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

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

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

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

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

2019 Negotiation Items and FSA’s Responses

The following is the list of items that NASCOE Leadership negotiated with FSA Management in May 2019. The list includes the issue, NASCOE recommendation, FSA’s response, NASCOE’s response to FSA, and the resolution.

To download the full listing, please click on the link to open a PDF version of this post.

2019 Negotiation Items with FSA Responses

Item: 1 Category: IT/Computer Environment

ISSUE:
While making field divisions in MIDAS GIS, there are issues when dividing a field that has been enrolled in a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contract. When dividing that field, the subsequent fields are not always totaling back up to the contract acreage that was based on the original field acreage. This is causing contractual problems in CCMS particularly when it increases the contract acreage.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE recommends that the MIDAS software be updated to recognize when a field contains CRP attributes, the division of a field must total back to the original field acreage eliminating discrepancies between MIDAS GIS and CCMS.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
This is the result of the GIS editing functionality and how outside boundaries of a CLU are adjusted due to new vertices placed when dividing or combining fields. If an existing field is split, in most cases new vertices are placed on the outside boundaries that results in a slight adjustment to the overall acreage. While this change is very small, in some cases due to rounding the overall acreage of the field may be adjusted by .01 acres. If this happens, offices should adjust boundaries as needed with the Vertex Edit tool to match back to the original field acreage and ensure that the CRP acreage matches the contract.

This cannot be fixed with our current CRM GIS functionality using Silverlight. If Silverlight is replaced, this issue will hopefully be addressed. Additionally, we have a long-term plan to address issues with CRM and Farm Records that includes making a direct connection with CCRM and TERRA scenarios to incorporate the data in the FRs.

NASCOE’s Response:
Could we incorporate a policy, in regards, to tolerance until we are able to replace Silverlight.

RESOLUTION:
At this time software cannot be changed, however there are long term plans to correct the problem. The Conservation Division is going to look at the NASCOE recommendation to see if that would make a difference and may ask to incorporate a tolerance until the issue could be resolved in the long term.

Item: 2 Category: Performance Standards

ISSUE:
Lack of Stakeholder engagement in development of performance has not only taken away from the COC’s supervisory ability but has made the performance plans more cumbersome and stressful on our employees.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE also recommends that a task force be assembled, consisting of a NASCOE and NAFEC representatives, to work with management to create a performance management system that incorporates all the requirements to hold employees and managers accountable, and works towards the following goals:
• Making performance plans less cumbersome
• Providing consistency amongst employees
• Allows for COC input
• Provide for individuality while being consistent
• Allows for employee participation
• Provides fairness to employees at grade and position

FSA’S RESPONSE:
At the direction of Undersecretary Northey, the FPAC Business Center’s Human Resources Division is coordinating a joint effort among all FPAC Customer Agencies to accomplish all of these goals. Generally, the direction is to reduce the number of performance elements and to consistently assign those Elements to Supervisory and Non-Supervisory Employees. While a number of the Performance Standards will be required for all employees, flexibility will remain for the assignment of unique standards.

RESOLUTION: NASCOE accepts FSA’s response. It has been asked to include the employee associations at this point, however, including employee associations has not been approved at this time. FSA/FPAC will consider input from the associations. NASCOE will create a task force and develop standards and have them back to James Douglas by the end of June.

Item: 3 Category: CRP 848 Review

ISSUE: The CRP 848 Quarterly Review Process is a very grueling and time consuming process. County Office employees are struggling to meet the short turn around time-frame to complete the process, especially those counties with significant CRP participation. Established deadlines seem to be set at the worst possible times with little or no leniency to complete the task. The process causes added unnecesary stress on the County Office employees.

Quarterly ULO reviews require the excessive use of COF staffing hours. In addition, the practice of obligating funds for practices which are to be carried out in future years ties up USDA capital and locks in cost share rates that are outdated when the time comes to implement the practice. NASCOE believes the current process of obligating funds in the year of contract approval for completion of practices in future years should be recinded and replaced.

RECOMMENDATION:

NASCOE recomends that the agency develop a way to make the CRP cost share funding obligation and accounting process easier.

In the case of practices carried out in future years, it would be advantageous to:

  • enter into agreement with the contract holder at the time of contract approval, specifying the requirement to perform the practices in a future year (subject to funding availablity at that time) as outlined in the Conservation Plan of Operations.
  • Schedule the required practice in the applicable future year (per Conservation Plan of Operations specifications),
  • allocate the funding for the practice only in the applicable future year when the practice is to be completed,
  • Re-process all existing 848 agreements and make them subject to the new process of cost share accounting.

Benefits of allocating funding for future year scheduled practices include the following:

  • FSA is only required to account for the apportionment or allocation of that funding in the appliable future year,
  • Funding isn’t unnecessarily obligated for multiple years prior to being expended,
  • Producers and the agency enjoy the benefit of using cost share rates that are current for the applicable year, rather than rates that were established multiple years earlier.

Process flow would be as follows:

  • 848 (cost share request) is signed at the time of contract approval for all practices specified on the Conservation Plan of Operations. Practice completion timespans would be added here so those dates could be querried in the future.
  • Annually, COF’s would print a report of agreed to required practices. At that time, the COF would affirm the validity of the required and agreed to practice and then allocate the necessary funding to carry out that paticular practice based on current cost share rates. COF users would have access to reports that would generate reminder letters for producers, which would be sent as reminders of practices to be completed.
  • 848A (cost share agreement) is signed by the producer the year the practice is to be completed within the practice timespan.
  • 848B (cost share/performance certification) is signed by producer/TSP after the practice is completed. Cost share is issued.

CRP contracting software must be dynamic, for example, when revisions are made to a contract, the cost share components required to be completed should also be revised.

As promised during the 2018 NASCOE/FSA Negotiations session, a task force comprised of COF, STO and National Office employees should be assembled to help design processes and software functionality that will address this issue.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
FSA concurs that we need to have the conservation obligations timely and easier for the field.

As part of the program’s COC approval process, the maximum contract value must be calculated and successfully reserved, called an obligation. Modifications to the contract data or other triggering events require revised obligations. FSA/CCC’s Financial Statements were not properly stated due to obligation deficiencies with repeated audit findings preventing a clean audit option.

Appropriations Law requires FSA to obligate funds in the year in which the contract is signed. Obligations should be created as part of the CRP-1 contract COC approval process for all the conservation components outlined on the conservation plan of operations (CPO). Users must remember to establish the Cost Share (CS) after the CRP-1 is approved.

When FSA began reviewing the Cost Share agreements last year, approximately 33,000 Cost Share agreements had not been created in the CSS and grossly understating FSA’s conservation liability.

A monthly report has been being provided to the STOs to serve as a compensating control to identify when a CS agreement has not been established related to a CRP-1.

Additionally, there large numbers of CS agreements with expired practices which need actions related to open obligations. FSA has 90 days to enter practice completion data after the expiration date.

The Conservation Farmbill taskforce comprised of national, state and county office personnel discussed the obligation processes changes required for the future to how automate these obligations for the field.

RESOLUTION:
The Conservation Division is currently working with FMD to only pull current practices on the cost share agreement and not pull all practices. The Conservation Division will also discuss with FMD the possbility of incorporating high level estimates. Overall continued dialogue with FMD with hopes of improvement.

A task force was develped and it is composed of folks from Conservation, FMD and a State Office Specialist. They are currently looking at sending out procedure for approving practices and the overall obligation policy. They are looking to add additional folks to the task force in the future and will welcome NASCOE input when they do.

The Conservation Division will add clarification to the handbook as to whether a contract can be paid after the expiration date.

Item: 4 Category: Workload

ISSUE:
National Notice CM-791 was issued to provide a work around for individuals who own the land as a living trust but are operating using their social security number.

While it is written in policy, the steps we are to follow for Business Partner (all contracts and applications, and all farm operating plans when an individual changes to a revocable trust), this process is cumbersome and repetitive.

RECOMMENDATION:
Consider a change to procedure that would allow FSA to note that the individual has set up a trust so that when that individual passes, we can then look further into where the land goes through the trust. Until that time, allow us to leave our paperwork as-is when the person is still operating using their social security number.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
CM-791 was issued to provide a temporary workaround for customers who requested to receive payment under a different name or entity than has been paid in prior years, when using the single Tax ID Number (the SSN). Once obsolete, the notice was incorporated into 11-CM paragraph 119.

The SSN Family is working as intended in MIDAS, it was a process improvement designed to allow the customer to participate as multiple entity/roles using the same SSN. The limitation requiring the cumbersome workaround is with SCIMS, which can only store a unique SSN for a single record and must retain that SSN on any record that was previously paid. The Designated Paying Entity (DPE) flag restriction is only necessary until SCIMS is modified or retired, which is a priority for the National Office.

RESOLUTION:
Currently nothing can be done unless FSA updates SCIMS software. Once the decision on the architectural paper as it relates to MIDAS is finalized then a decision will be made on what to do with SCIMS. NASCOE suggested that we use the comment field for noting the use of the social security number instead of using the work around. Policy and options will be reviewed and then a decision will be made. Until a decision is made, current policy stands.

Item: 5 Category: Workload

ISSUE:
Sending CCC-941’s to the IRS repeatedly is not only time consuming but not cost effective.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE would like to work with WDC management and the IRS to develop an easier and more cost-effective way to verify compliance with AGI regulations.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
FSA is attempting to work with IRS on an automated solution to this problem. The issues with receiving determinations from IRS have been communicated with the Under Secretary. In the past, IRS has insisted they require the CCC-941 originally signed by the customer to ensure the customer is allowing information from their taxes to be released to FSA to determine if their income exceeds the $900,000 threshold. FSA has confirmed that the issues with not receiving an IRS determination typically occur on the IRS side where the forms are lost, or the incorrect year is input by IRS personnel. FSA has noticed that on occasion, county offices are not following the steps outlined in 3-PL Rev 2 subparagraph 26J prior to mailing the form to IRS.

RESOLUTION:
NASCOE accepts the response. Information will be provided on the findings regarding those who falsely certified.

Item: 6 Category: Staffing/Personnel

ISSUE:
The last few years, FSA has offered the Farm Service Agency State and County Fellowship Program (FSASCFP). These have presented some really interesting sounding opportunities. However the timing for these opportunities is during the busiest time of the year (acreage reporting) when most offices need all hands on deck just to get through the day to day responsibilities.

Realizing there is not a good time of year for participating in the Fellowship Program, the timing is creating an issue which is troubling a number of employees. It is causing these employees to have conflicting loyalties between their COF and self-improvement by applying for the program. Early June through Mid-July, is typically when the fellowship program is implemented. It also happens to be the busiest time of the year in the COF.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE recognizes the 2019 fellowship dates were earlier than normal, thus avoiding the busy season in the COF. NASCOE would encourage FSA to consider similar policies in the future. Changing the May/June dates to March/May and the June/Sept dates to Aug/Sept, would encourage a larger pool of applicants to apply for fellowship.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
DAFO thanks you for the recommendation and recognizes the inconvenience that the timing of the FSASCFP program places on the State and County Offices and DAFO will recommend that the program period change to lessen the impact on State County Offices and that periods provided in the recommendation could increase the number of individuals available to participate in the program.

RESOLUTION:
NASCOE accepts FSA’s response.

Item: 7 Category: Employee Health

ISSUE:
Health and Safety is part of every employee’s performance plan and a large factor to an employee’s health is their work station. Over the years research has shown the health benefits associated to ergonomically designed chairs and stand up workstations. For the most part, FSA has been very good at getting employees updated chairs and for some stand up workstations, resulting in better employee health and a more accommodating work environment. However, this is not being done consistently across the country and not all employees are being properly accommodated.

While the Agency has been good about replacing employees’ chairs and providing stand up work stations, there is not a set guideline nor is there consistency between states as to how the process works. When it comes to these purchases, usually employees are not involved in the selection of the chair and not every employee has the same needs when it comes to what functions a chair has. Also, some states have deemed it unnecessary or not an essential need to provide employees with stand-up workstations, even with medical documentation.

RECOMMENDATION:
The Agency develop a Health and Safety Workstation Policy that States shall adhere to. As part of the process it is recommended that employees have the opportunity to provide what their needs are and to have input on the chair selection itself, as well as a set timeframe on the years between purchases (it is recommended that chairs be replace every 3-5 years to ensure an employee’s health needs are being met). The plan would also include the requirement to provide stand-up workstations to any employee who provides a substantial request (not necessarily medical, but documentation as to why they would benefit from the stand-up workstation). Not every employee wants or needs a stand-up work station, but there are many health benefits to having one and employees should not be expected to sit for hours on end nor should they be asked to pay for one out of pocket when Health and Safety is a performance plan requirement. By developing this policy, it would ensure that all health needs of the employees are being taken into consideration when it comes to their workstation and that there is consistency and continuity across the country.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
FSA makes every effort to provide reasonable accommodation when the appropriate medical documentation is provided. DAFO accepts the intent of the recommendation and FSA will work with the FPAC-BC Management Service and Human resources Divisions to development guidelines and a strategy to provide for furniture upgrades when funding is available.

RESOLUTION:
FSA will make every effort to meet with FPAC/HRD to get further education about the policy by next year’s negotiations.

Item: 8 Category: Staffing/Personnel

ISSUE:
CO Employees hired to do GS work full time. CO ceiling slots should not be used for full time GS positions.

RECOMMENDATION:
Recind policy making future CO ceiling slots available to be used for full time GS work carried out under CO position description. SED’s should utilize “flexing” to address issues created with temporaray staffing shortages.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
It is DAFO’s policy that employees in CO and GS positions deliver FSA programs as described by their official position descriptions. DAFO will continue to emphasize the use of “flexing” on a temporary basis when needed.

RESOLUTION:
DAFO will review the policy. NASCOE does not accept this resolution as current policy circumvents GS work measurement ceiling results. Also, no data on this subject is available. The National Office is not enforcing annual reporting requirements from STO’s which are using this policy. NASCOE believes SED’s should utilize “flexing” to address issues created with temporary staffing shortages.

Item: 9 Category: IT/Computer Environment

ISSUE:
There are several outstanding improvements which need to be implemented to make Web TA more user friendly and accurate. Those improvements include: adding more than 30 lines at a time for activities, sortable data fields, adding an activity for Light Activation Linc Pass Stations and an option to freeze the header pane when scrolling. (Note: this item combines six similar items).

RECOMMENDATION:
Make necessary upgrades to increase employee efficiency and data accuracy. Carry out suggested improvements in Web TA software.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
30 Lines in WebTA – FSA attempted to remove the 30-line limitation in WebTA when WebTA transitioned from version 3.8 to 4.2. FSA was informed that this was not a feasible augmentation due to data constraints.

FSA recognizes that the 30-line limitation causes difficultly for some employees that perform a variety of functions. In order to help mitigate this the BAMSD working group has consolidated some ARS codes and further has made workload measurement program driven as opposed to activity driven. FSA stands ready to assist employees in recommending best practice when challenged by the 30-line limitation.

Create Activity for Linc Pass – There are currently 4 activities that can be used for light activation linc pass stations. 1. Emergency Prep Management for FSA Employees, 2. NRCS Support for NRCS Employees, 3. Crop Insurance Support for RMA Employees and lastly Other agency support for everyone else.

Freeze Header in viewing Pane – Web TA 4.2 migration is complete and the window to request enhancements has elapsed. FSA will note this request and recommend the enhancement the next time NFC is open to receiving such requests.

RESOLUTION:
USDA National Finance Center is responsible for WebTA. For the most part, the “activity” is not as relevant as the “program” field. Activities are not used to drive the proficiency analysis, but they are looked at by the Agency for other purposes. When running out of lines for coding, field level staff may consolidate at the “program” level to save lines. DAFO/BAM will provide guidance on how the light activation stations should code their time in the guide.

Item: 10 Category: Hiring Process

ISSUE: An external job applicant applied for the COT program using an announcement for the COT program as guidance. The applicant intended on using “education” and “masters degree” as a qualifiying factor for applying at the grade 9 level. Upon reading the announcement, the applicant only applied for grades 5 and 7 because the announcement asked for a “completed masters degree” in order to qualify at a grade 9. The applicant had not yet completed his masters degree as he had three more months of classes before graduating. After being accepted into the COT program, the applicant/employee then realized after reading Handbook 27 PM Par. 480 D that it was not a requirement to have a completed “masters degree” because having “two full years of of progressively higher level graduate education leading to such a degree” was also a qualifying option for grade 9. Provisions set forth in Handbook 27 PM for CO 9 qualifications were not incorporated into the job announcement.

Novice applicants should not be required to make a self determination of eligibility.

RECOMMENDATION:
Applicants should be able to apply at the 5, 7 and 9 grade level without the agency asking the novice applicant to make a self determination. That determination would be made at or before the time of the interview by the supervising official. The local CO hiring official should make the determination of grade eligibilty per instructions found in Handbook
27-PM. Also, application software should mirror application requirements set forth in handbook procedure.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
Our standard COT Job Opportunity Announcement provides that, At CO-09, applicants must meet one of the following criteria in order to qualify for this position:

  • A Masters or equivalent graduate degree or two full academic years of progressively higher-level graduate education leading to such a degree from an accredited college or university: OR
  • One year *–specialized experience equivalent to grade CO-7 or GS-7 or be equivalent to grade CO-9 or GS-9 or above applying office methods and procedures to provide clerical and limited technical support to independently perform a full range of farm program processes. Experience that shows your ability to perform progressively more complex, responsible, or difficult duties, and that shows your ability to learn the specific work of this position. Experience in providing program interpretation, and instruction for an agriculture program area or operational phases of farm loan programs. Such work experience included acquiring data and providing information to producers, farm loan borrowers and farming operations; writing summary reports; assisting staff with policy guidance; arranging and scheduling activities of subordinates to complete technical/clerical review: OR
  • A combination of education and experience as listed above.

It is possible that the specific instance that was cited was an anomaly.

It sounds like the latest standard COT job opportunity announcement was not used and might be just a one of case.

RESOLUTION:
DAFO/HRD will share with OPM, NASCOE’s suggestion that applicants should be able to apply at the 5, 7 and 9 grade level without the agency asking the novice applicant to make a self determination. DAFO will work with FPAC to develop a narrative within the application to fully explain to the novice applicant how to properly apply for various grades within an announcement. This narrative will also include a description of consequences associated with choices the applicant made during the application process. NASCOE is willing to put an educational tool on the NASCOE website to assist with educating our employees. Completion date of no later than December 2019.

Item: 11 Category: Staffing/Personnel

ISSUE:
With the amount of recent disasters and the need for jump teams and volunteers to assist in the implementation of programs it has become apparent that FSA could benefit from having a pool of qualified employees at hand that could be dispersed to highly effected areas to provide immediate and necessary assistance. The need for immediate help to these disaster-stricken areas is essential and it is the understanding that there were not enough volunteers or able employees to provide assistance for the latest disasters that hit the US and Puerto Rico.

Not only is there the need for employees that are willing and able to assist, there is also a need that these employees be properly trained and “ready to assist”.

There are many qualified current employees, retirees and/or future retirees that have experience in programs that would be a great asset to assist FSA in training new employees, assisting with disaster situations, implementing new programs, and assisting understaffed offices.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE proposes that FSA create a Disaster Ready Team that consists of highly skilled employees who can be deployed to disaster-stricken areas to assist offices in implementing programs to those in need. This pool of employees would be trained and ready to assist, and a plan would be in place as to who, how, and when employees are deployed. Having a Team in place would eliminate the need to call upon volunteers and risk being unable to provide the required assistance timely. Having a Disaster Ready Team will stream line the process, reduce confusion, and allow proper planning for staffing and office coverage.

As part of this Disaster Ready Team, NASCOE encourages the utilization of retired FSA employees through a rehired annuitant program along with current employees with flexible schedules and workload.

NASCOE would be willing to assist in preparing a document that outlines the creation of this team, including how employees and retirees can become members of the Disaster Ready Team and the process of how they would be trained, deployed, and how offices would be prepared for coverage in their absence.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
DAFO is keenly aware of the abundant need for staff resources to deliver and administer all Disaster and Non-Disaster Programs. Relative to the Disaster Ready Team, actions are underway to define protocols and identify members for such a mechanism. DAFO welcomes NASCOE’s offer to draft a document outlining the creation of this team, including how employees can become members of the Disaster Ready Team and the process of how they would be trained, deployed, and how offices would be prepared for coverage in their absence.

Regarding the rehire of annuitants, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 authorizes the Department to approve the reemployment of Civilian Retirees with a Dual Compensation Waiver. That authority remains valid through December 31, 2019 and it is unknown at this time whether the authority will be extended beyond that date.

RESOLUTION:
FSA is already in the process of exploring the use of reemployed annuitants for the purpose of jump teams. NASCOE accepts FSA’s response. NASCOE appreciates and looks forward to helping out with DAFO’s offer to draft a document outlining the creation of this team, including how employees can become members of the Disaster Ready Team and the process of how they would be trained, deployed, and how offices would be prepared for coverage in their absence.

Item: 12 Category: Staffing/Personnel

ISSUE:
The code NP/Travel does not really show travel TO/FROM a shared management office because it does not really tell what the travel is for. It is too vague.

RECOMMENDATION:
We are requesting a specific program code that will cover only travel between county offices that is weighted in with other activity for determining staffing in County Offices. By using NP/Travel it penalizes both offices because it doesn’t tell which office it is for.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
Time coded to NP/Travel does not penalize offices for any workload purposes. Further creating more specific versions of travel would likely lead to confusion and further burden employees who are already challenged by the 30-line limitation in Web TA. FSA is not opposed to creating more specific codes however FSA is hesitant to do so without a more clearly defined business need and data capture objective.
*** This information is available now in the ARS Quick Reference Guide. Please see Notice AO-1730 for more information about the ARS Quick Reference Guide

RESOLUTION:
Travel should be coded based on the work the employee is completing however if you are coding it as NP the time is still being allocated back to the programs.

Guidance on how to code time when traveling will be provided.
DAFO/BAM will provide guidance on travel policy for shared management offices.

Item: 13 Category: Workload

ISSUE:
Handbook 21-AO needs to be updated. With the workload model being an important tool to determine allocation of employees which utilizes the ARS system, it would stand to reason that if the handbook is not current, then how can the tool be expected to properly work? Some of the items not current are resources and links. In paragraph 25 it talks about the link for the Activity Worksheet of which does not currently work. We understand the process of adding policy to the handbooks and that it takes time, but also need to realize the data utilized in the workload tool will have its inadequacies due to the process.

Notice PM-2763 mentioned the role of the COC and DD to the software. As of yet this has not made it to the handbook. When will NASCOE see this added to 21-AO?

RECOMMENDATION:
Update 21-AO and make it current and provide training.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
As a first step to updating handbook 21-AO DAFO has created the ARS Quick Reference Guide. The ARS Quick Reference Guide will be disseminated to employees via DAFO’s website and will allow FSA to capture feedback and update the document frequently in response to that feedback. The Quick Reference Guide will serve as a source document for the updates to 21-AO.
FSA does not know why the information in PM-2763 was not added to the 21-AO handbook and will contact the respective authorities to determine if the guidance provided in that notice is still applicable.

*** DAFO does not have the resources to update this handbook in the immediate future and the ARS Quick Reference Guide identified in Notice AO-1730 can be used to answer ARS questions until the handbook is updated.

RESOLUTION:
The recent changes will be clarified in the form of a notice and examples will be added to the handbook.

Item: 14 Category: Staffing/Personnel

ISSUE:
The 27-PM is written so that an applicant with a Masters’ Degree in an ag-related field can be hired at no higher than a CO-5. The way Par. 458 is written, the experience that qualifies an applicant for a CO-5 instead of a CO-4 is other USDA agencies, state departments of agriculture, or extension services. For example, someone who has worked for the county government and could be considered an expert in researching deeds is only eligible to start at a CO-4.

The concern is that FSA has not reviewed these standards since 2006. In order to remain competitive as an employer and attract the best and the brightest talent, it is imperative that we be allowed to hire at higher grade levels by considering other types of relevant experience. We are often interviewing candidates who would take large pay cuts to start working for FSA and we have no way to compensate them for their abilities and experience.

RECOMMENDATION:
Review and revise the starting grade criteria in 27-PM, Par. 458 to give hiring officials the opportunity to offer a higher starting grade in order to attract the best talent. NASCOE would like to participate in the review process of this criteria.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
Need dialogue with NASCOE to better understand. Don’t know that there is an immediate answer. Qualify on education or experience. No matter your educational level, the handbook allows the highest starting grade at a CO-5 when using education to qualify.

RESOLUTION:
DAFO will review the policy. DAFO will also work with FPAC/HRD in the BC to make the handbook clearer and add examples so that STO’s and hiring managers are aware of their ability to make exceptions to starting pay rates according to education and/or experience according to 27-PM.

Item: 15 Category: IT/Computer Environment

ISSUE:
In MIDAS CRM the software is set to allow fifteen minutes use before the system times out. This is not allowing employees enough time to complete projects without the possibility of losing their work.

In the course of the work day, many distractions occur causing employees to move away from what they are working on. For example, the phone rings or a producer comes in, causing employees to divert from what they are working on. It is very frustrating to come back to the project to see that the five-minute warning has expired, and all the work previously performed has been lost.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE would like to recommend that the settings in MIDAS CRM be revised to enhance the usability of the software. While actively working within MIDAS, the system should recognize the activity and not timeout. If there is inactivity in Midas due to unforeseen circumstances and the system “times out” then a draft should be saved to be able to come back to and start back where you left off. This recommendation would eliminate frustrations for county office employees that occur in multiple scenarios every day. Employees could make more efficient use of their time and garner more productivity.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
The time allowed to complete tasks in CRM due to inactivity is set by security. For security reasons, the system needs to timeout when a user is interrupted with another task. It is a security violation to have the system retain the open editing session if the user has abandoned the system for longer than 15 minutes. Most editing tasks can be saved immediately, and the user can come back into a subsequent editing session to make additional changes as necessary. GIS editing is different because at this time in the system there is no way to save draft edits to the CLU layer. We do have a long-term plan to create a draft/measurement service layer but do not have a timeframe when this can be implemented.

There is an issue in the system that is not restarting a session after it times out. This was address in an IB and will be corrected in an upcoming software release.

RESOLUTION:
Software will be reviewed to determine if and when it times MIDAS user out and if that is a defect in the software. FSA suggested that NASCOE discuss with IT/Security about the 15-minute time out period to see if we can expand this time. Timeframe on follow-up???

Item: 16 Category: Workload

ISSUE:
ARS Workload Analysis, we are told it is critical that ARS data be correctly reported on timesheets in WebTA.

We used to conduct workload meetings to freely share the weighting when Heidi Ware had the program. Either folks don’t genuinely know, or they aren’t willing to say. Can something be done about this so each State can use the system to illustrate the need for staff? Diversity that is not measured is a real issue. I am told told the data is not quite right for measuring FTEs.

RECOMMENDATON:
County Offices need to see ARS Workload Analysis data. The data contained in the report can help county directors appropriately assign work tasks. The ARS data can help county directors and county committees determine if they are effectively targeting certain segments of a county’s producers. The report also serves as a gauge if activities and outreach are being effective or not in specific program areas. This has been discussed with WDC previously. Numerous STO’s shared this report completely with county offices and many more shared specific parts with county offices. In addition, the sharing of the ARS Workload analysis data will help counties report data more accurately to enhance the quality of the data analysis. NASCOE would like to create consistency and requests that the report be shared with all counties.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
DAFO has created an enhanced version of Workload Analytics which is in the pilot stage at the moment. There will be both a Farm Program and a Farm Loan Program version of the document and all CEDs and FLMs will recieve a copy. Workload Analytics will allow managers to view all of the data used to compute workload measurments as well as provide an monthly update on current year ARS code usage.

RESOLUTION:
NASCOE accepts FSA’s response.

Item: 17 Category: Staffing/Personnel

ISSUE:
Career Advancement Opportunities for PTs – there need to be more Grade 8/9 opportunities for FSA; more availability in the CO level.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE recommends that FSA management re-visit the grade 8 “Senior PT” position which was recommended by the PT Classification Task Force in 2017.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
When the PT Classification Task Force met, the major accomplishment which came out of the task force was the creation of updated standardized Position Descriptions for all PT positions. The task force also developed a “draft” PD for a Senior PT position. This PD was provided to DAFO leadership at that time; however, was tabled due to budget concerns. DAFO is willing to present this to current leadership for another review.

RESOLUTION:
NASCOE accepts FSA’s response. DAFO is willing to add this topic to the Administrators task force agenda for consideration.

Item: 18 Category: Program Procedure

ISSUE:
ECP Frequent damage provisions. Regulations found in 7-CFR Part 701.105 3 (b) (6) does not specifically state any limitations on land eligibility as it relates to frequent damage. With frequent natural disasters occurring across the country our producers are taking extreme financial and physical losses. Producers are struggling to recover from these disasters and will be further hindered should they use up their eligibility for cost share assistance.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE would like to recommend the policy put in to place in 1-ECP (Rev 5) Amend 1 Par 112 B be amended to lessen the restriction on our producers. The change should more accurately reflect the increased frequency and severity of natural disasters affecting our producers today.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
Pending DAFP Response.

RESOLUTION:
The regulation does not state 3 and 10 however it does state frequency, so the agency had to define. Frequency of damage is related to a point on the earth not a county and that has been clarified to the State Office. The Conservation Division will evaluate the possibility of adding the option to request a waiver for those instances when the request to evaluate certain frequencies is legitimate. If policy is developed, the National Office will provide guidance in the handbook for requesting the waiver and adding STC to the flow of recommendation process.

Item: 19 Category: Program Procedure

ISSUE:
Marking attributes on FSA-578 maps. It is repetitive and cumbersome to fit all the required information onto each field. For all crops, sometimes the fields are so small, it is difficult to do so.

RECOMMENDATION:
Allowing county offices, through their COC, at the first COC meeting of the new fiscal year, to establish the normal routine of crops for their specific counties so that only the exceptions are listed on the map.

The variety type, status, irrigated practice, can be put into the COC minutes with the note of “unless otherwise noted” for usual crops in each county.
Another option could be to add a key at the bottom of the map, covering all attributes, which would correspond to a symbol or code placed in each field.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
If state and county offices are using Python Map Series to create maps for acreage reporting purposes, the state GIS specialist can update the Map Series template (either mapseries_portrait.mxd or mapseries_landscape.mxd) to include text that meets this need.

Templates used in CLU Maintenance Tool can also be modified by the user to meet this need. However, because the “unless otherwise noted” is a COC decision, maps generated from CARS cannot be adapted to have a different statement for each county.

RESOLUTION:
The Point and Click functionality is being looked at which will allow the user to click on a field and it will label the field for the user. The National Office will educate GIS Specialist and their Supervisors on the fact that the Python Map Series and other GIS techniques should be used to assist County Offices for acreage reporting purposes. Kim and Lisa will work together to determine whether use of a label on the map is acceptable.

Item: 20
Category: Career Development/Employee Opportunities

ISSUE:
Employees have recently been given opportunities for development through programs such as the Fellowship Program and the PT Leadership Program. These are great programs and offer employees the chance at better job opportunities, potential higher pay, and overall career growth/development.

Currently, in order to apply for these programs a requirement is that the employee’s immediate supervisor as well as the SED must sign off on the application. In some states this requirement is hindering employees from being allowed to apply. In addition, there have been other requirements that have prohibited employees from applying such as performance rating and training requirements.

Often the stipulations being placed on employees as requirements to apply are out of their control, several employees have not been allowed the opportunity to grow through these programs because of them. These programs are for the betterment of our employees and often will give them an advantage when applying for promotions. The fact that we have employees who aren’t being allowed these opportunities is not acceptable. It is agreed that there needs to be set criteria, however an employee who wants to better themselves should not be held back by personal preferences/agendas, a state’s lack of providing training, or managers not willing to rate their employees appropriately for performance.

RECOMMENDATION:
It is recommended that there be a better process for employees to apply for these programs that does not allow for impartial treatment. The recommendation includes that an employee be allowed to apply to these programs without the consent of others, just as if they were applying for a job. It is understood that these are competitive programs and the selection criteria would further weed out program participants utilizing set criteria and a selection committee with non-objective viewpoints. It is also understood that this is not a way of leaving immediate supervisors and a state out of the process, once an employee has applied, and if selected by the selection committee, the selected employees’ immediate supervisor and SED would be contacted and informed of the employee being accepted into the program. At that time, the employee’s ability to proceed with the program would be confirmed. If the immediate supervisor and/or SED does not concur with the employee continuing on with the program then written documentation shall to be provided to BOTH DAFO and the selected employee with detailed explanation as to why, the employee at that time would have the right to appeal this decision to DAFO.

Another solution would be to amend the application to allow for concurrence or denial by the CED and SED with a written justification. This would allow the application to still be submitted and reviewed. With the current process the application is never submitted without their concurrence.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
DAFO will ensure plausible reasons for non-concurrence. Need clear information conveyed among all parties. DAFO will not circumvent process. Proposal is unreasonable. Future notice will emphasize need for equity in the selection of candidates. Open communication with interested employees. If denied, you will be provided with a reason.

RESOLUTION:
NASCOE accepts FSA’s response. As future training, fellowship’s, etc. are announced, language will be added to the announcement (Notice or Memo) regarding States proper notification to employee of approved or not approved to apply, and why.

Item: 21 Category: Program Procedure

ISSUE:
Redesign the FSA-848s as the format doesn’t flow well and is hard to read and understand by employees and customers. Currently the layout is too busy, making it difficult to find information quickly.

NASCOE believes that FSA should reformat or replace the FSA-848’s and the process of producing the 848’s.

RECOMMENDATION: NASCOE believes that FSA should update the cost-share agreements document FSA-848 when making future updates to the form. It is recommended to utilize a task force with county office representation to help identify and remedy concerns with the current form.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
We are aware that the entire 848 series, especially the 848B, is cumbersome and we are trying to improve the information that is displayed. The form serves multiple purposes in that it is used for producer certification and also a summary of payments.

RESOLUTION:
A large effort designed to look at more than just the 848 process, but the cost share process as a whole has been launched. A contract was put in place with IBM as a contractor to examine cost share commonalities across all FPAC agencies. The “as is” process has been mapped and deficiencies and similarities have been determined.

FSA will share with NASCOE the draft of the revised 848 to see if they are going in the right direction.

Andrea is going to see if she can share the data from the IBM study that was gathered by participants through the reengineering process. It was determined that a summary was sufficient.

Item: 22 Category: Performance Standards

ISSUE:
District Directors are assuming roles and responsibilities of managing CED performance, which is ultimately the responsibility of County Committees.

RECOMMENDATION:
NASCOE recommends that the National Office notify and reaffirm with SED’s, AO’s, & DD’s that they must respect the performance process and the supervisory roles of County Committees.

FSA’S RESPONSE:
SEDs will have to reemphasize with DDs the importance of keeping the COC informed on the CEDs regular performance in the office and not just how they see the CED at meetings. SEDs suggest to the DDs to visit quarterly with the COC to update them on the CEDs daily performance.

RESOLUTION:
Since policy is still being developed, table this item for further discussion. All agree that COC Orientation and HR training activities are needed for COC members and DD’s to better do their job. We need follow up and to know more about what “policy is still being developed ” that intersects with this topic. Also, need to follow up on timeframe for “further discussion” with NASCOE on this issue.

Follow up items


Item: 1 Category: Staffing/Personnel

2016 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 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 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.

FINAL:
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.

Resolution:
HRD: Handbook 27-PM has a complete revision which is in the final review stage. We would anticipate this handbook being issued by this summer.

RESOLUTION: Handbook revision is done but it still needs modifications. Completion date of no later than December 2019.

Item: 2 Category: Benefit

2018 ITEM 3:

Issue:
USDA does not currently cooperate with the TSA Pre-check travel program.

Participating in the USDA TSA pre-check program should be analyzed for viability. It is possible that USDA and TSA could cooperate on a blanket scale and save both time and money for FSA employees when traveling. It would seem that since USDA has already processed background checks that they may already have all of the elements of information needed to qualify for TSA pre-check.

NASCOE’s Position:
Currently if a USDA employee wanted to opt to be a TSA Pre Check traveler, they would have to submit an online application and then make an appointment to visit an enrollment center in order to process the request and pay the $85 fee.

USDA employees are required to be finger printed and a background check ran as a prerequisite to their employment. Once the screenings are complete, the employee’s credentials are then placed on a LincPass card which is provided to the employee in order to access government buildings and operating systems.

Having these credentials already in place, it makes sense that a partnership would be beneficial to both USDA and TSA alike. USDA employees would be given the added benefit of qualifying for the program using their LincPass credentials allowing USDA to realize time savings while employees are traveling on official duty and saving them the $85 application fee. TSA would be able to realize cost savings by utilizing the background check information and fingerprints already provided by USDA.

In November 2014, TSA and the DOD announced a partnership to expand TSA Pre-Check expedited screening benefits to more than 2.6 million U.S. Armed Forces service members. The service members opt in thru MilConnect (DOD employees website), and use their ID Number when booking their flights. Through negotiations USDA could implement a similar process utilizing existing systems and the employees LincPass cards that would fulfill TSA requirements.

It is very encouraging that TSA has successfully formed a partnership with another government agency. NASCOE would like to request USDA/FSA leadership to pursue partnership negotiations with TSA to save time, money along with adding an additional benefit to its employees.

FSA’s Response:
FMD is in support of forming a partnership with TSA to provide Agency employees expedited screening with the TSA Pre-Check program. This initiative needs to be supported and lead by the Travel Area of the Department OCFO. FMD Travel Section will discuss this effort with the Department OFCO to determine if feasible for USDA/FSA employees.

NASCOE Response:
What is the process and the timeline? Have you initiated contact with the other agency to start the process?

Resolution:
Currently TSA has a different vendor than OPM and therefore the finger prints are not transferable. EPD will reach out to TSA to see if they can generate a conversation about sharing fingerprints and developing a process to collaborate on gaining USDA employees Pre-check credentials. Follow-up will be forthcoming.

RESOLUTION:
Currently the issue is in the FPAC Business Center and they are researching the possibility.

Item: 3 Category: Gov delivery

2018 ITEM 13

ISSUE:
1-INFO (Rev. 3), Amend. 1 was issued 10/24/17. The issuance date of 1-INFO (Rev. 2) was 4/9/85. A lot has changed in communications technology since 1985 and it’s understandable that a revision was certainly needed. However, as much as the methods of communication have evolved, communication at the local level with our customers has not changed; our customers expect to be informed with information specific to their locality and circumstances. One concern with Revision 3 is the content of Paragraph 94C. This new directive requires field offices to consult and receive clearance from the OEA Director and/or the PAB Chief through field PAS, share drafted text of the news release information at least 2 weeks in advance of the proposed announcement for all local issuances of news releases about local programs, issues, and concerns.

CED’s are grade 11 and grade 12 employees that should be held accountable for communication content and success at the local level. This has always been the expectation and responsibility of CED’s and accountability should not be diminished. The fact that communications technology and equipment has changed does not mean that CED roles and duties for direct customer service and outreach have changed. It is simply not feasible or efficient to require such bureaucracy and delays to affect information delivery to our customers at the local level. If there are noted communication deficiencies, this should be addressed by adequate and proper training or, in cases of disregard for procedure, CED’s should be held accountable for performance.

NASCOE’s Position:
Par. 94C should not require consultation, clearance, or 2 week advance submission to the OEA Director and/or PAB Chief through field PAS for field offices to issue news releases about local programs, issues, and concerns. It is reasonable to require CED’s to be accountable for all content released in local issuances and to require local consultation and review of all local releases prior to issuance.

FSA’s Response:
OEA: OEA understand the concerns. The clearance of news releases and other public-facing communications tools is imperative to ensure a consistent FSA, FPAC and OneUSDA message. We, at the national level, are required to have clearance, and the states and counties are held to the same standards. It is extremely important that we ensure that programs and policies have final approval from FPAC and the Department prior to external announcement– especially as we embark on a new farm bill. To date, with the 1-INFO policy in place, we have received few, if any, complaints from the communications coordinators. OEA staff understands the necessity for their responses to the requests for review and approval of locally issued materials to be as timely as possible without getting out ahead of the Administration. OEA staff works closely with states and counties to clear narrative that may be required to meet specific needs outside of strategic department and national office messaging.

Response:
Due to time constraints, DAFO agreed to facilitate a teleconference between NASCOE and appropriate staff at a later date.

Resolution:
NASCOE will get an update from FSA and the BC on how external communications will be governed by the BC. Brenda Carlson will convey to the BC NASCOE’s position of CED’s being able to compose “home grown articles” about established programs.

Also, NASCOE will work with FSA and the BC on ideas to help celebrate FSA’s birthday/legacy and promote FSA’s enduring infrastructure that continues to serve American farmers and ranchers.

FPAC External Affairs Division response to NASCOE membership’s expressed concerns regarding the current communications content review process outlined in National Handbook 1-INFO (Rev. 3), Amend 1, Paragraph 94C that requires state and county offices to submit drafted text intended for local communications (i.e. news releases), to be reviewed and approved by External Affairs leadership at least two weeks in advance of planned issuance.

Resolution
External Affairs leadership is evaluating all existing agency policy to develop a framework that ensures the agencies are empowered to engage in locally-led communications under a new governance framework. We welcome conversations with NASCOE leadership as a key stakeholder in the development of this framework and request that conversations begin in early August.

As you are aware, FSA had developed template news releases to support local communications by allowing for county office localization and issuance. The purpose of these templates is to save valuable local office time and ensure consistency in messaging as all templates have cleared FSA HQ subject matter experts. There are currently 18 templates covering a variety of programs. The templates are currently being updated to reflect 2018 Farm Bill related changes and will be posted (all or in part) on the new myFPAC intranet site by mid-August 2019. External Affairs will provide information to NASCOE to help ensure that all county office employees are familiar with the templates.

NASCOE Roundup Bulletin Now Available

The Fall 2018 / Winter 2019 NASCOE Roundup Bulletin is now available.  

This issue includes:

  • 2018 NASCOE Convention follow-up
  • Preview of the 60th NASCOE Convention in Manhattan, Kansas
  • NASCOE Scholarship Information
  • Award Submission Information:  Distinguished Service Awards, Sick Leave Awards
  • Call for Negotiation Items
  • How to submit Program Efficiency Suggestions
  • Meet your 2018 – 19 NASCOE Team!

The bulletin has been emailed to all members on the NASCOE Communications database, and can also be found on the NASCOE website at:  NASCOE.org/Publicity.

2018 Negotiation Responses from Washington, DC.

ITEM 1 –  Staffing/Personnel

Issue:
NASCOE_LogoOne of the tools available to handle peak workload and also to recruit new employees to FSA is the volunteer and intern programs. These individuals would either help out when workload requires more people than are staffed at location or they may want to see how the agency operates and what they can provide as a future employer. The problem is that volunteers and interns are unable to access programs such as CARS or Farm Records because they do not have the right to permissions. Volunteers and interns are not given the same access as FTEs even if requested on a FSA-13A.

NASCOE’s Position:
Volunteers or interns are required to go through the same background checks, take the same security training, and obtain a LincPass card the same as full time employees, yet they are denied access to vital programs. This exhibits their ability to be of assistance in the COF or to gain hands on experience and observe the applications in which they could do potential work as an employee. This leaves a bad impression when they can’t get access. This is a decision that was made at the national level regarding roles and access according to the Access Management staff.

As long as the volunteer or intern completes all required training, such as the annual security training or application training such as is required for MIDAS Access they should have the same permissions as a full time employee.

FSA’s Response:
OCIO: The Access Management staff is the messenger not the decider. It was a business decision (i.e., Farm Programs) to disallow volunteer access. This is actually something that is tracked. These are the ones OCIO has researched so far: https://sharepoint.apps.fsa.usda.net/iso/public/Wiki%20Pages/ISOG_Volunteer%20Information.aspx and we are wrapping up final analysis on all remaining Farm Program systems for Farm Program’s review.

HRD: FSA HRD supports the system access deemed necessary by the hosting office for their volunteers and interns. In order to effectively provide a fulfilling and enriching experience with the agency, volunteers and interns should be able to learn and understand systems used to achieve mission results.

Volunteers and interns are required to go through a background investigation process to receive a favorable approval to work notification that is required prior to any temporary or permanent assignment. FSA HRD defers to EPD concerning additional details concerning the levels of approved background investigations for different sensitivity levels for volunteers, interns, and full-time employees.

After a favorable determination is received by HRD, we instruct the hosting office to fill out the FSA-13A to obtain computer access which is approved or denied by OCIO. The decision of system access for any individual position belongs to the first line supervisor and the direction of the hosting office. There is no regulation within the Pathways Program that encourages offices to withhold system access to interns. Volunteers do have regulations on the duties they may perform per USDA’s Departmental Regulation 4231-001 that do not speak directly to why system access may or may not be provided but may go into the decision making of the host office:

  • Under 7 U.S.C. 2272, volunteer services performed by those not employed by USDA will meet the following criteria:
    • Services will be performed without compensation; and
    •  Volunteers will not be used to displace any employee of the Department of Agriculture including the local, county, and State committees established under 16 U.S.C 590h(b).
  • Volunteers providing services under 7 U.S.C. 2272 are not Federal employees for any purpose except for the purposes identified under:
    • 5 U.S.C. 81, relating to compensation and injury; and
    • 28 U.S.C. 2672 – 2680, relating to tort claims.
  • Volunteer service, in general, may not displace any USDA employee nor may it be used to perform any work which is inherently a government function as defined by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-76, Performance of Commercial Activities.

DAFP: ITSD is reviewing all systems to determine if security is in place to allow volunteer access. DAFP is going to provide access as soon as the final analysis is complete on all of the systems.

NASCOE Response: What is the timeline for the final analysis to occur? To take this a step further temps need to have access to SCIMS in order to help us more for the short time they are working in the office.

Response: There is a website that can be shared through Kara. DAPF will respond on this issue as well. The overall goal is to give Temps access to our systems.

DAFP: Once KC completes their review of all our processes the accesses for interns and volunteers will be approved. Temporaries should have access to all systems. Midas is a separate system. AD-2017 is still required for SCIMs access even though it is read only. Within the month the final review of all the systems should be completed and request should start being approved.

Resolution:
DAFO: The request for access was originally being denied because the request was not clear as to the security they have been through. By the end of the month the final review of all requests should be done and access may be granted. Once they pass through security they will be approved. Temporaries are allowed accesses. They should not be disapproved.


ITEM 2 – Staffing/Personnel

Issue:
Where is the National Mentoring Program at? It is my understanding that there was not enough interest in the program at the time and thus it did not move forward.

Across the country, new CEDs are not being supported after the completion of COT training, or upon being hired as a CED after a Hard to Fill position or a PT who was Acting in Charge was selected for the position.

NASCOE’s Position:
The National Mentoring Program has, in the past, been a successful program. Those who have participated feel that it was a very beneficial to their jobs and provided them with an invaluable resource. NASCOE supports the National Mentoring Program and recommends that it be re-advertised. In addition, NASCOE recommends participation in the program be a required element for all new employees.

In an effort to ensure the programs continued success, NASCOE would gladly offer assistance to the National office in identifying trainers as well as providing additional resources as needed.

Please see attached Exhibit 1 in support of the National Mentoring Program.

FSA’s Response:
HRD: On March 2, 2018, FSA/LEDB (Learning and Employee Development Branch) was informed that the Virtual University (VU) team is being defunded at the end of March 2018, as well as 19 positions affiliated with VU, including the Departmental Mentoring Manager. USDA agencies may continue their own mentoring programs; however, it is unclear whether or for how long FSA will be able to continue to use the Mentoring Portal, which matches up mentors/mentees, or matches up a mentor and mentee that have already pre-selected each other. FSA will continue the program using the portal as it is the only way FSA/USDA can manage and report the number of employees participating in the mentoring program. In the event the Mentoring Portal is no longer available, FSA is researching methods to do so independently of the system to continue the mentoring program.

FSA supports NASCOE’s request to re-advertise the National Mentoring Program with both GS and CO employees, to increase participation.

FSA greatly appreciates NASCOE’s offer of “assistance to the National office in identifying trainers/mentors as well as providing additional resources as needed” and would be glad to explore this kind of collaboration with NASCOE.

Concerning adding a performance element for mentoring, FSA can add an element or standard without Departmental permission. HRD recommends adding a standard instead of an element, under Execution of Duties. FSA can bolster mentoring accomplishments through activities like scheduling monthly check-ins/training/tips, and providing suggestions for mentoring activities such as brown bag lunches for mentees and mentors.

NASCOE Response: The intent was not to add another element to the performance plan. This is more of an onboarding element. What would be the method of pairing up the mentor with the mentee without the portal.

Resolution:
HRD is not sure of the answer to the question. HRD will provide an update after they have discussions about this item. HRD has raised the issue at the CHCO level and hopefully they will come up with a constructive response. In the absence of a constructive response HRD will reach out to NASCOE for assistance but will keep NASCOE updated.


ITEM 3 – Benefits

Issue:
USDA does not currently cooperate with the TSA Pre-check travel program.

Participating in the USDA TSA pre-check program should be analyzed for viability. It is possible that USDA and TSA could cooperate on a blanket scale and save both time and money for FSA employees when traveling. It would seem that since USDA has already processed background checks that they may already have all of the elements of information needed to qualify for TSA pre-check.

NASCOE’s Position:
Currently if a USDA employee wanted to opt to be a TSA Pre Check traveler, they would have to submit an online application and then make an appointment to visit an enrollment center in order to process the request and pay the $85 fee.
USDA employees are required to be finger printed and a background check ran as a prerequisite to their employment. Once the screenings are complete, the employee’s credentials are then placed on a LincPass card which is provided to the employee in order to access government buildings and operating systems.

Having these credentials already in place, it makes sense that a partnership would be beneficial to both USDA and TSA alike. USDA employees would be given the added benefit of qualifying for the program using their LincPass credentials allowing USDA to realize time savings while employees are traveling on official duty and saving them the $85 application fee. TSA would be able to realize cost savings by utilizing the background check information and fingerprints already provided by USDA.

In November 2014, TSA and the DOD announced a partnership to expand TSA Pre-Check expedited screening benefits to more than 2.6 million U.S. Armed Forces service members. The service members opt in thru MilConnect (DOD employees website), and use their ID Number when booking their flights. Through negotiations USDA could implement a similar process utilizing existing systems and the employees LincPass cards that would fulfill TSA requirements.
It is very encouraging that TSA has successfully formed a partnership with another government agency. NASCOE would like to request USDA/FSA leadership to pursue partnership negotiations with TSA to save time, money along with adding an additional benefit to its employees.

FSA’s Response:
FMD is in support of forming a partnership with TSA to provide Agency employees expedited screening with the TSA Pre-Check program. This initiative needs to be supported and lead by the Travel Area of the Department OCFO. FMD Travel Section will discuss this effort with the Department OFCO to determine if feasible for USDA/FSA employees.

NASCOE Response:
What is the process and the timeline? Have you initiated contact with the other agency to start the process?

Resolution:
Currently TSA has a different vender than OPM and therefore the finger prints are not transferable. EPD will reach out to TSA to see if they can generate a conversation about sharing fingerprints and developing a process to collaborate on gaining USDA employees Pre-check credentials. Follow-up will be forthcoming.


ITEM 4 – Directives

Issue:
File Maintenance and Disposition Manual (32 AS Transfer Guide) is not amended when changes are made to the manual. This results in employees not being able to properly update the manual when a hard copy manual is used in the COF. There is no way to know what part of the manual was updated, therefore, an entire new manual will need to be printed if hard copy is required.

NASCOE’s Position:
The File Maintenance and Disposition Manual (32-AS Transfer Guide) is not amended when changes are made to the manual. If a County Office uses a hard copy of the manual, the employee is not able to properly update it because there is no way to know what part of the manual was updated. Therefore, an entire new manual must be printed if a hard copy is required.

Handbook 1-AS, Par. 3A (last bullet) states the MSD Records Staff is responsible for “amending periodically the agency’s File Maintenance and Disposition Manual to ensure that filing codes and retention and disposition authority instructions are current and accurate.” NASCOE would like to recommend that the File Maintenance and Disposition Manual (32-AS Transfer Guide) be updated according to handbook 1-AS to include amendments in the same manner as any other handbook.

FSA’s Response:
The File Maintenance and Disposition Manual is a file plan. Because of the fluidity of records and the many changes that will continue to be required, this manual will not be considered as a handbook or directive.

FSA, however, has agreed to post changes to the file plan as an amendment. This amendment will contain each page on which there were changes/corrections since the last manual was updated on the Records Management SharePoint site. This will be added so that when a paper copy of the File Maintenance and Disposition Manual has been printed, only the amendment will need to be printed to replace the pages in the printed file.

NASCOE Response:
Accepts response as submitted with a projected deadline.

Resolution:
August 1 is the proposed date for this to begin. With the transition to Business Center some other things need to be in place first however that is the projected date.


ITEM 5 – Leave policy

Issue:
FSA’s current procedure when interviewing for any USDA agency, restricts county office employees from using administrative leave when interviewing for an out of state vacancy. This leads to inconsistencies and inequality between national office and field level employees.

Par 161 G 17-PM as follows;

161 *–G Interviews
FSA/RMA National Office employees may be granted administrative leave if the interview is for another USDA job.

Permanent full-time or part-time employees may be granted administrative leave if the interview is within FFAS in the same State as their regularly assigned duty station. If the interview is outside of FFAS or out-of-State, the employee must use their own annual leave to cover the time absent from work.
Notes: Permanent employees may be granted a maximum of 4 hours administrative leave.

For permanent part-time employees, the administrative leave must correspond with their tour of duty.–* 5-29-08 17-PM (Rev. 2) Amend. 5 Page 7-3

NASCOE’s Position:
Every permanent, full-time FSA employee should be eligible for a maximum of 4 hours administrative leave to apply for another USDA positions, regardless of geography or agency. This would bring consistency and equality to the process and also potentially increase hiring pools. Allowing existing employees who have been selected to interview for USDA job openings to receive some administrative leave could promote applications and help staff critical and hard to fill positions.

FSA’s Response:
HRD: This policy is one which will be reviewed with the evolution of Farm Production and Conservation.

NASCOE Response:
Where do they see the evolution of FPAC going and where does HRD stand on this issue.

Resolution:
HRD will have to merge their policy with FPAC. We are in the process of working with design of the two working groups. The unique county challenges will be brought to that process. The first look will be an August -September look. HRD will take this to the Business Center through FPAC sometime in August -September and again later in 2019.


ITEM 6 – Staffing and Personnel

Issue:
Staffing in offices is a continuing to become problematic issue. Not only does understaffing affect the service to producers, it also affects employee’s performance and morale as well. NASCOE notes there were 6 items in regards to staffing / personnel submitted as negotiation items by membership. We have combined these into one item to reduce redundancy.

NASCOE’s Position:
NASCOE believes that staffing is a problematic issue, at the same time we recognize the situation the Agency is in right now with the budget and a hiring freeze. In an effort to come to a solution that will alleviate some of the hardship being placed on our workforce, NASCOE proposes the following:

  • Develop an accurate and comprehensive workload and staffing tool:
    Through critical hire requests and the removal of the hiring freeze, staff offices based on actual workload needs. Consider all administrative, program, and applications not counted in the current workload systems. Many Administrative functions, County Committee functions, other miscellaneous required duties and use or lose annual leave could equal a considerable portion of 1 FTE.
  • The county level workload and staffing data should be available for CED’s to evenly distribute workload among employees.
  • Shared Management Training:
    Through the shared management task force, develop a training (face to face preferred) for CED’s who are currently in shared management to utilize.
  • Utilizing OneUSDA:
    Collaborate with sister agencies (NRCS, SWCD) to develop a policy of mutual assistance to the greatest extent practical when staffing situation occurs.

FSA Response:
HRD: HRD is supportive of the above ideas. HRD would defer to DAFO who leads on these issues at this time.

DAFO: County level analytics are available to State Offices. The staffing model will only be used as a tool in developing State ceiling levels.

NASCOE Response: Needs to go to the county level so that managers have that tool to staff their offices and manage their programs. Supervisors are having to deny request of employees who wish to participate in programs such as the fellows because they do not have the tools to manage their staffing. New manages do not have the tools to manage their staff since they don’t have the history or understand the workload of the programs. Not having the workload tools keeps managers from allowing their staff to volunteer to assist other states. We recognize the reports are accessible through OBE however a report with the hours would be most helpful. NASCOE wants transparency to the field.

Resolution:
Workload and Staffing Tool: DAFO is not sure where that is going to end up. FPAC eluded to the fact that the best resources are needed to staff offices accurately. OBF can address the staffing model questions. FPAC’s Optimal Office model came after the FSA staffing model. The report lays out the programs, the metrics, hours spent, and leave records. The optimal office workload tool looks at the same information as MCA but takes out the anomalies.

To attempt to provide county offices with workload data, DAFO requests that NASCOE to provide to them what data elements are needed from the old County Office Workload Measurement System report 14. Those would be items that would helpful for county offices to manage staff and workload.

There is also a 66 page report that should have been shared by STO’s with all county offices. It might have been helpful for COF’s to help manage staffing and workload. DAFO will discuss with the STO offices about sharing that info down to the county office level.

Shared management training: The task force was stopped until we had SED’s on board and the creation of FPAC it has been slowed down however the intent to start the task force back up and continue the process. DAFO agrees to continue with the Shared Management task force. In 60 days DAFP will come up with a timeline for the task force.

Revision of 27-PM revision 2: It is in final review. The changes that were agreed to last year are included in the revision

Utilizing ONE USDA: The local FAC is the vehicle to make those decisions. FSA will entertain asking the National FAC about setting some policy that can be pushed down to the local FAC. Policy would be voluntary practices and suggestions that may be used by service center personnel to assist each other in servicing the customer. The FPAC Optimal Office concept may bleed into this and help resolve some of these issues.


ITEM 7 – Benefits

Issue:
Consistent official benefits/retirement counseling/training are not being provided by State Offices.

Handbook 35-PM Par. 3 C, State AO Responsibilities states that State AO’s shall:

  • provide benefits guidance to all employees
  • counsel all employees in matters about benefits and retirement
  • assist CED’s in providing guidance for newly hired employees for eligible benefits

NASCOE’s Position:
According to 35-PM Amend 2 Par 17 A & C:

A: Agency Responsibilities

The Thrift Savings Plan Open Elections Act of 2004 (Pub. L. 108-469) requires OPM to develop and implement a retirement financial literacy and education strategy for employees as part of the retirement training offered by OPM under 5 U.S.C. 8350. The implementation of the strategy must:

• educate employees on the need for retirement savings and investment
• provide information on how to:
• plan for retirement
• calculate the retirement investment needed to meet their retirement goals

The programs must target employees at a minimum of 3 career points:
• New employee
• Mid-career
• Pre-retirement

The financial education strategy is designed to:

  • provide employees with a framework for analysis and decision-making so that they can achieve their retirement goals
  • leverage the existing resources of agency benefits officers to broaden their focus in helping employees plan for retirement
  • set forth a model of financial education to improve the financial literacy of employees
  • create a system that allows employees to learn how to plan for retirement and to calculate what their retirement investment should be for the goals the employees have established.–*

B: Retirement Workshops

State Offices shall conduct retirement workshops at least every 2 years on a district, multi-district, or State level for all employees that are age 50 or older.

State Offices may:
• invite outside speakers to participate in the workshop; include a Social
Security representative, if possible
• use available audiovisual aids to explain retirement programs.

If State or County Office employees require retirement training, contact the State Administrative officer.

Currently there is a wide array of options being offered by states, from not providing any assistance to others providing an adequate face to face training for the employees in differing stages of their careers. Obviously the benefits/retirement options are the same across the country and likewise all employees need the same opportunity to understand and be educated on their benefits towards their retirement. Along with the differences among States we are sure that there are differing reasons, ranging from budget to training resources.

NASCOE is requesting to work with leadership to establish a standard and the budgetary requirements and resources so that all employees are afforded an equal opportunity to education and exercising their employee benefits. NASCOE believes the agencies greatest resource is its employees and know that an investment into their future will be, and has been, reciprocated in the agencies mission.

FSA’s Response:
HRD: On July 13, 2017, HRD provided, to the State Offices, through DAFO, two PowerPoint presentations which could be used for retirement training. One of these presentations was for CSRS employees and the other was for FERS employees. In accordance with Handbook 35-PM, paragraph 3B, HRD will continue to lead the efforts of developing training materials for State Offices to use in conducting benefit sessions for employees across the agency.

As an additional comment, Aglearn also contains a wealth of information on benefits/retirement-related issues which employees may use to supplement the information received from their State Office.

NASCOE Response:
How many STO’s have provided the training? Has it been monitored? The PowerPoints are not fulfilling their obligation. Open dialogue to address the disparity. Accountability?

Response: There is not any tracking outside of AgLearn. There are going to be some initiatives coming out of OPM to assist our new employees in understanding the benefits of TSP. As part of the new FPAC organization design there is an initiative to review the training that has been conducted and design the type of trainings we want our employees to have. In terms of the retirement training, we will be looking at retirement training but at this point we are not sure how we will conduct that. The training models that currently exist are being reviewed to see if it meets our needs. HRD is in support of providing personnel at the NASCOE convention to provide training. FSA will also commit to providing some form of retirement training during the SEA rally and possibly other Area Rallies. FSA will conduct a review of what trainings state offices are providing and will make sure they are consistent.


ITEM 8 – Staffing/Personnel

Issue:
We have many excellent employees that work in our County Offices that would like to apply for the COT program/CED positions, but they are tied to the community that they live in. They are unwilling or unable to commit to a training program and being placed “somewhere” within the state.

Current practice has our STC interviewing and selecting COTs. They train for 6 months to a year and then interview for various open CED positions. The positions that are open at the start of the training program are not necessarily the ones that are open at the end of the program, either due to permanent shared management or possibly a permanent hire. The end result is that people end up in locations that they don’t really want to be at, maybe even 5 to 6 hours from home. This practice puts an extra strain on the family members or causes employees to choose between what’s best for their career or what’s best for their family.

NASCOE’s Position:
NASCOE recommends incorporating a Leadership Program for PTs that allows the Agency to identify future leadership candidates and that changes be made in the COT hiring process to reflect the same opportunities that are afforded in FLOT hiring. Doing such will allow added upward mobility opportunity for the incredibly talented cadre of qualified employees that have leadership potential within FSA.

A recent 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 that they find more attractive. Many of these county committee’s 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 item and make it even more successful for employees and county committees:

Recommendation #1
NASCOE believes FSA is missing an 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 leadership development programs taught by FSA as well as other outside 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 FSA 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 have document great success.

Recommendation #2
NASCOE proposes that the hiring system for COT’s be enhanced to be comparable to the FLM/FLOT system where COT’s can be hired in the county where they will be stationed with an end goal 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 not only benefit PT’s in the advertising county, but those in surrounding counties as well as. In 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 to avoid “preselection”:

  1. Smith County advertises both within and outside of FSA for CED’s and COT’s that would ultimately be the CED in Smith County.
  2. All applicants apply through USAjobs.
  3. 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.
  4. The STC determines the top 3-5 candidates to submit to the COC for interview.
  5. The COC, with the counsel of the DD, selects a COT that will begin training for the CED position in Smith County.
  6. 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.

Additionally
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.

In Summary,  NASCOE recommends incorporating a Leadership Program for PTs that allows the Agency to identify future leadership candidates and that changes be made in the COT hiring to reflect the same opportunities that are afforded in FLOT hiring. Doing such will allow added upward mobility opportunity for the incredibly talented cadre of qualified employees that have leadership potential within FSA

FSA’s Response:
HRD: The decision on how to hire and train COTs as well as how to place them upon completion of the training program is an agency choice. There are considerations associated with the current hiring, training, and placement process just as there are considerations with the proposed hiring, training, and placement process. HRD defers to DAFO for their determination on what is best for the State and County Offices on this issue.

DAFO: 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.

NASCOE Response:
Not all COT’S will be hired using this method so is management agreeing with our method.

Resolution:
DAFO’s position has not really changed. There is a process for the hard to fill program and for local PT’s to be able to apply. FLOT’s are under the authority of the SED and can be moved at any time, therefore they are not hired for set areas. DAFO will visit with HR and will revisit this item to see if there are more options for us to open doors for our PT’s.


ITEM 9 – 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.

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.

NASCOE’s Position:
NASCOE presented this item last year (item 4, 2017) and accepted the response. In the final response it was stated that this item would be considered in the future and discussed with RSO management the possibility of doing remote positions. NASCOE feels that in order to achieve the goals of maximum efficiency and effectiveness the ability to pursue the best and the brightest for these positions should not be limited by the physical location of the duty station. The evolution of FPAC gives us the opportunity to mimic successful private business models for our employees. NASCOE would like to know if this discussion has happened if not how soon can it happen.

FSA’s Response:
HRD: HRD defers to DAFO for a response on whether conversations have occurred with the SWA-RSO Leadership team on this issue.

DAFO: The discussion has occurred and RSO leadership maintains that the organization best functions and fulfills its purpose when its employees are co-located and not scattered. Concentrations of employees provide for many benefits including 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.
Appropriate, available space in county offices remains a concern as well. The (10) SWA States have committed to make space available in any of the respective STOs where RSO employees are hired and duty-stationed. A similar commitment is not in place for duty stationing newly hired RSO employees in any of the (458) Service Centers across the SWA or outside of the SWA.

NASCOE Response: Through FPAC we are trying to create a model that allows our producers to apply through different portals. We should be to allow our own personnel models to follow the same model. The current RSO is spread out all over the SWA.

Resolution: The RSO is going to merge into the FPAC Business Center.


ITEM 10 – CRP 848 Review

Issue:
CRP 848 Review Process has been very grueling. I am the Conservation Technician in our county which has heavy CRP participation in both regular CRP and the SAFE program. The spreadsheet provided for review was overwhelming and a very short deadline was given to complete the process. There was no option for a “register” or any extension that would be granted. The timeframe given was unrealistic and caused a lot of added stress on the county office employees.

We were given a spreadsheet listing CRP 848’s with expired expiration dates to review during the third week of December and given until January 11th to complete the review. In my case I had 719 848’s to review. This process is not a quick and easy process. The majority of the 848’s were set up to expire during the first year of the time span for the two mid contract management practices and are valid 848’s. When software was moved from the SYS36 we had to reissue new referrals for each contract with little guidance. As with most things we deal with, the way they want us to handle setting up these 848’s and the rules to the program have changed numerous times making it impossible to make the revisions it would take to keep them off these lists that they are coming out with now. It is my understanding that now that we have cleaned up this report it does not keep them from appearing on a future report to look at again. Apparently if an 848 has no activity on it for over 12 months, that 848 will reappear on the report to look at to see if it is still valid. We have a hard enough time keeping our heads above water without having to go back over the same issues only to tell them it is still valid.

NASCOE Position:
Now that an initial review of outstanding FSA-848’s has been completed and the county office has identified which 848’s are valid, that information should be carried forward. It should not be necessary to routinely conduct such a time-consuming review of these FSA-848’s which could knowingly continue to appear on the report. Further, automated MCM tracking should be developed to assist county offices and ensure uniformity.

FSA’s Response:
DAFP: FSA is working on several items to try to identify cost share issues prior to their placement on the ULO report. CEPD agrees that County Offices should only have to look at a specific FSA-848 once during a fiscal year. Additional guidance will be issued to State and County Offices providing more flexibility on creating FSA-848’s when the CRP contract is approved.

NASCOE Response:
What solutions and items are PECD working on?

Resolution:
CEPD stated that ULO’s has been a topic of discussion. A letter just went out today to the STO’s from FMD that described the next round of reviews. The items on the list not yet expiring will be taken care of by the NO. The field will be responsible for the items on the report that have expired will need to be reviewed. CEPD would be open to any suggestions on how to handle 848’s and cost share tracking/automation in the future. CEPD recommends that when a practice is completed that it be marked final in the system to clear that item off the list as complete. PECD will check with EDW to see what parts moved to that to see what reports can now be generated to assist us with tracking our practices.


ITEM: 11  Supervisory Standards

Issue:
National Notice PM-2993 contained several changes that are of concern to NASCOE. These include New Supervisory Standards for Managing Employee Performance contained in Exhibit 1, Standards in Exhibit 3: Customer Service, Outreach Education and Engagement and paragraph 3H Employee Performance and PIP.

NASCOE is concerned with the suspension of language in DR 4040-430, Section 9.g.(3)(a) pertaining to the minimum 60 day PIP. The requirement to hold the employee in “unacceptable” performance status for the entire appraisal period, despite an employee’s successful completion of the terms of the PIP, is not a fair and objective directive to allow managers to properly assess performance. Suspension of the 60 day minimum for a PIP, does not allow an employee a fair pathway to correct and meet their performance goals.

Exhibit 3, Page 2 Under Element 815: NASCOE believes that the standard requiring supervisors and managers to ensure receipts for service are issued when required with no more than 1 exception is not realistic or attainable. Additionally, the standard requiring non-supervisory employees to issue receipts for service for customer interactions with no more than 2 exceptions is not realistic or attainable. Furthermore, this standard directly conflicts with guidance provided in Par. 4A of this notice that states “exceptions should be stated within a range…..exceptions should not be stated as an absolute.”

Exhibit 1, Pages 1 and 2 list the 11 the required standards for meeting fully successful and the requirements for exceeding fully successful. Although FSA policy encourages the use of only 5 to 7 standards, PM-2993 requires 11. NASCOE doesn’t want to marginalize performance process but believes the 11 standards are excessive.

NASCOE’s Position:
NASCOE believes a minimum 60 day performance improvement period (PIP) should be used to allow supervisors/managers to fairly access the employees progress in complying with terms of the PIP (Par. 3H);

NASCOE does not agree that an employee should continue to be rated “unacceptable” for the entire rating period if the employee has successfully met the goals and terms of his/her PIP (Par. 3H);

NASCOE believes there are too many standards in Exhibit 1 for meeting fully successful and they should be reduced to FSA’s recommended number.

NASCOE has concerns with the use of absolutes in standards. It is particularly concerning to see absolutes used in Exhibit 3, Pages 2 and 3 under Element 815. Attainable ranges should be used for all standards and measures (Par. 4A).

FSA’s Response:
HRD: The Department (OHRM) mandated the changes regarding the length of the PIP as well as if the duration of the PIP exceeds October 30th, the “unacceptable” rating for the employee will remain the employee’s rating of record for that year.
It is FSA’s policy to encourage the use of only 5 to 7 standards for each element; however, the Department may provide supplemental guidance which will cause these numbers to be exceeded.

Since the above items were mandated by the Department, they were incorporated into FSA Notices and cannot be changed by HRD. However, these issues can be escalated for formal discussion with USDA.

HRD defers to the Outreach Staff regarding the language in the standards required under Element 815, Customer Service WITH Outreach Education and Engagement Outreach Education and Engagement Standards. If the Outreach Staff elects to changes this language, HRD will accommodate this in the next notice.

DAFO Outreach Response:
Outreach will remove absolutes from the exceptions listed in Exhibit 3 pages 1 and 2 and provide changes in the next HRD performance guidance that is issued. Outreach has proposed the removal of absolutes with NRCS and RD regarding the number of exceptions cited in employee performance plans for issuing receipts and will advise of changes also in the next notice.

NASCOE Response:
When will this take effect? We ask that pages 3 and 4 be looked as well. NASCOE would like a formal discuss with USDA regarding the number of standards.

Resolution:
DAFO: A standard can be changed mid-year before a final is issued. DAFO will start the correction now to remove the absolutes from items 1-4 and send forward for review. A notice will be issued and midyears should not be done until then. An email will be sent to STO’s to make them aware of the changes coming.

HRD: They will start the discussions with FPAC regarding the standards. Dennis and Brandon will be updated on the progress.


ITEM 12 – Category: RCO Compliance Reviews

Issue: 
The FSA/RMA reimbursable agreement on RCO compliance reviews performed by FSA only includes mileage and no compensation for supplies and actual time spent performing the RCO compliance reviews. A well thought out reimbursable agreement that includes dollars for time spend performing the reviews would allow FSA the ability to hire good steady field assistants who could perform the RCO compliance reviews, stay on board longer, work multiple counties and obtain specialized knowledge and experience. This would allow USDA to utilize teamwork and expand opportunities for FSA to use its network of offices and staff to help RMA ensure insurance compliance. The end result will be a public that is confident in the vital insurance program that USDA administers.

Position:
FSA and RMA are required to “work together to improve program compliance and integrity of the Federal Crop Insurance Program”. NASCOE believes FSA should continue the current arrangement with RMA, however, through planning associated with the new FPAC mission area, re-negotiate the following:

  • Funding available from RMA for time (hours worked) spent by field assistants and other office staff performing RCO compliance checks.
  • Expand the number of RCO compliance reviews to ensure program integrity
  • Supply each USDA service center with one GPS unit for all agencies present to use
  • Supply each USDA service center with one digital camera for all agencies present to use
  • Arrange for the use of USDA fleet to be available for all agencies present to perform any USDA official duties
  • Hire field assistants that will work multiple counties performing RCO compliance reviews as well as other USDA compliance reviews (CRP, Farm Program, NRCS etc.)

FSA’s Response:
DAFP: The previous Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) only include mileage incurred when completing RMA growing season inspections. We have reached out to RMA to execute a subsequent MOA for these inspections and will broach additional expenses incurred in these compliance efforts when we negotiate.
NASCOE Response: When is the agreement done?
Resolution: The MOU will have to be reviewed to see when it is up for renewal. They do not have expiration dates.


ITEM 13:  1-INFO (Rev. 3)

Issue:
1-INFO (Rev. 3), Amend. 1 was issued 10/24/17. The issuance date of 1-INFO (Rev. 2) was 4/9/85. A lot has changed in communications technology since 1985 and it’s understandable that a revision was certainly needed. However, as much as the methods of communication have evolved, communication at the local level with our customers has not changed; our customers expect to be informed with information specific to their locality and circumstances. One concern with Revision 3 is the content of Paragraph 94C. This new directive requires field offices to consult and receive clearance from the OEA Director and/or the PAB Chief through field PAS, share drafted text of the news release information at least 2 weeks in advance of the proposed announcement for all local issuances of news releases about local programs, issues, and concerns.

CED’s are grade 11 and grade 12 employees that should be held accountable for communication content and success at the local level. This has always been the expectation and responsibility of CED’s and accountability should not be diminished. The fact that communications technology and equipment has changed does not mean that CED roles and duties for direct customer service and outreach have changed. It is simply not feasible or efficient to require such bureaucracy and delays to affect information delivery to our customers at the local level. If there are noted communication deficiencies, this should be addressed by adequate and proper training or, in cases of disregard for procedure, CED’s should be held accountable for performance.

NASCOE’s Position:
Par. 94C should not require consultation, clearance, or 2 week advance submission to the OEA Director and/or PAB Chief through field PAS for field offices to issue news releases about local programs, issues, and concerns. It is reasonable to require CED’s to be accountable for all content released in local issuances and to require local consultation and review of all local releases prior to issuance.

FSA’s Response:
OEA: OEA understand the concerns. The clearance of news releases and other public-facing communications tools is imperative to ensure a consistent FSA, FPAC and OneUSDA message. We, at the national level, are required to have clearance, and the states and counties are held to the same standards. It is extremely important that we ensure that programs and policies have final approval from FPAC and the Department prior to external announcement– especially as we embark on a new farm bill. To date, with the 1-INFO policy in place, we have received few, if any, complaints from the communications coordinators. OEA staff understands the necessity for their responses to the requests for review and approval of locally issued materials to be as timely as possible without getting out ahead of the Administration. OEA staff works closely with states and counties to clear narrative that may be required to meet specific needs outside of strategic department and national office messaging.

Response:
Due to time constraints, DAFO agreed to facilitate a teleconference between NASCOE and appropriate staff at a later date.


Items from 2017 for follow up

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.

(Reference #1)
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.

NASCOE: The COC has the authority for FSFL, but the question is to allow CED’s to have the ability to make the financial analysis. The option is available to designate CED’s to get loan authority for FLP in states now, but if this could be an option for FSFL. You must be delegated loan approval authority at this time to do financial analysis. There are two things: loan approval authority to compete with FLM on a level playing field and do not take authority away from COC. This would allow the microloan program to become more viable. COC would have final approval authority.

Management Response:
This will be deferred to FL and they want to make this a larger issue than just FSFL. They did agree with the recommendation and FL agreed also and were ready to start the process. Currently CED’s can receive loan authority if the SED consents with the need. There are no real extra costs associated with this type of request at this time. NASCOE wants the loan approval authority to do the financial analysis for FSFL loans up to $100,000 with the final approval under the COC authority.

Final Agreement:
The DAFLP agreed to put together a pilot program to give CED’s loan approval authority for the purpose of doing financial analysis for FSFL to include micro loans. The COC would still have final approval up to $100,000.00 for all FSFL loans.

Final Agreement from 2017 Negotiations:
“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. “

NASCOE Response: What is the status?

Resolution:
DAFP: Nothing has been done at this point but will be added to the radar to be done.

DALP: Has been discussing this for FP and will be getting together in the next few months to put a plan together. The will reviewing the FLOT training to determine what portions of the training that will be utilized. The will have to decide whether this will be expanded to the Micro loan program. Finding trainers for the program will be a challenge. Meeting with FP in the next 3-4 weeks to put together a more formalized approach for the training.


ITEM 12 – 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.

Final:
27-PM and 28-PM are in process of revision, they have no problem adding the form FSA-444 to the checklist. They could provide links or information to employee associations in the informational packet. This would be especially helpful if the packets were done electronically. NASCOE accepts this response.

HRD: Handbook 28-PM is in the process of being re-written, and this item will be addressed in the handbook revision.

NASCOE Response: What is the status of this handbook?

Resolution:
28-PM revision will start after 27-PM is released. 27-PM is in the final review process.


Items to Follow-up from 2016

The following items were addressed during the 2017 negotiation session. Both items were addressed and agreed upon pending the release of 27-PM revision. Please provide the status of the 27-PM revised handbook.

HRD:
Handbook 27-PM has a complete revision which is in the final review stage. We would anticipate this handbook being issued by this summer.


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.

FINAL:
Management will agree to having the associations also be part of the shared management situation and having COC involvement. There will be an amendment to 27 PM to include such reference. NASCOE accepts this response.

RESOLUTION:
HRD: Handbook 27-PM has a complete revision which is in the final review stage. We would anticipate this handbook being issued by this summer.


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.

FINAL:
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.

Resolution:
HRD: Handbook 27-PM has a complete revision which is in the final review stage. We would anticipate this handbook being issued by this summer.


Items to Follow-up from 2015

Item #4 – ASPIRING LEADER PROGRAM FOR PROGRAM TECHNICIANS

Issue:
Management has an aspiring leadership program for Grade 9 employees but no such program for CO-7 employees. We have many Program Technicians that have leadership potential and need a vehicle to develop leadership skills making them more attractive to promotion opportunities.

NASCOE position:
NASCOE supports an aspiring leadership program for CO program technicians that will provide an opportunity to develop leadership skills and open the door for more opportunities in our agency. NASCOE proposes a national task force to develop an aspiring leadership program that might encompass one or two years of leadership development for program technicians.

HRD RESPONSE:
Regarding an Aspiring Leaders Program for PTs, LEDB welcomes a work group with representation from NASCOE, which would explore what the program would look like, from a nonmonetary perspective. Please provide LEDB with NASCOE contacts consisting of members interested in following through with this idea.

Resolution:
NASCOE will provide names of 6-8 employees to work on this group (CED’s and PT’s, one PT from each area and balance CED’s) within 30 days.

This was agreed to and NASCOE was informed that a contractor had been hired a couple of years ago. Barbara Boyd informed NASCOE that the contractor was not meeting expectations and would have to be replaced. NASCOE would like a status update on the item agreed upon in 2015.

HRD:
The first phase of the PT Leadership program was completed in FY 2015-2016. In FY 2017, there was no funding available to hire contractors to complete this training program. In FY 2018, HRD hired DAI Solutions to carry out the final curriculum for Phase 2 of the PT Leadership program, which includes a train-the-trainer aspect. This contract is currently in progress under the auspices of Theresa Martin and Linda Treese, DAFO. HRD has received positive feedback from both contractors and DAFO that the program planning is moving along as planned and is on time. The PT Leadership Program is scheduled to be completed and ready to implement, by September 30, 2018.

Resolution:
DAFO: Leadership Excellence for Program Technicians will be completed in September 2018, and ready to roll out in FY 2019. The course is a nine month process with 2 virtual and 3 live training sessions. The purpose of the course is to help PT’s prepare to advance their career paths or become a better leader in place. The course will be an application and selection process, similar to the Graduate School Aspiring Leader course.


Item #16 – SHARED MANAGEMENT ISSUES

Several items agreed to in the FSA/NASCOE Shared Management Agreement, Exhibit 8, in 27 PM are currently not being followed by some State Offices.

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 requests that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedure. SED’s are to consult in pre-decisional format before the establishment of a shared management operation.

Issue:
In a permanent shared management operation, “one Program Technician (PT) position in the headquarters office and each full-time sub-office shall be graded one level higher than their normal grade up to a CO-8, if the PT is responsible for all the activities in the office when the CED is absent, and the CED is absent at least 40 percent of the time.” At present, many STO’s are not following this procedure.

NASCOE Position:
NASCOE requests that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedure. STO’s and CED’s should follow procedure by grading applicable employees one level higher than their normal grade.

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 be 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 requests that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedure. STO’s and CED’s should follow procedure by grading applicable employees one level higher than their normal grade.

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

NASCOE Position:
NASCOE requests that SED’s be reminded of applicable handbook procedure. Procedure should be followed in instances where shared management operations exceed 120 days by SED’s meeting with COC’s to “work out a permanent solution”.

Issue:
The challenge of shared management for CED’s and PT’s is often overwhelming. CED’s are required to handle a double workload and with the CED out of the office, responsibility falls on PT’s to handle management issues for which they have not been trained or compensated. To date, little or no resources are available to assist CED’s and PT’s operating in a shared management working environment.

NASCOE Position:
NASCOE requests that a national task force be assembled to develop resources and tools for CED’s and PT’s geared specifically for shared management. Information gathered by the task force should include input from round table discussions between employees to share ideas and problem solving. NASCOE requests that by May 30th, a shared management task-force be appointed and subsequent framework be developed to guide the task-force. Improving shared management is also expected to increase positive feedback on future Employee Viewpoint Surveys (EVS).

DAFO RESPONSE:
DAFO will remind States of the requirements in the handbook related to establishment of temporary or permanent shared management operations. Note: DAFO always asks if the State consultation with the NASCOE affiliate has occurred when notified of a shared management proposal.

Please note that upgrades are not always appropriate but DAFO agrees that when they are appropriate then they should be implemented. CED’s must meet the provision for the higher classification, and an upgrade for a lead PT is appropriate only IF they are delegated to perform the CED’s duties during the CED’s absence when the CED is absence at least 40% of the time. If the CEDs retain control and handle much of their duties remotely (work assignments, program or payments approvals, leave approvals, etc.), then the requirements for a lead PT position is not met. That determination on the delegation of the duties is made locally; the national policy and procedures provide the option when warranted.

If the policies and procedures are not being followed please provide the specifics so that DAFO can address it with the applicable SEDs.

DAFO does not believe a taskforce is required to develop resources and tools for CEDs and PTs for shared management but we do agree that a tool kit to provide State Offices and applicable CEDs and PTs with shared management best practices could be helpful to all involved. DAFO will solicit best practices and develop a method to provide access to this information.

Resolution:
Management agrees to encourage states to work with NASCOE to do some more education with state presidents on consulting for shared management proposals and management will do more education on using these positions.

Grade 8 positions: Management agrees with NASCOE on this issue Will include language of lead PT’s in check sheet for these combinations

Temporary Shared Management: NASCOE will inform management of any unofficial shared management situations.

Workload problems with shared management: Management will put together a virtual workgroup. Management will work with NASCOE on development of this group.

HRD will continue to work with DAFO to support any needs they may have with this request.

Resolution:
Shared management training: The task force was stopped until we had SED’s on board and the creation of FPAC it has been slowed down however the intent to start the task force back up and continue the process. DAFO agrees to continue with the Shared Management task force. In 60 days DAFP will come up with a timeline for the task force.

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

NASCOE President Dennis Ray

NASCOE President Dennis Ray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

NASCOE Attends FPAC Employee Associations Joint Meeting

NASCOE Officers, Area Executives and Negotiation Consultants traveled to Washington, DC the week of April 2 to 5, 2018 for the annual Negotiation Session with FSA Management.  NASCOE is the only association authorized to represent County Office FSA Employees with Management.

While in Washington, DC, the NASCOE delegation participated in the 2018 FPAC Employee Associations Joint Meeting, held April 4, 2018 in Washington, DC.  NASCOE’s representatives are pictured with FPAC Under Secretary Bill Northey, FSA Acting Administrator Steve Peterson and FSA Acting Deputy Administrator for Field Operations Linda Treese.

NASCOE Officers, Executives and Negotiations Consultants pictured with FPAC Under Secretary Bill Northey, Acting FSA Administrator Steve Peterson and Acting Deputy Administrator for Field Operations Linda Treese.

Official Photo courtesy of the Office of the Deputy Administrator for Field Operations.

From Left:
Wes Daniels (SC), NASCOE Past President;
Debbie Staley (IL), MWA Negotiations Consultant;
Linda Treese, Acting Deputy Administrator for Field Operations;
Jay Goff (OK), Southwest Area Executive;
Janae Prescott (ID), NWA Negotiations Consultant;
Steve Peterson, Acting Administrator – Farm Service Agency;
Jessi Colgrove (NE), Northwest Area Executive;
Dennis Ray (MO), NASCOE President;
Brandon Wilson (KS), NASCOE Vice-President;
Bill Northey, USDA Under Secretary Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area;
Curt Houk (IA), NASCOE Treasurer;
Michelle Stahl (OH), NASCOE Programs Committee Chair;
Richard Csutoras (PA), Northeast Area Executive;
Tracy Wilson (OK), SWA Negotiations Consultant;
Jessica Walls (WV), NEA Negotiations Consultant;
Marcinda Kester (FL), NASCOE Secretary;
Sabrina Conditt (AR), SEA Negotiations Consultant;
Mike Mayfield (TN), Southeast Area Executive; and
Chris Hare (IN), Midwest Area Executive.

NASCOE News Flash: Legislative Update – 03-21-2018

NASCOE President Dennis Ray Photo and Contact InformationNASCOE will be heading to Washington DC the first week of April to conduct our annual negotiation session. The negotiation team has been preparing to present and negotiate the items submitted by membership. For those unfamiliar, suggestions on how to improve efficiency, improve working conditions or improve service to our producers are submitted by membership through the online submission form located on the NASCOE webpage. Those suggestions are vetted and then sent to management for consideration. The negotiations team which is comprised of the officers, the area execs and area negotiation consultants, then meet face to face with management to negotiate the item. To ensure equal representation from the areas, negotiation consultants must be a PT if the area exec is a CED and vice versa. All members are encouraged to participate in the negotiation process by submitting items for review.

NASCOE has received a few questions regarding the comment during the town hall regarding the one to ten ratio for supervisors and employees. This has been the standard touted by OPM for the federal workforce for the past several years. It is important to keep in mind the goal is to average one supervisor for every ten employees across the agency, not that every supervisor must have ten employees. It is very likely you will see this standard used while standing up the business center and in areas of the mission area where possible. NASCOE will continue to monitor this and other areas of concern as we move forward.

In addition to the negotiating with management, NASCOE will also participate in an all association meeting on Wednesday, April 4th. We will have the opportunity to see and visit with leaders from the agency, department and FPAC. This will give us the opportunity to follow up on some of the information that was provided in the recent town hall meeting. An update will be provided to the membership soon after the meetings.

The following is a legislative report from our consultant Hunter Moorhead.

“All – I hope this note finds you well. I want to update NASCOE’s membership on two important legislative initiatives, the omnibus appropriations measure and Farm Bill. The current continuing resolution is set to expire on March 23. We expect the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will soon wrap-up negotiations and meet the current deadline. This legislation will fund the government through fiscal year 2018. The Congress recently agreed to new spending limitations (caps) that should allow for adequate FSA salaries and expenses funding. We continue to urge Secretary Perdue to make available any additional funds for hiring county office staff. When finalized, we will share information about the final package.

“The other important legislative issue is reauthorization of the 2014 Farm Bill. While I expected the House Agriculture Committee this week to release draft legislative language, our contacts tell us it will likely be the middle of April. A group of Democratic House members have raised concerns with any effort to limit Food Stamp benefits. The other challenge for Chairman Michael Conaway is securing House floor debate time. On the Senate side, the negotiations are slowly moving forward, and any draft bill will follow action by the House of Representatives. We will continue to monitor the Farm Bill process and share any legislative information.”

NASCOE Pre-Negotiations Meeting is Underway!

This weekend, NASCOE’s Officers, Execs, National Committee Chairs and Area Negotiation Consultants are gathered in Grapevine, Texas for two full days of meetings.   We are thankful to our members who submitted 47 items to be reviewed for our Negotiations with management!

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