what would or could be changed in this process. NASCOE can discuss the options on a study, but a work group will be formed in the near future. The work group would include: AO, DD, PT, CED, COC. NASCOE agreed to the creation of a work group to review the position descriptions and determine if there is a need for revision.

ITEM 9: COT Hiring Process
Issue: Currently COT’s are hired, trained and then apply for county office openings. During 2015 negotiations, NASCOE proposed hiring COT’s for the county office where the COT would be permanently placed and then training would take place. NASCOE noted that this proposal would increase applications from individuals who wanted to be in that specific county which would lead to a stable county office into the future. Management expressed openness to NASCOE’s suggested changes and NASCOE provided a white paper with concepts on how these changes might benefit county committees looking for stability and provide more opportunities for county office employees.

NASCOE Position: Just like the FLOT position, NASCOE feels that a COT should be hired for the county office where the CED position is needed. Further, this proposal is of high priority for our membership. Management has not formally responded to NASCOE’s suggested changes to the COT program hiring process. NASCOE requests that management respond in writing to the concepts submitted after the 2015 negotiation session in order to further discuss this topic and search for solutions to NASCOE’s and management’s differences.

(NASCOE’s position paper submitted after the 2015 negotiation session is attached to these items)

Mining for New Leadership in FSA
(Concerning Negotiation item #9 “COT Hiring Process”, management expressed interest in NASCOE’s suggested changes to COT hiring and leadership development opportunities. This paper presents the NASCOE response.)

The recent 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for FSA asked employees “how satisfied are you with opportunities to get a better job in your organization?” Results showed that less than a third of employees offered a positive response. County committees are hiring COT’s that stay in a county office for 2 years and move to another county office they find more attractive. Many of these county committees endure a revolving door of CED’s leading to low morale and lack of direction/continuity for the county office staff.

Management has stated that the COT program is working adequately to fill the need for CED’s and that PT’s can apply for this opportunity and compete. NASCOE sees county offices going too long without a CED and when a COT is hired, county offices must struggle to deliver programs until the COT slot is released to use somewhere else. In addition, many PT’s have expressed they would like to apply for a COT position however can’t because of current situations and the uncertainty of where they may be placed. The door for hiring CED’s-in-training for the county office where stationed has already been opened through Hard-to-Fill provisions in paragraph 458 of 27-PM. The following recommendations will address the intent of this option and make it even more successful for employees and county committees.

Recommendation #1
NASCOE proposes that the hiring system for COT’s be changed to be comparable to the FLM/FLOT system where COT’s will be hired in the county where they will be stationed with hopes that it will be a long term career decision. This would also provide an opportunity for PT’s to apply for a COT position with the insight of knowing where they will be stationed, avoiding the potential situation of having to uproot their family. This hiring process would benefit PT’s in the advertising county as well as those in surrounding counties. Recognizing that county committees might be more inclined to hire PT’s that they know rather than the most qualified candidates; certain safeguards would need to be put in place to assure the most qualified and suitable candidates are hired. 

NASCOE suggests the following steps:

  • Smith County advertises both within and outside of FSA for CED’s and COT’s that would ultimately be the CED in Smith County.
  • All applicants apply through USAJobs.
  • A panel, similar to the one that does COT interviews currently (AO, FLC, CED, DD, etc.), conducts interviews and submits qualified candidates to the STC.
  • The STC determines the top 3-5 candidates to submit to the COC for interview.
  • The COC, with the counsel of the DD, selects a COT that will begin training for the CED position in Smith County.
  • As training progresses the selected COT will increase the amount of time spent in Smith County as he/she takes the opportunity to put into practice skills that have been developed over the course of training. The COT would progress by conducting staff meetings and COC meetings while working under the direction of a mentor who would be the temporary shared management CED.

Recommendation #2
The second part of this equation concerns Program Technician leadership/management skills. NASCOE believes FSA is missing a huge opportunity to develop leadership/management skills in our Program Technician workforce. Why not create a program that identifies PT’s with management potential and provides a career ladder opportunity to feed the FLOT and COT program rather than waiting until a PT applies and “hope” management skills are present? 

NASCOE proposes a two-year Aspiring Leadership program be developed that PT’s could apply to participate in that would train and give opportunities to enhance management skills. Through an application process, selected PT’s would take part in speech classes and leadership development programs taught by FSA as well as other organizations. FSA would also have a mentoring element to this program that would assist in oversight of the training. Participants passing this two-year program would help identify a cadre of qualified PTs that have COT/FLOT potential. Many universities have similar programs that train potential leaders in agricultural practices through comparable methods and document great success.   

In Summary
Why is a policy of hiring FLOT’s to specific counties acceptable on the GS side and not acceptable for COT’s on the CO side? Why are some FLOT’s being hired with the expectation of being placed in a “region” of the state when COT’s do not receive this same opportunity? NASCOE sees Program Technicians leaving their position for FLOT positions when the same career ladder flexibility is not made available for COT position. NASCOE recommends that changes be made in COT hiring that reflects the same opportunities that are afforded in FLOT hiring

HRD Response: The decision on how to select and train COT’s and then ultimately place them is an agency choice. From an HR perspective, both the current process and the NASCOE proposal can be supported. Therefore, we defer to DAFO for any determination on what the needs of the agency are related to this issue of COT’s being hired for specific locations vs. at-large and placed/selected as needed. Both methods have been practiced throughout government for trainee positions. There is value in an at-large program as it provides the ability to hire and train COT’s before vacancies are known and therefore the vacant CED positions can be filled more rapidly than will occur if COT’s are hired for a specific location when it becomes vacant.

DAFO Response: Not all FLOT positions have a permanent duty location cited in the announcement. We understand the NASCOE position on this issue, but it is very difficult to determine which CED position would be available at the beginning of COT training, and, in fact, openings cannot be predicted with any certainty at all, as HRD notes. DAFO will continue to review NASCOE’s position NASCOE and HRD.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 10: Update 25-AS
Issue: The filing system to be consistent in all county offices.

NASCOE Programs Chair Response: The agency does not have a lot of flexibility in their filing guidance, as USDA released a DM indicating how all agencies should set up their filing structure. However, this was released early last year and there has still been no FSA guidance. In fact, updating 25-AS was a topic of discussion last year during the negotiation meeting with management. In October 2015, Notice AS-2291 was released indicating that the rewrite combining 2-AS and 25-AS was in the works and would be released soon as 32-AS. This has still not occurred.

NASCOE Position: The county office shall enforce the use of the new filing procedures. NASCOE is requesting the new 32-AS be released as soon as possible to ensure the compliance of all filing nationwide in both the county and state offices as well as other related offices. NASCOE also acknowledges the receipt of the Maintenance and Disposition Manual in the interim.

DAM Response: The MSD team is currently finalizing the revision to 32-AS. It is anticipated this draft will be placed in clearance on or around April 29, 2016

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 11: CRP Forms
Issue: As of 2014, county offices were required to print an FSA-848A, FSA-848B and approval for each CP-12. We were to notify each producer of the requirement and that they would need to provide receipts for a practice that has zero cost share involved.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE would like to see the FSA-848 process alleviated because the producer is already certifying the practice on the FSA-578 each year that they have it and are maintaining it. NASCOE would also like to see the CP-12 be an approved cover. As an approved cover like a pond or lake, a producer would not have to sign an FSA-848.

DAFP Response: CP-12 is an approved cover of mostly commodity crops that is considered a zero dollar practice. CEPD has received some recommendations to NOT require certifications on the FSA 848B for CP-12 Food Plots since nothing is actually earned for the completion of this practice. After numerous discussions among National, State and County office staff, CEPD agrees that this is an unnecessary step, especially when the producer has already agreed to complete the practice when the CRP-1 was approved. CEPD will modify the policy and implement the change to NOT require certification of the 848B in the next handbook amendment.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 12: FSA-13A forms
Issue: Currently 13-A’s are complicated to fill out and are being done repetitively.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE feels that there should be a more streamlined approach and that a standardized 13-A form should be generated, by Position Description, when an employee is hired. Further, NASCOE is aware that the New Employee Training Task force has worked on a list of all access required, based on Position Description, for employees in the County Offices and has briefly discussed this possibility with Access Management. NASCOE requests that management work with the Task Force and the Access Management Team to create an automated 13-A.

ITSD Response: ITSD is working with HRD and EPD to automate employee onboarding and off-boarding communications using the Web52 system. ITSD plans on using automated notifications from the Web52 system to alert personnel involved in access processing based on the SF-52. ITSD looks forward to (in the near future) not requiring a 13-A for the addition and removal of basic access (e.g., workstation, VPN, email) that can be derived from the SF-52. Using lessons learned from this Web52 automation pilot project, ITSD will work with State Office Security Liaison Representatives, HRD and program areas to identify access that can be further derived based on Position Description. The efficiency benefits of this improvement in derived access will take time to be realized by the agency. An alternative mechanism such as the 13-A may need to remain as a back-up process to any automated process that may be implemented and to handle exceptions to the standards.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 13: Mailings
Issue: When the National Office is sending out mailings they are overriding the “no mail” flag. Ignoring the producer’s request and overriding the “no mail” flag generates phone calls to the county office from upset producers who have specifically requested not to receive the mail. This places unnecessary stress on the producer and additional demands on a reduced work force.

NASCOE Position: Do not override the producer’s request to not receive mail when mass mailings are generated by the National Office.

DAM Response: MSD does not have the ability to override the no-mail flag as the data comes from SCIMS. We are reaching out to the EDS system engineer to review the process and ensure this is not a technical glitch. MSD will also work with DAFP and CIO personnel to verify the no mail flag is active and working properly. MSD will provide a more detailed response after we have met with the system engineer and other agency officials.

Agreement: Management will provide an update within the next two weeks and then determine how often the updates would be sent out.

Follow up from DAM: FSA has approximately 11 million customers in the SCIMS database. Annually, FSA spends approximately $18 million on postage. FSA has approximately 1.1 million customers who currently have a “no mail flag” indicator. It is estimated that this solution will save approximately $400,000 annually in postage.

MSD is also working on initiatives to address undeliverable mails and correcting change of address issues. Fixing these challenges will result in additional postage savings.

ITEM 14: Temporary/Volunteer Computer Access
Issue: Temporary employees have been used extensively during the recent Farm Bill implementation. For some of these temporaries, their tour of duty has expired and more will likely end soon. Once the temporary tour of duty is completed, the computer permissions are revoked for the employee. If the employee is subsequently called back to work, computer permissions and the eAuth process must be completed from scratch delaying the date that employee can be fully productive.

In addition, various states have had past temporaries offer their services as volunteers to county offices. Currently volunteers have been unable to receive computer permissions which severely limits their ability to contribute significantly.

NASCOE Position: For temporaries that may be called back periodically, could their computer permissions be suspended and the county office retain custody of the LincPass card? This would alleviate having to completely start over when the employee is called back to work. For volunteers, develop a method where they could have sufficient computer permissions to significantly contribute to completing the workload of the county office where they are volunteering.

EPD Response: For temporary employees, these individuals would have been issued an AltLinc versus a LincPass card. The AltLinc expires one year after the date of printing/issuance. “Suspending” an AltLinc card is likely not applicable, since the person will need to be re-enrolled for a new card if past the one-year mark.

If we were to issue a LincPass, the certificates are valid for three years and the card for five years, and we (STO HRD) may be able to suspend logical access through EmpowHR. The CED may secure the LincPass until the temporary employee reports back for work, and the STO can then “unsuspend” the card. Need some help from HRD to answer whether or not this assumption is accurate.

We—HRD and EPD—will need to keep watch of the administrative logical access suspension to ensure an employee is not in a non-active status greater than 730 days. At that point, the background investigation process will have to be reinitiated.

Volunteers are a separate issue. If we wish to provide logical access, then we process with a NACI and onboard as with any other employee.

ITSD Response: ITSD understands that quick reactivation of suspended accounts helps employees and contractors deliver FSA’s mission. Federal regulations require that systems access be limited, disabled/suspended, or removed when no longer needed. eAuth account activation is systematically controlled by actions taken by HRD or the COR in EmpowHR. eAuth has been automated by the Department to disable accounts under certain active employment conditions in EmpowHR. However, other accounts (workstation, network, VPN) can be controlled by ITSD. In order to balance security and business, accounts can be disabled/suspended which reduces the reactivation time to approximately 1 business day. Managers and CORs should contact their State Office Security Liaison Representative or the ITSD Information Security Office for assistance.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 15: Compliance Issues
Issue: In the past, compliance was a very large part of what we did. Producers knew that we did compliance checks and we did a lot of them. Integrity for our programs has always been an important part of what we do. Over the years we have gotten further and further away from compliance, partly due to staffing, however, it is really starting to show. We are seeing more and more violations than ever before, and part of it is because producers know we are not coming out. Regardless of our heavy workload and reduced staff, compliance needs to become a priority again. GIS is a great tool and can be used for a lot of things, but there are some things that we cannot use it for.

NASCOE Position: Make sufficient resources available and give county offices the ability to be in the field more. An increased physical presence in the field will increase program integrity and discourage future compliance issues.

DAFP Response: As indicated, budget restraints have been prohibitive of completing a large number of compliance checks; therefore, it is recommended communicating the need with DAFO to see if additional funds can be made available for compliance activities. Until such time as additional funds are available, offices should take advantage of any opportunity when required to have a physical presence in the field and add compliance activities, which would have limited cost.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

ITEM 16: Opportunity to Apply for Positions
Issue: Some states are telling grade 7 Program Technicians they are not eligible to apply for grade 9 FLOT positions. There are situations where grade 7 PT’s are permitted to apply for FLOT positions in various states. NASCOE understands that management is interested in upward mobility opportunities for program technicians based on USDA-FSA’s strategic goals and making sure all grade 7 PT’s understand their opportunity to apply for grade 9 FLOT positions would seem to meet those goals.

NASCOE Position: NASCOE requests that management clarify the opportunities for grade 7 PT’s to be eligible for grade 9 positions such at FLOT. Further, please make sure states are educating grade 7 PT’s on opportunities to apply for positions above grade 7.

HRD Response: Employees should never be left with the impression they are prohibited from applying for a vacancy announcement as long as they are within the area of consideration. However, it is a common practice for HR and administrative staff to explain eligibility and qualification requirements for FSA positions to help the applicants understand what those are. HRD will communicate to the States the need to continue to inform and educate any potential applicant on the various eligibility and qualification requirements but to do so in a manner that does not leave them with the impression they are prohibited from applying.

It is also important to note that not all grade 7 PTs will be qualified for FLOT positions as the 9 level. It depends on the experience and or education each PT has. If qualifying based on their experience as a grade 7 PT, then that experience (at that grade level) must be directly related to the FLOT duties. Not all PT’s are performing duties that are directly related to the FLOT duties.

FYI – This would include experience that demonstrates basic knowledge of loan examining and/or servicing principles, procedures and techniques as they apply to investigation, analysis, and evaluation of financial factors and credit risks in relation to granting and servicing of agricultural loans. Experience may have been gained in such work as assisting in reviewing and passing upon applications for agricultural loans; servicing an agricultural loan portfolio of a bank or other loan association; or similar work. In addition, this experience must demonstrate basic knowledge of farm operations, land use and value, production of various crops and livestock, and prices and markets in the farming area where loans are made and serviced. The agency must use this experience requirement as it is part of the government-wide qualification standards administered by the Office of Personnel Management.

DAFO Response: DAFO agrees with the HRD position.

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.

NASCOE News Flash: Recap of 2016 Negotiations Session

March 27 through April 1 was a very busy few days for NASCOE. The NASCOE Negotiation Team was in Washington, DC to meet with management on your behalf. The Negotiation Team is comprised of the NASCOE Officers including the Past President, the five Area Executives and the five area Negotiation Consultants. Also accompanying NASCOE were the National Programs Chair, the Southeast Area Programs Chair and the National Legislative Chair. The NAFEC Chair was also in Washington meeting with and accompanying NAFEC on their visits.

In order to accommodate the schedule for the week, NASCOE representatives traveled to Washington on Easter Sunday. We used Monday to review the items one final time and prepared for our negotiation session with management and conduct NASCOE business with the Executive Committee. NASCOE is the sole organization that can negotiate with management on behalf of CO employees. The meetings were very productive and we believe membership will appreciate the results of the session.

For the second year in a row, Wednesday morning was set aside for a joint session with all employee associations being present. The joint meeting gave management an opportunity to address all of the associations at one time. This year was especially memorable because Secretary Vilsack and Under Secretary Michael Scuse both addressed the association representatives. NASCOE is very appreciative of them taking time out of their busy schedules to share some comments with us.

After lunch on Wednesday, the NASCOE team was able to view a demonstration of the ARS based workload tool being developed. Immediately after the workload demonstration, Glenn Schafer provided an overview of the Bridges to Opportunity (BTO) software. NASCOE is supportive of the BTO initiative and was encouraged by the demonstration. BTO has the potential to expand our customer base and may help justify FSA presence in the county.

All of the employee associations stayed at the same hotel and collectively hosted an informal reception on Wednesday evening. Members of management, program specialists and their teams were all invited. This was very well attended and was an excellent way to make new acquaintances and build relationships.

Thursday was a travel day home for most of the Negotiation Team. However, in order to take maximum advantage of being in Washington, a few members of leadership made additional visits on Thursday and Friday, as time would allow. These meetings were mainly with program specialists and dealt with more specific topics as opposed to the negotiation session on Tuesday.

All in all it was a very busy but productive week for NASCOE. The topics negotiated and the resolutions will be shared with membership as soon as the minutes and resolutions can be fully vetted by both sides. Please remember that program items can be submitted at any time by using the online submission form located on the NASCOE webpage. As always, please feel free to contact your NASCOE leadership if you have issues, comments or concerns.