NASCOE Statement on Safety Protocols Implemented by USDA

As most of you are aware, the requirements for attesting to the Federal Employees vaccination status was released this week.  We all knew this determination would be coming at some point soon.  In a prior bulletin, NASCOE committed that it would work to stay abreast of the situation, research the legal side of the issue, and communicate member concerns to management.

The decision to require working conditions be dependent on vaccine status was made at the highest level of the federal government and it affects over 2 million employees.  Notably, no unions or any movement in Congress has provided any avenue to overturn what the President has decided.

NASCOE is an employee association, not a union, representing approximately 7000 county office employees and as such, NASCOE has the ability to bargain and share concerns with FSA.  NASCOE also employs an attorney and a political consultant for the benefit of members.  Recently, NASCOE has used these resources, to address membership concerns about vaccines and testing:

  • NASCOE has collected concerns and questions from members related to COVID-19 protocols being implemented.  
  • NASCOE has delivered membership concerns to FSA management on a daily basis.
  • NASCOE has discussed and reviewed individual member suggestions with management. 
  • NASCOE has consulted the NASCOE attorney on the topics of mask mandates, vaccines in the workplace and testing.  NASCOE cross references with our attorney what we learn from USDA, CDC, EEOC, DOJ and the news media for accuracy.  The attorney is asked to look for areas where legal authorities are abused by the agency.  
  • NASCOE has collaborated with our full time NASCOE political consultant about legislative opportunities that may exist which involve mask mandates, vaccines, and workplace testing.  Currently, our consultant sees no readily available solution from Congress on the topic at hand. 
  • NASCOE has conveyed to management the concern regarding the potential loss of employees due to COVID-19 protocols.  The concern is great enough that NASCOE has asked management if a plan for re-hiring is in place to address continuity issues due to expedited departures.

The bottom line is that the government, like private sector employers, is able to implement safety measures they deem appropriate.  While there are a lot of opinions on what our employer should be doing, the guidance we have received is that our employer has the legal authority to implement these measures and that there are no civil rights violations in the workplace related to COVID-19 safety measures.  It should be noted that local businesses such as hospitals and restaurants and even large companies, such as Fox News and Walmart, are also requiring employees to disclose vaccination status. 

NASCOE understands that membership from all over the nation have different views and there is not a consensus on this issue.  Some members are in favor of vaccines, some are not in favor of vaccines and some members have concerns about medical privacy.  None of these opinions are wrong, and as such, NASCOE has the responsibility to represent all membership and while NASCOE does not have the ability to change COVID-19 protocol, we can make sure that the voice of membership is heard.

We know the situation is very fluid and keeps changing.  Employees won’t be required to take a vaccine, but many questions remain about COVID-19 testing.  NASCOE intends to continue working with our attorney and political consultant to review additional COVID-19 policy as it is issued.  We will work with management at FSA to determine where FSA has discretion in rulemaking and continue to push for control at the local level as much as possible.  NASCOE will do its best to convey to FSA management that guidance needs to be consistent and clearly delivered so that employees can make the choices they feel are best. 

In closing, NASCOE is committed to continuing to voice concerns, frustrations, and suggestions to management.  As NASCOE has said from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCOE believes safety decisions are best handled at the local level where local conditions prevail.   

The continued support you show NASCOE through good times and bad times is remarkable.  We also value your continued feedback.  Please work with your NASCOE state affiliate to pass along your suggestions to NASCOE leadership.  We will continue to keep everyone abreast of information as it becomes available. 

For the entire NASCOE Executive Committee and Committee Chairpersons, I’m Brandon Wilson, NASCOE President.  Thank you and good night.

2020-2021 NASCOE Annual Report Released

NASCOE’s By-Laws dictate the Secretary shall keep an accurate record of all transactions of the Association, including minutes of all meetings of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. The By-Laws also state that the Secretary shall give an annual report to the Association.  NASCOE’s Executive Policies state the Secretary’s Report should contain information pertinent to the NASCOE year, including but not limited to: a list of Officers, Executive Committee, National Chairs, and Board of Directors; material and financial assets of the association; Negotiation Items; budget information; and Executive Committee minutes. Additionally any changes to NASCOE’s Constitution and By-Laws, the NASCOE Travel Policy, the Executive Committee Policies, or other major revisions of policies or procedure should be included. The Executive Policies also state that the Report is to be posted on the NASCOE website.  The 2020-2021 Annual Report has been compiled according to policy and formatted similarly to recent years.

2021 NASCOE Annual Report
9.2 MB PDF, opens in a new window

COVID-19 Vaccines and Federal Employees

Recent media releases on mandatory vaccines for Federal employees has increased the discussion related to COVID-19 protocol.  An announcement about new COVID-19 policy affecting all government employees is expected to be released very soon. 

Over the past year, NASCOE has been engaged on the topic of COVID-19 as it relates to employee safety, limited office staffing, telework, office visitors, mask mandates and vaccines.  A recent inquiry with headquarters has revealed that at this time the national office has not yet received official information on the topic of mandatory vaccinations.   They are catching up on the topic though news releases much as we are in the field.  This underscores the fact that directives on this topic are coming from the highest level of government.  The President will be the single source of decision making on this topic.

It is our understanding the White House is considering a rule that will require all Federal employees to be vaccinated.  The President may mandate this new rule for all Federal employees or he may delegate authority for individual departments and agencies to make the decision.  Reports also suggest another option which would include an alternative to a mandatory employee vaccination.    NASCOE hopes to receive an update from the national office as soon as they have information to share.  We will be expressing to management the concerns that employees in the field have on this topic.  Also, we will continue to consult our attorney in Washington DC so that we have a complete understanding of legal authorities and civil rights as they relate to this topic.  

Additional information about mandatory vaccines can be found by consulting resources provided by the Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control.  These institutions/agencies are being looked to for guidance on the topic by many organizations.  Links to information provided by these groups can be found below:  

Mandatory vaccinations and other COVID-19 protocols are all issues that impact our members.  NASCOE leadership is working hard to stay on top of all issues related to COVID-19 and will continue to voice member concerns about safety and restrictions to the Department as we move forward.   

Emergency Paid Leave Concerns

By Brandon Wilson, NASCOE President
May 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on Delayed Background Checks for New Hires

Over the last few months, NASCOE has received a substantial amount of feedback in reference to the length of time it takes new hire background checks to be completed by USDA.  Many office managers are concerned that new hire temps will not receive their background check before their “Not to Exceed” comes and goes. 

The backlog of background checks stems from two sources:  Re-assignment of background check duties to the newly created Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Business Center and FSA’s hiring of more permanent and temporary employees. 

Once a background check is initiated by a state office, the check is routed to the FPAC Business Center Homeland Security Division (HSD).  After cases are submitted to HSD, they are monitored by way of a new process which was implemented in October of this year.  This process involves tracking the new employee through the entire background check process.  The desired outcome is increased visibility of the background check by stakeholders as it travels through the process between FSA and the Business Center.

Both FSA and the FPAC Business Center are optimistic about the new tracking process.  Tracking of the background checks allows FSA state offices and Washington DC staff to see:

  • When the background check request was submitted
  • When the prospective employee receives their email security survey (e-QIP Survey)
  • When the e-QIP survey is received back at HSD
  • When the Security Initial Determination (SID) is made.

By now state offices should be familiar with this new tracking process.  It is likely that your state office Administrative Division is keeping a running record of when checks are submitted to the HSD and they are following up if there are apparent delays.  State offices can tell if cases are moving forward, or if they are stalled.  When following up, state offices can contact the FSA national office and alert them to a delayed background check.  Follow-up is usually initiated if county offices and state offices don’t have results within three weeks.

If the background check is delayed, the county office may follow up to see where the process is stalled.  County offices should:

  • Contact your state offices through normal channels and inquire about the status of the background check
  • Contact NASCOE by way of your state association if no response is received of the state office and NASCOE can follow-up

As of today, timeframes are improving since implementation of the system in early October.  It is expected that timeframes will improve even more in the next few months.  State offices and WDC staff are actively looking for delayed background checks and following up with HSD.  The personnel at HSD have been responsive to concerns as they are brought to their attention.  In cases where county offices have concerns, they can prompt their state office for additional information or reach out to NASCOE for additional assistance.  As we move forward, NASCOE intends to continue to monitor the progress of the project and ensure that it moves in a positive direction.  The ultimate goal is to continue reducing timeframes for background checks to be completed.

New NASCOE Position: Technology Coordinator

Our lives are increasingly affected by modern technologies that improve the way we live and work. Whether we are talking about communicating with others, tracking assignments, getting forms signed, sending and receiving funds, archiving documents, etc., the solution is now typically digital. At work we use instant messaging, online surveys, digital signatures and more. We rely on tools like SharePoint and GovDelivery. At home we increasingly go online or use apps on our phone to get our news, research issues, or even shop for our groceries.

NASCOE currently utilizes some of these measures, including hosting a website and sending bulletins through an email service. However, recently the Executive Committee has recognized that adopting more of these technologies would provide an opportunity to better conduct business and serve our members. Those technologies that we are using fall under the Webmaster position which is currently an ancillary duty for our Publicity Chair. These IT duties already take up a lot of time and adding new digital solution would be beyond challenging for any existing committee chair. Therefore, the Executive Committee is looking to establish a Technology Coordinator Position to help manage our existing infrastructure as well as assist in adopting various new digital solutions.

NASCOE has approximately 6000 members made up of a diverse group of people from all over the country. We know that many of you not only use these technologies daily, but some of you have detailed knowledge or experience in implementing them. Now is a great opportunity to assist NASCOE in improving or building key infrastructure that could assist your fellow members. Some potential responsibilities are listed below. This is a unique chance to help influence the creation of a national level position from the ground up. So if you have skills or even a passion in elements like web design, app management, database management, or any other IT solution, please reach out. Even if you are not interested in the Technology Coordinator position but possess these talents, please consider letting us know and volunteering.

In order to be considered, please send a brief introduction of yourself and your attributes, skills, and/or abilities to the NASCOE President at . NASCOE positions can take up a substantial amount of volunteer time, so please indicate your general availability.

Potential Responsibilities and Duties

  • Assist Executive Committee (EC) with questions and issues regarding access and use of NASCOE infrastructure. Examples include assisting with logging in, setting up meetings, troubleshooting errors, etc.
  • Implement automated NASCOE processes and forms
  • Develop and maintain cloud based repositories, such as OneDrive and SharePoint. This includes designing interfaces, educating users, and enforcing good IT policies
  • Create, maintain, and refresh a modernized and user-friendly website
  • Research beneficial technology for the association, makes recommendations to the EC, and works with contractors to implement as directed.

Qualifications

  • A passion or hobby for technology
  • Approachable and patient
  • Works well independently or as part of a team
  • An ability to prioritize and delegate
  • Problem-solving skills
  • A keen eye for detail

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