2017 NASCOE Convention Question and Answer Session

Thursday, August 3, 2017
Saint Charles, Missouri

Panel members included:
Chris Beyerhelm – Acting Administrator     Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP
John Chott – Acting DAFO                                  Darren Ash – FSA Chief Information Officer
Radha Sekar – CFO                                                 Thomas Mulhern – HRD
Mark Rucker – DAM                                               Glenn Schafer – Bridges to Opportunity
Doug Nash – OCIO-CIO                                        Francisco Salguero – OCIO
Jim Radintz – DAFLP                                               Brenda Carlson – Regional Public Affairs
Bob McGrath- OBF BPMS                                  Catherine Kuhlmeier – OBF BPMS

Q:     AGI, 941 Form: Are there any plans to simplify this process with IRS?

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: AGI is required as a condition of eligibility under statute and congress and FSA work closely with IRS on this matter.  The largest problem has been the name difference in the different agencies.  They have been talking to IRS to determine just what the problem is with keying in the names.

Q:     When working on the budgets, there is a projected 8% cut, so what is the starting point for this?

A:      Radha Sekar – CFO: the original cut was 10.5% and they looked at the ceiling for 2016 and that was used for 2018 projections.  Currently they are looking at keeping the 2016 level with the senate version and the House version is less, but nothing is complete at this point.

Q:     Wetland determinations can take up to 3 years to get back.  Is there any way to get these done faster?

A:      Chris Beyerhelm – Acting Administrator: the reorganization will help with this problem because NRCS will be organized under the same Under Secretary with FSA and that should help with logistics.  Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP:  With only one mission area, this should help with some of these local problems.

Q:     What is the timeline for release of the workload numbers?

A:      Radha Sekar – CFO: these reports should be released to the field soon.  Chris Beyerhelm: If and when we decide to look at ARS data for staffing decisions we will engage the associations for input.

Q:     Hiring Freeze: what criteria is being used for critical positions and do you expect the hiring freeze to be lifted soon?

A:      Chris Beyerhelm – Acting Administrator: OMB lifted the freeze and the Secretary put it back on.  In the meantime the Secretary is allowing agencies to submit critical hiring requests. DAFO reaches out to the states who compile their requests which are bundled and submitted to the Secretary for consideration  The Secretary has already approved approx. 160 internal hires, 30 external hires , and 30 additional temps.  Since the NASCOE convention the Secretary has approved an additional 200 external and 98 internal positions to be advertised. This should get us close to the 98% level.  John Chott – Acting DAFO: Internal hires should be good.

Q:     Temporary employees hired after 1989 cannot buy back their retirement time.  Is this going to be changed?

A:      John Chott – Acting DAFO: DAFO has confirmed with HRD that temporary time, GS or CO, cannot be bought back for time after 1989.  This affects a good number of FERS field, state and national employees.  As noted, CO employees were being denied service credit for temporary time before 1989 because it was not considered Federal service.  FSA worked closely with OGC, who, in turn, worked with USDA and the OPM General Counsel to reverse this decision.  There are some exceptions for the post-1989 situation but none affects USDA and most apply to Foreign Service positions.

Q:     BTO pilot counties received full training and will the rest of the counties receive full training?

A:      Glenn Schafer – BTO: right now they are in a holding pattern for training due to budget, but there are plans to do such training in the future, budget allowing.

Q:     What were the results of the survey pertaining to BTO?

A:      Glenn Schafer – BTO: Receipt for Service is the main use of BTO at this time.  The receipt for service of BTO is separate from RFS and those that did not like RFS reflected that in their comments and blamed all of BTO.  The software is powerful and they were able to develop it quickly but it is not as user friendly as they hoped and they want to improve many of the components in BTO.  They will be using the comments in the survey as a guide.

Q:     Where is the President’s picture?

A:      Mark Rucker – DAM: they have not received it yet.

Q:     If there are any changes to a position description, it will delay the announcement, so how does that really work?

A:      Chris Beyerhelm – Acting Administrator: As part of the strategy to reduce the time to hire HRD has established “express lane” positons most of which are in the county offices. These positions are already classified which makes the process much quicker. If the hiring official changes the positon description it requires a new classification which slows the process down.

Q:     Skills for Success training is not mandated and allows the states to hold the training based on budget.  The PT’s are the ones on the front lines with the producers and are one of our greatest assets and this training would be beneficial to them.  Can this training be mandated rather than dependent on state budgets?

A:      John Chott – Acting DAFO: Chris Beyerhelm: they had a meeting with a list of items they wanted based on budget and they chose to have more staff as a greater priority but it will be put back on top of the list. DAFO will put in requests for FY 18 an amount which will cover most of the state training for 6000 GS and CO PTs. We hope that this will be approved.

Q:     From a state affected by drought, the emergency haying and grazing is appreciated.  The 150 mile radius that was added later, was there any discussion to keep the hay in the drought stricken areas? 

A:      Chris Beyerhelm – Acting FSA Administrator: they did not add that restriction because it would be more burdensome for the county offices to track this.

Q:     We have not gone far enough in guidance regarding extra time worked in ARS and there needs to be some training.  The county offices will get the jobs done and that is not always reflective in ARS, so how do we navigate this?  Do we just let the work sit?  We need guidance on this subject.

A:      Chris Beyerhelm – Acting Administrator: Recognize that the employees are dedicated but we need to be more judicious about how we are documenting our time.  We need to plan to be done by the end of the day if at all possible while looking for ways to do our work more efficiently.  The concern is that if we get our work done by working after core, overtime, and comp time allowances it gives Congress and others the impression that the job got done in the reported hours. This gives a false impression because it actually took longer to get the work done. When we tell congress that we need more people they see we are getting the job done with what we have.  Acting Administrator Beyerhelm also advised to use the new Web Access availability only when needed so as not to further skew the reported time.

Q:     Importance of coding WEBTA correctly, and can there be a line item for processing AGI’s?

A:      Bob McGrath- OBF: they hear that we need less programs and then some ask for more.  If this is sent in, they will run it through the MCA team.

Q:     Late filed crop reports cannot be accepted and with the November 15 deadline, it makes it impossible with large workloads.  Can they still be accepted as long as evidence of the crop exists?

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: there was no deadline to accept late-filed crop reports until into the next year and in many cases, there was no evidence, so they felt that 12 months would be adequate for accepting late filed reports.  Trying to create data that is very old in order to participate in a program is the problem.   Additionally, if you are referring to the deadline for late-filed acreage reports which is 12 months after the ARD, anything filed more than 12 months after the previous year’s ARD would be well into the next or subsequent crop reporting year.  So any physical evidence would be contemporaneous and not necessarily illustrative of what was present on crop acreage more than a year before.  (NASCOE will continue this conversation with DAFP)

Q:     Some offices have tried to stick to the regular time schedule, but there will be pressure from the state offices to get the job done.

A:      Radha Sekar – CFO: What programs that are impacted by things that cannot be done must be identified.  Chris Beyerhelm – Acting Administrator: They have had discussions with state offices regarding expectations in program delivery and will continue to do so.

Q:     The crop report comes in timely and reports hay, but then in the spring, reports the hay plowed up and planted to corn, then he is required to pay the $46 fee.  This is wrong since he timely filed.

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: There is simply not enough information to frame a response on this.  Offices need to follow 2-CP and submit specific questions relative to the procedure that is causing concern.  But in the question above, the corn would be viewed as subsequent crop acreage.  If reported by the corn’s ARD, not sure why there is reference to a fee.

Q:     Some offices are doing work for other offices that is not credited correctly.

A:      Catherine Kuhlmeier – OBF: they are looking into reporting for work done in specific counties.  There are many parts in this problem.  They don’t want to make it more difficult to document the time.  Daniels: this was a negotiation item to show that the work is done where it should be but we must be careful that the office where the work is actually done does not hurt the home office that shared employees, in regard to workload.  They are trying to figure out how to adjust this.

Q:     MIDAS, BTO are both systems we work with, but BTO seems to have a lot of capabilities.  Can BTO take over MIDAS functions?

A:      Darren Ash – Chief Information Officer: This concept has been discussed internally previously.   MIDAS is used by other agencies, such as NRCS, but BTO is not.  NRCS does use the same underlying software (Salesforce) as Bridges.   Any changes going forward must be able to support FSA and NRCS.  In addition, there are license complications that would need to be resolved.  The current licensing approach enabled nationwide rollout of BTO, but constrains expansion for other purposes.  BTO has potential to unite the two systems, but there is a lot more involved in the process to determine the right course of action.

Q:     There was Geo spatial pilot and it was ended when CARS came out and many producers have the capability of using geo special maps.  Can FSA use this type of software for our producers?

A:      Darren Ash – Chief Information Officer: Yes, eventually. Our overall objectives is to allow producers to submit their data to us by different means, including the use of electronic, geospatial maps.  This is one of the proposed system changes, but will depend on additional resources. Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: They have heard that the producer makes the report with FSA and then takes the information to RMA.  Less than 10% of crop reports taken are done with RMA first.

Q:     In donating leave, it would be nice if it were determined in dollars because a grade 12 donating to a grade 5, gets hour for hour right now and not the true value based on leave.

A:      Thomas Mulhern – HRD: He believes this issue has been raised in the past, and OPM does not appear to be flexible on this and USDA does not have the ability to change that statute.  Chris Beyerhelm – FSA Acting Administrator: This is a budgetary issue when passing leave between grades.

Q:     They have an acting CED and is now in a shared management situation, and there is no extra pay for the extra work for the CED.

A:      Chris Beyerhelm – FSA Acting Administrator: there is no room to do this at this time, the positions are capped out at certain grades.  There is spot cash award money that could be available in this case.

Q:     There is an initiative coming for beginning farmers and in many of our current programs, many beginning farmers come in, and many times a late filed crop report was necessary.  The fee could be waived in the past and now the fee cannot be waived unless there was a catastrophic event.  The answer was that a notice was issued and the farmers should be aware of the crop report requirement.  If we are to charge all producers that come in, they will not participate.  Can 4-CP be considered common reading?  Why are the late filed provisions different for LFP?

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: the beginning farmer can have some fees waived so give them a break.  Late-file acreage reporting fees, however, are not penalties and should not be viewed as such.  They are charged to reimburse FSA for the costs incurred in verifying the accuracy of the acreage report.  In the new farm bill, this could be discussed.  Memos are not official policy but they are working on getting this into the handbook.  There are continuous crop reports available and this could help in some cases.

Q:     What are the thoughts behind the new FSA/NRCS/RMA together on a long range basis?

A:      Bob Stephenson – Acting Chief of Staff of the Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area: the reorganization will not affect field level work, but more on a national basis.  The IT perspective can be integrated for the agencies to improve customer service to farmers.

Q:     In many cases, NRCS is not in the office very much, but in reality this will increase our workload more to cover NRCS issues.  Where does the conservation district fit in the reorganizational concept?

A:      Bob Stephenson: Conservation districts (CD’s) are part of State government and we are aware there is some bartering done with CD and NRCS for space and share work; however, CD is not federal.  They will probably be a player in this situation, but it is not clear how this will be done in the future. Chris Beyerhelm: it is expected that there will be joint staff meetings done on the local level between FSA and NRCS and there will be program sharing between the agencies.  Sharing facilities will also be part of this.  The Secretary wants an open concept between agencies.  There should be conversational knowledge of programs between agencies.

Q:     The postcard that will be coming out to the non-resident land owners regarding the mentoring/sale of land to a beginning farmer will have an impact on current rental situations and what are we supposed to tell them?

A:      Chris Beyerhelm: This was discussed when we decided to roll this program out—there is a very close analogy to this policy as there is to CRP –both have the consequence of displacing an existing renter if the landlord decides to put their land in CRP or rent to a beginning farmer –While it is understandable that an existing farmer or rancher would be concerned about the loss of land, in both cases USDA has decided it is equally important to practice conservation practices and/or provide opportunities for beginners.

Q:     Some offices have staffing shortages due to illness, etc, so the COF looked for a volunteer and was able to find a very qualified candidate, but they have very limited access to the computer even though they have to clear the background check, so is there a way to get volunteers more access?

A:      Thomas Mulhern – HRD: This is a challenge when looking a federal employment.  There is a lack of flexibility involved and there are limitations put on volunteers vs a federal employee.  Darren Ash – CIO: After researching this question (post NASCOE convention), from a security perspective, there are no security policies explicitly preventing a volunteer access.

Q:     ARS: what type of quality control is being done to ensure items are entered correctly? 

A:      Catherine Kuhlmeier – OBF: there will be more AgLearn training on validity and consistently for item entries.  They are working on this type of improvements in ARS.

Q:     Why can’t there be a code for doing things on a “national” level, so that it can be recorded for work done outside of the normal county operations in ARS?

A:      Catherine Kuhlmeier – OBF: they are working ways to capture the work without adding more of a burden on the office. Radha Sekar – CFO: this is a good option to use the national code to document how the time is being spent without taking away from the county doing the work.

Q:     MPP: there are proposed changes to help the dairy farmers and some extension agents have commented that the changes will do no good.  Without a floor on the MPP program, it does not good for the farmer.

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: everyone acknowledges that the program is ineffective and improvements cost money and the question is always: where is the money going to come from.

Q:     They have been in shared management since 1999, and now shared management is pretty standard.  There is no way to document the work done in the sub office.  Is there a way to account for that time?

A:      Chris Beyerhelm: there is a task force on shared management and they are trying to establish uniform ways of handling shared management.    Should it be treated as one big area or should it be separate?  Let Chris Hare know and he will relate that information through the task force. Catherine Kuhlmeier – OBF: there are options that are being worked on in this case.

Q:     Can we develop a method to freeze information so it doesn’t change information done prior to the date the information is loaded in MIDAS.

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: This will be looked into

Q:     Can it be discussed with the SED’s to become aware that the 10 hour spot awards can be approved by the direct supervisor, but in some cases, the SED’s are reviewing these and it is backing up the process

A:      Chris Beyerhelm – Acting Administrator: This will be looked into

Q:     Will supervision be allowed for CO to GS in this new reorganization?

A:      Chris Beyerhelm: This has not been discussed in the reorganization efforts so far, however, current regulations do not allow for CO employees to supervise GS employees.

Q:     NM restricted COC meetings to quarterly meetings and doing so by conference calls due to budget and do not let the producers know about such.  Did the national office approve this?

A:      John Chott – Acting DAFO: To the best of our knowledge, DAFO did not specifically approve this.  However, meetings should not be held if there is not business at hand.  However, DAFO does support monthly meetings when there are business items.

Q:     Gov Delivery is a good concept, but is there a way to make this more personal to the county offices?

A:      Brenda Carlson – Regional Public Affairs (Gov Delivery): texting: they are adding subscribers at 6,000/month.  In the cases of non-opening emails, they can monitor this and the engagement rate is about 58% and the federal government rate is about 38%.  For the $150,000 to $200,000/year investment in this process provides a good return on the investment for communication.  County offices are doing a good job in sending out bulletins and if there is an overload from COF and STO, then let her know, but keep in mind that not all producers subscribe to both.  She is open to suggestions and NASCOE was were the texting idea came from.  She is a communications specialists and supports the most effective means of communication.  Gov Delivery is very cost effective and effective means to get out information.  Texting is becoming a very effective means to communications.  Orth: they do use the information in Gov Delivery.

Q:     Will you take into consideration that a CRP takes more time than an ARC/PLC contract for workload purposes?

A:      Radha Sekar – CFO: There is enough data to show the difference in the signup times between contracts in different programs.  The analysis will reveal these types of difference in the metrics of working with programs.

Q:     We need someone to fix WebTA because there are many issues with data loading.

A:      Thomas Mulhern – HRD: there are lot of issues with 4.2 and there are changes in the system.  There is an ongoing work group that address different issues.  If there are issues we are not aware of, please send them in.  He cannot give a date on when the changes will be made and it is a continuous process.

Q:     Is there any way to lift the CAP on CRP acres?

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: no, this would require legislation.

Q:     Is there a way to change the crop reporting deadlines?

A:      Brad Karmen – Acting DAFP: there is big issue with this and it was determined to have common reporting dates with FSA and RMA.  Different dates are confusing for producers, so the dates were made the same regardless if producers had insurance or not.

Q:     There are many issues with district directors and their disregard to the role of the COC in the county office.  Will there be a reminder sent to the state offices regarding this?

A:      This was answered First, that DAFO acknowledges and supports the fact that COCs are the supervisor of the CED.  Second, it was answered that DD’s have 12 or 13 delegated supervisory and oversight responsibilities over the county office but we do not support DD’s being heavy handed; Third that DD”s are an integral part of our field operations and, finally, we need to know case where DD’s may be overstepping their bounds.

Programs Submission Response: AGI Verification

ISSUE:
AGI forms sent to IRS for verification and update.

FACTS:
County Offices are spending numerous man hours sending AGI forms to IRS 3 and sometimes 4 times before they are processed. This is also resulting in increased and unnecessary postage costs for FSA to keep resending these documents to the IRS.

SOLUTION:
Why wouldn’t it be possible for the IRS to provide a fax number for FSA to fax the AGI forms to? There could be a separate fax number set up for each AGI year. Fax reports would provide verification to FSA that the documents were received by the IRS, and the result would be a savings in postage. 

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:
What we have found is that forms successfully reach the IRS processing facility. Copies of the Form 3210 are being provided to the COF’s as required in acknowledgement of the receipt of the AGI certification statements. Also, the number of resubmissions over the past 12 months have been and continue in a downward trend. 

Faxing the AGI certification and disclosure statements, even just the ones being re-submitted, may be a reasonable means for FSA to achieve an instant economic saving on postage costs. Please keep in mind that this is entirely dependent upon the IRS and its ability to timely acquire and make available for use multiple machines and phone lines, each dedicated to a specific year. Such an arrangement is not currently part of the MOU and reimbursable agreement between FSA and IRS for the verification of the $900K AGI amount. The consideration of the request for an additional forms submission and handling capability would first require FSA to submit revisions to the business rules for the AGI verification process and then in response, the completion of an extensive cost analysis by the IRS before any preliminary agreement and approval by both FSA and IRS could become a reality. The development and implementation would require the commitment of significant monetary and personnel resources for both Agencies, and which neither currently has to devote to such a project.

There may be no real savings with this convenience. The overall costs for IRS, and subsequently FSA, for this proposal may be greater than the current postage costs for resubmissions via the postal service. Nonetheless, this represents an idea worthy of consideration, at least the availability to FAX an AGI certification and disclosure statement – only for a very limited or restrictive basis.    

 

Programs Submission Response: Subsidiary and AGI Validation

ISSUE:
NASCOE has received several submissions concerning PL-271 and the AGI process in general. We have been sharing these concerns with WDC through various channels. One particular concern revolved around a February 26th deadline to begin enforcing that IRS determinations or SED determinations be received within 120 days of the producer’s certification. While discussions continue, WDC has issued the following response:

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:
Notice PL-271 provided information on AGI compliance and the upcoming start of a 120-day time clock for overpayments due to AGI. This time clock was expected to begin February 26, 2016. The impacts of the 120 day time clock are still under discussion at the national office and as a result, the effective date will be delayed. Additional information will be forthcoming.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
3-PL (Rev 2) Amendment 3 was issued on 10/6/2016 containing several updates to Subsidiary policy and software. Highlights include:

1) Par 25C has been updated to state that if the AD-1026 is mailed, the Subsidiary Record should be updated with the post mark date.

2) Par 26J contains new timeframes for State and County offices to ensure that producers are updated with an IRS or SED determination. Starting December 2, 2016, the window for obtaining an IRS or SED determination after certification will be reduced from 700 to 180 days. If the producer previously received payments for that program year, the producer’s payment will automatically be displayed on the Pending Overpayment Report after 180 days.

3) Par 26J also contains new procedure for situations where the IRS does not update the IRS determination after 3 attempts to mail the CCC-941 and IRS-3210 to the IRS. County offices will confirm that the producer is not on the Mismatch Report and submit documentation to STO showing that 3 attempts were made to send the producer’s AGI certification to the IRS and that all steps have been taken to ensure the CCC-941 has been properly completed and submitted. If the producer received an IRS or SED determination of compliance in the three preceding years, the CCC-941 flags will be updated as “Mismatch Verified.”

4) Par 41C has been updated to clarify that for businesses with an EIN, the SED Farmer or Rancher flag shall only be updated if the majority interest of all members have certified compliance as an SED farmer or rancher.

Additional guidance will be provided on changes to the AGI validation process for producers not updated by the IRS after being submitted 3 times. The AGI Validation Guide will be updated shortly as well.

2016 NASCOE Convention Q&A Session with Management

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Q: Why did you choose to work for FSA?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Q: Are there any plans to use retired employees?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

NASCOE News Flash: Notes from NASCOE Meetings with Management

NASCOE leadership was fortunate to be able to meet with management during our trip to Washington, DC on February 23-24, 2016. We had meaningful conversations with FSA Administrator Val Dolcini, Associate Administrator Chris Beyerhelm, Deputy Administrator of Field Operations Greg Diephouse and his team, Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs Brad Pfaff and his team, Thomas Mulhern and Barbara Boyd of HRD and Tonye Gross who leads the ACRSI Initiative.

Administrator Dolcini and Deputy Administrator Diephouse

NASCOE thanked Administrator Dolcini for inviting the leaders of the employee associations to attend recent national training sessions. NASCOE was represented at the recent CRP Training and the national Farm Loan Training. This allowed the leadership teams from all of the associations an opportunity to discuss common issues and to collaborate on solving those issues.

The Administrator indicated he would have good representation from the National Office at the 2016 National NASCOE Convention in Cedar Rapids, IA. This is a tremendous opportunity for field office employees to meet and interact with FSA’s upper management. In addition to the National Convention, FSA management will be attending the Area rallies and we encourage you to attend if at all possible.

Administrator Dolcini notified NASCOE that he would be holding a Town Hall meeting again this year. The meeting will be streamed live or available by teleconference and focus on workforce engagement. The meeting will also be recorded for those unable to participate on the date of the meeting. Be looking for additional information announcing the official date and time.

The Administrator gave a quick update on the Acreage Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative (ACRSI). FSA has been working with RMA and Approved Insurance Providers (AIP’s) at various stages of the development of ACRSI. There are still some technology glitches that need to be addressed. The expanded deployment of ACRSI will include 13 crops which will encompass over 90% of the total reported acreages. They are reviewing the Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) to determine best business practices. The SED’s received an update on ACRSI recently and Administrator Dolcini offered to share that with NASCOE.

Administrator Dolcini and Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs Brad Pfaff will be attending the Commodity Classic to demonstrate FSAfarm+. Producers should find this a useful tool, however Level 2 eAuth privileges are needed for access.

Associate Administrator Chris Beyerhelm

NASCOE appreciates the extra effort made by Associate Administrator Beyerhelm to meet. An unexpected meeting conflicted with our originally scheduled time however Chris made time in his schedule for us. Chris gave an update on his initiative to review, consolidate and update directives. The goals of the initiative are to update handbooks and to limit actual policy to notices and handbooks. He is updated every two weeks as to the status of the review. He has also started a process where each amendment or notice is tracked through the clearance process to identify where any potential delay may occur. This should result in reduced time for directives to make it through clearance. There was a brief discussion on the hiring process and how it can be improved. During our last visit with management, Associate Administrator Beyerhelm had arranged a demonstration of the ARS based workload model being developed. Not all decisions pertaining to the workload model are final at this time but we are cautiously optimistic that this tool will be beneficial.

Deputy Administrator of Field Operations Greg Diephouse and his Team

We met with Greg and his team and were able to follow up on some concerns that membership had expressed. DAFO is continuing to address the Lead PT issue and some states avoidance in utilizing the position. There are discrepancies in the handbook and the shared management agreement that was previously negotiated with NASCOE. DAFO is working diligently to address those differences and to encourage SED’s to use this valuable tool. NASCOE continues to stress to membership that we need to utilize all of our opportunities to promote deserving employees when policy allows.

NASCOE has received comments from several areas of the country that funding for temporaries is becoming a critical issue and that many temporaries will not be able to stay on board after March 31, 2016. States were initially allocated funding for temporaries through the first and second quarter of FY-16. Some states have had to staff more heavily than others so they may have completely used that initial allocation. Other states may have not used the full allocation. The temporary staffing and funding level is a moving target depending on the amount of past and immediate workload demands. Internal discussions are being held to determine availability of funding temporaries for the remainder of the fiscal year. A decision on the availability of temporary CO employees should be made around the first of March.

During the 2015 negotiation session, management offered to establish a shared management virtual task force to explore ways to improve shared management operations. NASCOE has provided the names of a CED and PT from each of the 5 NASCOE areas for consideration to serve on the task force. With shared management ever increasing it is imperative that we find ways to improve the system.

NASCOE was notified that DAFO has received the data from the FY-2015 performance cycle but has not had the opportunity to fully examine the results. Greg was encouraged by the initial review of the data and feels that progress has been made in the overall implementation on the process. NASCOE will be able to see the results once DAFO has completed their review.

In addition to these general topics, we also appreciated the opportunity to discuss some specific employee and county committee issues with Greg and his team.

Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs Brad Pfaff and his Team

ACRSI and other program issues were the big topics of the meetings with DAFP Brad Pfaff and the members of his team. NASCOE very much appreciates the privilege of participating in the weekly ACRSI national conference calls and looks forward to contributing to the success of ACRSI in any manner we can. As Administrator Dolcini indicated in our discussion with him, there are some technology glitches that are being corrected. In addition to that, there are some policy gaps that are still being resolved.

NASCOE provided DAFP leaders several of the documents that some of the Approved Insurance Providers have mailed producers soliciting them to not report to FSA but to them instead. This has been troubling to county office field level personnel and NASCOE membership. ACRSI was designed to be able to transfer common data between RMA and FSA. The two pilots have reinforced that FSA is good at taking comprehensive acreage reports. Regardless of what some of these AIP documents are saying, producers should have every confidence that FSA stands prepared to continue to accept the producer supplied aerial photos and complete the producer’s comprehensive acreage report.

Another topic of discussion was the inconsistency in 2-CRP regarding delegations of authority. Due to the restricted number of county committee meetings allowed a couple of years ago, the requirement for the COC to delegate contract approval to the CED was removed and authority was automatically granted to the CED. However, some sections of 2-CRP indicates that the CED can approve without the delegation of authority and other places it indicates the COC has to delegate authority. Since we are no longer restricted in holding county committee meetings, NASCOE was previously told the inconsistencies in 2-CRP would be corrected to show the COC needing to delegate authority to the CED.

We asked about the tree thinning initiative and were informed they are trying to finalize details. We are expecting to receive additional information soon.

National Notice PL-271 has been a major concern from the field. NASCOE had previously submitted questions to the national office through the program submission process. NASCOE learned that the issue was still under discussion and the effective date of February 26, 2016 would be delayed. More information is expected as it becomes available.

IT issues were a common theme in almost all of our discussions. Steve Peterson informed NASCOE that at the beginning of each day he gets a report from a staff member of what programs are experiencing problems. Their responsibility is to access each and every application to see if it is functional at the start of the day and report to him. Any deficiencies are immediately notified to the appropriate section for solutions.

Tonye Gross, ACRSI

We only had a few minutes to meet with Tonye because originally she was not scheduled to be in Washington during our visit. However, her travel plans changed and we were able to visit for a few minutes. We shared our concerns about the advertisements from some of the AIP’s. We thanked her again for letting NASCOE participate in the conference calls and we asked her for some talking points that NASCOE leaders can share with membership during our upcoming state conventions and area rallies. Tonye indicated she would provide a set of talking points and a short PowerPoint presentation for NASCOE to share with membership at the conventions.

Thomas Mulhern and Barbara Boyd from HRD

We would be remiss if we didn’t start this section of the notes out with an extra thank you to Thomas Mulhern and Barbara Boyd. Since this was our last meeting of the day, our 30 minutes scheduled meeting turned into a 2 hour discussion and we are grateful for the extra time given.

Our discussion began with an update of the CO hiring process. For the most part NASCOE had received positive comments about the CO hiring process and that the timeline of getting vacancies announced and filled had slightly improved. However, there have been isolated reports of lengthy delays in getting vacancy announcements advertised and positions filled. HRD informed us that there are 6 or 7 current vacancy coordinators and that 2 more were being added. They also reminded NASCOE these are not permanent positions and the vacancy coordinator responsibilities are collateral duties that are assigned in addition to their current obligations.

At our October meeting with HRD, we were informed that a contract had been awarded to develop the PT Aspiring Leadership Program. During our update on the status of this initiative we were informed that the contractor that had been awarded the initial contract was not performing as expected and was in the process of being replaced. While this will obviously delay the program being implemented we were assured the program development would proceed once the new contractor is selected.

We had a lengthy discussion with HRD on CO supervision of GS employees. While this discussion was prompted by a specific situation, the overall discussion was more general in nature. GS employees can supervise CO employees so why shouldn’t it work the other way also. The easy answer is that statute does not allow it so any changes to that will require some changes in the law. The discussion also revealed some potential unintended consequences since a change in the law would also subject CO supervisors to some of the constraints that exist on the GS side.

In summary, NASCOE was warmly welcomed by each and every person we visited while in Washington. It is a tremendous feeling to be able to freely discuss issues and solutions that can improve the service we provide to our producers while at the same time improve the working environment for employees. NASCOE would like to thank Administrator Dolcini and his entire team for their willingness to let us express membership’s thoughts and concerns.

Programs Submission Response: AGI

ISSUE:
NASCOE has received several submissions concerning PL-271 and the AGI process in general.  We have been sharing these concerns with WDC through various channels.  One particular concern revolved around a February 26th deadline to begin enforcing that IRS determinations or SED determinations be received within 120 days of the producer’s certification.  While discussions continue, WDC has issued the following response:

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:
Notice PL-271 provided information on AGI compliance and the upcoming start of a 120-day time clock for overpayments due to AGI.  This time clock was expected to begin February 26, 2016.  The impacts of the 120 day time clock are still under discussion at the national office and as a result, the effective date will be delayed.  Additional information will be forthcoming.