As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress passed legislation that will allow Federal Employees to carryover an additional 25% of their annual leave into year 2021. President Trump recently vetoed the Legislation; however, the House and Senate are expected to override the veto making this year’s NDAA bill public law.
NASCOE is hearing that some State Offices are indicating the NDAA may have an unintended negative effect on employees who have accumulated “restored” annual leave, particularly those who plan to retire in 2021.
NASCOE has consulted legal counsel and contacted various Executive and Legislative branch officials about the legislation’s effect on FSA employees. We believe Congress did not intend that this provision would negatively impact our County Office employees carrying over “restored leave” and should not lead our members toward early retirement. We believe the intent of the Legislative branch is to allow “non-essential” employees, who did not have restored leave, the ability to carryover an additional 25 percent of annual leave for use during 2021.
Even though we believe the language will not affect county office employees with restored leave who were deemed essential, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will have the sole responsibility of interpreting the intent of this new law and how it is applied to Federal employees. At this point we do not anticipate any scenario where OPM will nullify any earned leave that was “restored” due to an exigency of public business.
We will update membership with any subsequent Department or OPM guidance.
Last night, President Trump signed the annual appropriations and COVID relief stimulus package. The signing of this measure provides a full year spending allocation for government agencies and averts any further shutdown concerns. We highlighted key aspects of the USDA budget in our December 22nd News Flash.
The COVID Relief Bill also makes available significant additional funding for farmers as referenced in our December 21st News Flash. Farm Bureau has recently released their assessment of forthcoming programs. If you wish to read their analysis please click here. Note: while some groups are offering their interpretation of provisions, FSA will release final rules and regulations for the programs in the near future.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette, NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs December 23, 2020
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress passed legislation that will allow Federal Employees to carryover an additional 25% of their annual leave into year 2021. While this sounds like a great benefit for Federal Employees, NASCOE is hearing that it may have an unintended negative effect on County Office employees who plan of retiring in 2021 and have accumulated “restored” annual leave. The language in the bill states the extra leave (60 hours) will not be included in lump sum payments that federal employees receive when they leave federal service.
NASCOE has been working over the past week to research the following concerns on behalf of the membership:
Does this language exclude prior leave restored in previous years from being paid out? For example, in August of 2020, OPM allowed employees in Federal agencies to carry over leave due to carrying out COVID-19 relief in their respective agencies. The FSA Administrator subsequently restored excess leave for all County Office employees who assisted with COVID-19 relief.
NASCOE reads the language provided in the NDAA to be separate from any other provisions which allowed prior leave to be carried over into the new year due to COVID-19 relief efforts. Is this interpretation accurate?
Currently, USDA states that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will have the sole responsibility of interpreting the intent of this new law and how it is applied to Federal employees. We realize that immediate retirement decisions may hinge on how this legislation will ultimately be implemented. We also know that some State Offices are notifying employees this new provision may make any previously restored annual leave ineligible for a lump-sum payment upon retirement. It is our hope to find out more information regarding the intent of the legislation, and pass this along to you as soon as possible.
Last night, Congress passed the COVID-19 Relief and Omnibus Spending package as anticipated. They also passed a one-week Continuing Resolution through December 28th to allow time for procedural requirements to take place and obtain the President’s signature on the measure. The Omnibus budget provides federal civilian employees a 1% across the board pay raise. The bill also provides language that extends the deadline to repay deferred payroll taxes to the end of 2021 instead of next April.
The following bullet points highlight the Agricultural Appropriations funding affecting FSA employees:
Funding for FSA salaries and expenses increased by $22,824,000 over the 2020 enacted budget;
Funding for the Business Center increased by $11,774,000 over the 2020 enacted level;
There was $15,000,000 earmarked for the hiring of new employees to fill vacancies and anticipated vacancies at county offices;
Funds made available to county committees shall remain available until expended;
Funding for Dairy Indemnity Program payments shall remail available until expended;
The final bill continues previous law provisions related to both the relocation of county-based employees and county office closures.
NASCOE is proud to offer its membership awards in the form of education scholarships and recognition for service to others. Receiving a scholarship or recognition for selfless dedication to causes can be both encouraging and rewarding. Those who are eligible or know someone who is eligible for awards and scholarships should investigate what NASCOE has to offer.
NASCOE’s Scholarship Program is available to NASCOE members, spouses of members, children of members and grandchildren of members. There are several scholarship categories including: traditional scholarship, continuing education scholarships, grandchildren scholarship and associate member scholarship. Scholarships are awarded at the Area and National levels. Some state associations also have scholarship programs. Please contact your state association leadership for more information.
NASCOE members can nominate other members for Distinguished Service Awards (DSA’s) using the NASCOE application online. Members can be recognized at the State, Area and National levels based on the nomination. The Awards categories are: Service to NASCOE, Service to FSA-Agriculture and Service to Community.
For both Distinguished Service Awards & Scholarships, instructions for completing the online application process can be found at https://nascoe.org/awards-scholarships/. Before applying, applicants should read the “Awards and Scholarship Handbook”. This handbook contains specific details about scholarship eligibility and dollar amounts awarded.
The applications are completely online. Members have the option of starting the application and saving it to work on at a later date by using the save button on the bottom of the application. Distinguished Service Awards nominations and Scholarships are due on January 15, 2021.
The Awards and Scholarship Committee has created new fact sheets, where members can go for quick questions and to find contact information. Please navigate to https://nascoe.org/awards-scholarships/ for the fact sheets. Any questions can be submitted through the National Chair, .
The House of Representatives and US Senate announced agreement to provide additional COVID-19 assistance and the fiscal year 2021 appropriations measures. We expect one additional continuing resolution providing the time needed to send these bills to the President’s desk. We do not expect a government shutdown.
The COVID-19 assistance details are posted below for your review. We will send a second update outlining the annual funding levels provided through the appropriations bill.
Covid-19 Agriculture Assistance – $13 billion total
$11.1875 billion for agriculture producers, growers, and processors
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments for the 2020 crop year – option for 2018 and 2019 sales – (cattle included)
Up to $1 billion for livestock and poultry contract growers
$20 million to improve and maintain animal disease prevention and response capacity
May extend the term of a marketing assistance loan
No less than $1.5 billion to purchase food and agricultural products, including seafood
Up to $200 million to support timber harvesting and hauling businesses
May make payments to producers of advanced biofuel, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, conventional biofuel, or renewable fuels with market losses due to COVID-19
May make recourse loans available to dairy product processors, packagers, or merchandisers
$100 million to support the Farm Bill’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
$100 million for the Farm Bill’s Local Agriculture Market Program
$75 million for the Farm Bill’s Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program
$400 million to pay for milk to be processed into dairy products and donated to non-profit entities (food banks, feeding programs, etc.)
Establishes a Federal livestock dealer trust to ensure that livestock producers are paid for their animals
$60 million to make facility upgrade and planning grants to existing meat and poultry processors to help them move to Federal inspection
$28 million to be distributed as block grants to state departments of agriculture for use to support existing farm stress programs
*Additional funds were provided to domestic nutrition programs.
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.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette, Legislative Co-Chairs December 11, 2020
The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have both passed a stopgap spending bill which the President is expected to sign late Friday. This CR will fund the government for one week, setting a new deadline of December 18. Congressional Leaders are optimistic that they can complete work on an omnibus appropriations bill that will fund all sectors of the government prior to the proposed new deadline of December 18.
Your Legislative team will continue to monitor the situation over the next several days and inform membership if there are any major unexpected developments.
This NASCOE County Office Advocacy Committee (COAC) Committee update provides membership with brief, but important updates and reminders concerning COC elections, ballot counting and COC involvement with the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC).
We understand this is a busy time and we are all preparing for COC elections and ballot counting during unprecedented times. This is certainly no easy task. Moving forward, county offices will bring new COC members on in January. As always, informing and educating our new and old COC members about NAFEC is important. NAFEC is the employee association for County Committee members. NAFEC represents committee members just like NASCOE represents county office employees. As a reminder, NAFEC handles numerous issues for not only County Committees, but also County Office Employees across the nation.
Recently, NAFEC has stressed the importance of conducting ballot counting in a safe manner, while also following the processes outlined in statue, regulation, and handbook policy. The attached letter from NAFEC, is a great example of what NAFEC is doing for COC members, while highlighting their concerns, as we prepare for COC elections and ballot counting in the coming days. Please continue to look for future bulletins concerning NAFEC and other information prior to January Organizational Meetings. As always, if you have any questions, please reach out to the NASCOE County Office Advocacy Committee by emailing .
This legislative update provides our NASCOE family with information about hot topics as we enter the holiday season.
Currently, the government is funded through December 11, 2020. It is likely that Congress will extend the continuing resolution again before enactment of any new law. We do not expect any government shutdown as Congress approaches the December deadline.
The House of Representatives has approved their Fiscal Year 2021 Agriculture Appropriations bill. Following election day, the Senate released draft bills and reports allowing the two bodies to begin negotiating any final product.
The House provides significant increases for FSA Salaries and Expenses and continues previous law provisions related to both employees and county office closures. The below information highlights important funding levels for both the House and Senate proposals.
Fiscal Year 2021 Proposed Funding Levels
FSA Business Center:
FY 2020 Enacted
Proposed FY 2021 vs FY 2020 Enacted
House – $292,852,000
House – + $12,666,000
Senate – $293,057,000
Senate – + $12,871,000
FSA Salaries and Expenses:
FY 2020 Enacted
Proposed FY 2021 vs FY 2020 Enacted
House – $1,446,437,000
House – + $32,223,000
Senate – $1,434,279,000
Senate – + $20,065,000
While not yet official, we believe President-elect Biden will be sworn in next January as the 46th President of the United States.
The election results have set off a scramble for cabinet level posts and numerous political appointments. According to our contacts, the Secretary of Agriculture position is a race between former Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH). These individuals know the importance of our organization and the role we play in delivering farm programs. We were pleased this summer when Congresswoman Fudge invited NASCOE’s President to lead a roundtable discussion regarding the need for additional County Office workers. We will keep you all updated as the transition team announces USDA political appointments.
In the House of Representatives, Democrats continue to watch their majority shrink. At this point, the Democratic Party will control the body by about 13 seats. This is a decrease from the 33-seat majority during the 116th Congress. An important decision will come soon when Democrats choose who will lead the House Committee on Agriculture. The race for chairmanship is between Congressman David Scott (D-GA) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA). Today, Congressman Scott is considered the favorite and will likely be chosen the first week of December.
In the Senate, Republicans are defending two Georgia seats that most believe will remain in the Republican column. If the two senators are re-elected on January 5th, Republicans will control the 52 – 48 Senate. With Senate Pat Roberts (R-KS) retiring, we expect Senator John Boozman (R-AR) will be chosen as Chairman for the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Protecting Employees from Surprise Taxes Act of 2020, S. 4810
NASCOE sent a letter to Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) supporting legislation allowing federal employees to opt out of the payroll tax deferral. The legislation would simply allow employees to determine how the collection of taxes impacts their individual financial status. We have heard from employees preferring to not delay the tax bill until next year. This legislation provides the flexibility that would allow employees the opportunity to make the best decision based on their need for additional take home pay.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to our legislative team should you need additional information.
Our entire NASCOE Legislative Team would like to wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!