Update on Proposals Regarding Federal Employee Retirement Benefits

The purpose of this memorandum is to review proposals and the current status of federal retirement programs. Our legislative team is working to monitor the proposals and urging Congress to protect the current system. The below includes proposals released by both the President and the House of Representatives. The Senate Budget Committee has not yet released their proposal.

President’s Budget:
On May 23rd, 2017, President Trump announced the Administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget request. In this request are proposals to make significant changes to the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System. Included in the changes are:

  • Cost-of-living allowances for current and future FERS retirees eliminated.
  • COLAS for CSRS retirees would be reduced by 0.5 percent each year.
  • FERS employees would see employee contributions to their annuities increased by one percent each year for the next six years, without any corresponding benefit increase.
  • The FERS annuity supplement would be eliminated for new retirees starting in 2018.
  • Federal pensions would be based on the average of the highest five years of salary instead of the highest three.

Following the President’s FY 2018 request, the CBO argued that these changes would better align federal practices with those in the private sector through:

  • Basing pensions on five-year average earnings.
  • Many employers not offering health insurance benefits for retirees.
  • Many companies shifting from lifetime annuities to defend contribution plans that require smaller contributions from employers.

However, the CBO also noted that these changes would lessen the attractiveness of the overall compensation package provided by the federal government, potentially affecting the ability to attract and retain a highly-qualified workforce. Additionally, under the President’s proposed changes, positions requiring professional and advanced degrees may become harder to fill, private-sector counterparts already provide a higher compensation to comparable federal government positions.

Under the current budget circumstances and within the current political situation, it will be difficult for the President’s proposed changes to become reality. The President’s budget request is the first step in a long process to actually forming the budget.

House Budget:
On July 19th, 2017, the House Budget Committee approved their FY 2018 Budget 22-14. At this time, the House of Representatives has not yet scheduled floor or full House consideration of their Committee proposal.  However, Speaker Ryan has publicly stated that the House will consider the budget in September.

The House FY 2018 budget instructions dictate that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to submit changes in laws within its jurisdiction sufficient to reduce the deficit by $32 billion for the period of fiscal years 2018 through 2027. The House FY 2018 budget includes measures affecting changes to federal government retirement practices, including ending the supplement only for future retirees, how much to raise the required contribution, over how long a period, and whether it would apply to all employees, to reach this required $32 billion savings over the next 10 years.

The Budget committee report includes the language, “Reform Civil Service Pensions. The policy describes in the Income Support, Nutrition, and Related Programs section of this report would increase the share of Federal retirement benefits funded by the employee. This policy has the effect of reducing the personnel costs for the employing agency. The budget assumes savings from a reduction in agency appropriations associated with the reduction in payments that agencies make into the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund for Federal employee retirement.”

Additionally, the Report includes the following policy statement on the same, “Reform Civil Service Pensions. This budget adopts a policy proposed by former President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility. The policy calls for Federal employees, including members of Congress and staff, to make greater contributions toward their own defined benefit retirement plans. It would also end the ‘‘special retirement supplement,’’ which pays Federal employees the equivalent of their Social Security benefit at an earlier age. This would achieve significant savings while recognizing the need for new Federal employees to transition to a defined contribution retirement system. The vast majority of private sector employees participate in defined contribution retirement plans. These plans put the ownership, flexibility, and portfolio risk on the employee as opposed to the employer. Similarly, Federal employees would have more control over their own retirement security under this option. President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a phased-in increase to contributions federal employees pay into the Federal Employee Retirement System so that both employees and the government are contributing an equal amount.”

And finally, the Report encourages limiting Federal Health Coverage Funding for federal employees. It states, “currently, Federal contributions to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program grow by the average weighted rate of change in these programs. This budget supports restricting the growth in these plans to inflation. It also proposes restricting Federal employees’ retirement benefits based on length of service, which would bring Federal benefits in line with the private sector model.”

2017 NASCOE Negotiation Items

ITEM 1: LOAN APPROVAL AUTHORITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ITEM 2: MAILING CONTRACTS TO OTHER COUNTIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 3: AGLEARN TRAINING

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

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

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

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

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


ITEM 4: STAFFING/PERSONNEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ITEM 5: CRP CONTINUOUS CONTRACTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASCOE accepts this response.


ITEM 6: COC ELECTION BALLOTS

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

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

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

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

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


ITEM 7: COT OPENINGS AND PLACEMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 8: ENHANCING MIDAS SOFTWARE

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

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

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

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 9: MODIFY THE CCC-576

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

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

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

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


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

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

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

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

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

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


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

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

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

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

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


ITEM 12: IT CYBERSECURITY

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

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

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

Agreement: NASCOE accepts the response.


ITEM 13: IT/WEBTA

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

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

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

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

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


Items from 2016 NASCOE Negotiations (Resubmitted)

ITEM 2: SHARED MANAGEMENT PROCEDURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ITEM 4: TEMPORARY SHARED MANAGEMENT-LENGTH OF TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASCOE accepts this response.

Stopgap Funding Bill Passed

The U.S. Congress earlier today passed stopgap legislation to avert a government shutdown at midnight and give lawmakers another week to reach a deal on federal spending through the end of the fiscal year.

The Senate passed the measure by voice vote without opposition after the House earlier approved it by a tally of 382-30. The measure now goes to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

The bill provides federal funding until May 5, allowing lawmakers to work on legislation over the next few days to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year.

Updates from the NASCOE President

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted by,

Wes Daniels
NASCOE President

President’s Transition Report

I hope everybody is getting ready for the holiday season and has big plans to enjoy your family and friends during this time. Even as busy as it has been all across the country, we all have a lot to be thankful for. I wanted to address some concerns and thoughts that have been shared with NASCOE lately.

Many of you are anxious about the transition to a new President of the United States of America, his administration, and how it will impact FSA and the membership of NASCOE. We have read about the proposed hiring freeze and the uncertainty this creates for membership. First of all, we will probably learn more about this proposal and other changes as we get closer to the Inauguration and our new President takes office. We have all heard there will be a hiring freeze but we don’t know if that will allow us to continue to fill from within or not. For example if we have CED openings and COTs on board, can we fill those vacancies? We also don’t know if we will actually have a hiring freeze – we just know what we have read. Most of the information we can obtain doesn’t seem to indicate a hiring freeze would be long term. NASCOE’s legislative Consultant, Hunter Moorhead, has been working hard and will continue to keep us informed.  His “Legislative Update” was sent out recently, and I encourage you to read through that on the NASCOE website’s homepage if you have not already.

Membership has also inquired about changes to our retirement system and TSP. NASCOE will continue, as we always have, to monitor these benefits and will keep you updated. Most of these types of things would take congressional action and have been discussed previously without a lot of traction. Some of the conversations have addressed changes for new hires and we will stay on top of all these things. Again, having Hunter is a great advantage. He is watching, and will keep us updated on any proposed changes that will affect our membership and FSA employees in general.

Over the past two years, NASCOE’s leadership has worked aggressively to build relationships with both the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees. With the election behind us, these relationships will be important as we collectively monitor the new Administration’s legislative and regulatory proposals. Following January 20, we will start to learn more about the pathway forward. Our team can guarantee membership that we are prepared for all proposals and view the new Administration as an opportunity to improve our working environment. We feel strongly about the importance of our customer service function, and believe Members of the House and Senate are prepared to assist us throughout the process.

Most of the concerns we are hearing will become clearer in the next few months. I want to reassure you that your NASCOE Executive Committee is doing all we can to stay on top of these and many other issues. As we learn more, we will do all we can to share the information we gain with all of NASCOE. Please let us hear from you! All of your issues and concerns are important to us and our membership. You can send your issues directly to us, or go through your State Association Presidents and they will forward it to your National Leadership Team through the Area Executive Committee Persons.

At this point, as we move into the transition and New Year, let’s remain positive and continue to accomplish our main goals and mission, which is to serve the greatest farmers and ranchers in the world. One thing I know that we can be sure of, is that there has never been a more important time to be a member of NASCOE.  I hope every one of you has a Merry Christmas and the best New Year ever!!!

Respectfully Submitted by,

Wes Daniels
NASCOE President

President’s Notes from NASCOE Meetings with Management

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted by,

Wes Daniels
NASCOE President

Programs Submission Response: NFC Annual Leave Status Reports

ISSUE:
NFC Annual Leave Status Report

FACTS:
This report is printed and mailed to County Offices with employees who may be in a use or lose annual leave situation. This information is available to supervisors electronically in WebTA.

SOLUTIONS:
Eliminate the printing and mailing of this report, which would provide a considerable savings in postage dollars. If necessary, supervisors could be notified/reminded by email to check employee leave balances accordingly in WebTA.

NATIONAL OFFICE RESPONSE:
Until Web4.2 was implemented there was not a bi-directional feed between NFC mainframe into WebTA and the official leave balance is the balance on the NFC mainframe so the report would be necessary to ensure WebTA was accurate. Now that there is a bidirectional feed and WebTA will be syncing with the NFC mainframe data I  will have staff look into the possibility of making that change. I do think we need to wait a bit until we are confident that glitches with Web4.2 have all been resolved and timekeepers have had time to complete any leave audits and ensure the leave balances in WebTA4.2 are accurate.  

 

Legislative Update

Please see the following message from Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant. We will continue to keep you updated as things in the legislative arena develop.


Good afternoon – Please accept this informal email as an update on both the legislative outlook and the Trump transition process.

Legislative Outlook – The House and Senate are working aggressively to pass two or three important bills before adjourning. The 114th Congress is likely to expire Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Before hitting the doors, Congress will likely pass the Continuing Resolution which will fund the government through April 28, 2017. The level for FSA and FSA programs will continue at current levels. At this point, the Congress is expected to redraft/complete the drafted fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills. In my opinion, that will be difficult considering the new President and new agenda for 2017. The National Defense Authorization bill and Water Resources Development bill will likely be the only significant pieces of legislation reaching this President’s desk before adjournment.

In regard to our interest, the Continuing Resolution includes our FSA specific policy riders and adequately funds the agency. The bill doesn’t include any additional funding/Farm Bill implementation funding to extend or hire temporary workers.

Trump Transition – We are all doing our best to monitor the Trump transition process for all positions within the Executive branch. At this point, it is difficult to determine who will become the Secretary of Agriculture, much less any policy proposals that may impact employees or farm programs. Remember, President-elect Trump’s inauguration will not occur until the end of January. At that point, the Administration will likely move quickly to address burdensome government regulations and repeal Obamacare or the ACA Health Care law. In addition, the Administration and Congress will quickly focus on overhauling the tax code. I’m hopeful that you all understand the timelines and know that nobody has the answers regarding Trump’s policy proposals. Most news articles are based on press comments and twitter feeds that come and go.

Who will be the Secretary of Agriculture? If anybody tells you they know, they are lying unless you hear it directly from the incoming President or Vice President. Remember, it could certainly be a person who has not been mentioned. This transition team is using decoys to shield actual candidates.

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: Updates from Leadership

Please see the updates below from NASCOE President Wes Daniels and Vice President Dennis Ray regarding important issues to our membership.

Progress Report on NASCOE Issues
Wes Daniels

I spent the week of July 10 in WDC at the NACS/NASE and NADD Conventions. I very much appreciated the invitation and enjoyed the convention and opportunity to see how they conduct their association’s business. Having the convention in WDC was expensive but rewarding. I was able to meet with management and work on current NASCOE issues and concerns.

I met with HRD on two negotiation items. The PT Working Group that will visit rewriting PT’s Position Description is being put together and Jenae Prescott, PT from Idaho, Megan Kennedy, PT from Georgia, and Mark VanHoose, CED and Past NASCOE President, will represent NASCOE on this national task force. A committee is being put together to form the questionnaire that will replace KSA’s on the CO hiring process. NASCOE will have representation on this group as well.

I also met on IT issues. Reports on the efficiencies of CARS show even with issues two days of the last week of certification that the software performed significantly better than last year. FSA CIO has stayed on top of the issues and with a team of folks has visited many county offices to see how CARS and ACRSI are working. They have seen the issues we face and are working to resolve them. I am sure you have seen emails from Darren Ash, FSA CIO, making everyone aware of our IT issues and that they are working on them and then again when things are back up running. NASCOE very much appreciates Darren’s communications with all of us.

I was able to meet with several different people about our concerns with ACRSI. As you should know by now, NASCOE formed an ACRSI Task Force about a year and a half ago. Our Administrator has allowed NASCOE to participate in the weekly and biweekly ACRSI conference calls. Our participation has helped make some significant changes in the ACRSI program. I was able to share some of the “pain points” our task force has put together with various people during my visits to the South Building. We made plans for Darren Ash, FSA CIO, and Brad Pfaff, DAFP, to meet with the NASCOE ACRSI Task Force during the National Convention. NASCOE knows that crop reporting is vital to our future and very much wants ACRSI to work. The implementation has had some bumps in the road but has been successful. We will continue to work toward making it more efficient and incorporating geospatial components. We have also been concerned about policy integrity in ACRSI and have met with management about our concerns in this area and are seeing improvement.

During several meetings with DAFO we discussed Bridges to Opportunity (BTO), Receipt for Service, staffing (both permanent and temporary), budget issues, COC authorities, shared management concerns (including compensation for CED’s with two or more grade twelve offices), PT upgrades, training, IT issues, workload tool, and many other concerns. DAFO allowed NASCOE to have representation on the IT Steering Committee and Kristal Rater was appointed this task. DAFO also allowed NASCOE to participate in the Managerial Cost Accounting group and Dennis Ray, NASCOE‘s Vice President, served in this capacity. You should be seeing reports on these soon.

I also met with Radha Sekar, FSA CFO, about budget and, in particular, staffing. Basically it looks like we will operate under a CR to start the year and permanent staffing will remain pretty much unchanged from 2016. Temporary staffing is another subject; with the farm bill implementation funds pretty much exhausted, there are not a lot of funds available for temporaries. Management is looking at some creative ways to resolve this. We will keep you updated.

It appears that our directives are being cleaned up and will soon be in updated handbooks and notices. This has been an ongoing process and, while progress is being made, we are a long ways from completion. Space requirements and leasing were discussed and changes are continuing to be made in these areas.

We continue to push to have the COC authority and delegations restored to the 2-CRP handbook, as well as clarify the process of approving a CED’s leave in WebTA. Conversations on both of these issues seem to be heading in the right direction.

To wrap up, I was encouraged and certainly appreciated management’s willingness to meet with us and their receptiveness of the items and topics we discussed. We feel that these discussions and the relationships that we are continuing to build tremendously help improve our abilities to serve American Agriculture and improve our working environment.


Managerial Cost Accounting Work Group
Dennis Ray

National Notice AO-1651 was issued to solicit recommendations from the field on ways to improve the Managerial Cost Accounting (MCA) system. Some of the components of the MCA system include the Activity Reporting System (ARS), a cost model, FSA staffing model development, operating costs, program data, salary and benefits costs, unit counts or program performance metrics and complexity factors. Notice AO-1655 announced the formation of a MCA working group tasked with reviewing the suggested changes from the field and to make recommendations to the Executive Leadership Council. While not an official part of the working group, the employee associations were invited to attend and participate fully in reviewing the suggestions and preparing the recommendations.

The majority of the time was spent in three areas. The first was activity reporting. The group stressed the importance of properly reporting our time in WebTA. Part of the review of ARS dealt with the number of programs and activities. While there were suggestions from the field to both add activities and to reduce activities, the general consensus was that reducing the number of activities would increase the accuracy of time reporting. Another topic regarding activity reporting focused on being able to report the time and activity properly when helping another county, whether that was within your own state or serving another state on a jump team. If the MCA system is going to be used as a workload and staffing tool, the working group determined the time and unit counts had to be reported in the proper county.

The second major area was in the metric used for the workload counts. The working group reviewed the program areas and what items were being used for those counts. For example, are payments made the best count for ARC/PLC-Serv & Maint or would approved contracts be a better count? If payments made were used, then a county that didn’t trigger a payment wouldn’t get credit for ARC/PLC-Serv & Maint even though they had done the same preparation work as a county that did trigger a payment. I won’t try to remember all of the specific recommendations for the metrics but I will tell you that all of the program areas were reviewed. If the recommendations are adopted, it has the potential to be the closest thing to our old work measurement system that we have had since we quit using it several years ago.

The third area was complexity factors. This dealt with some of the inherent differences across the country. Are ARC/PLC contracts with generic bases more complex than farms without them? Are shared management operations more complex than stand-alone counties? How do you account for complex 902 business plans as opposed to 902’s for individuals? These and many other factors were discussed within the group and were the basis of the recommendations.

Another important topic that was discussed extensively and recommended by the working group was the necessity for the workload tool and the staffing guide to drill down to the county level and be made available at the county level. The staffing guide is meant to be just that, a guide. It is anticipated that SED’s will continue to be able to address extenuating circumstances when staffing their states, but the workload tool and staffing guide should give them all a consistent starting point.