President’s Update – September 2018

Dennis Ray, NASCOE PresidentIt has been a busy past few weeks since our last update. We had a very successful National Convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The South Dakota Association worked very hard to provide a great experience for the several hundred attendees. I would like to take this time to thank a few of the folks that made the convention such a success. Becky Zirpel, Joel Foster and Larry Olson, along with the entire South Dakota Association, went above and beyond to host the 59th National Convention and we thank them for their efforts. I would like to thank Randy Tillman and Jamie Garriott for their many hours of hard work and their usual tremendous job in providing the audio and visual support.

The convention was very well attended by National Office leadership, including Undersecretary Bill Northey, Administrator Richard Fordyce, Associate Administrator Steve Peterson, Deputy Administrator of Field Operations Peggy Browne and Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs Brad Karmen. Also attending for FSA were Linda Treese, Trina Brake and Kathy Sayers. FPAC business center was represented by Terri Meighan and Darren Ash. Rebecca Dudley and Ameer Ali, from the Managerial Cost Accounting Team presented information on the workload tool and Optimally Productive Office dashboard. Steve Stark was also present and demonstrated the farmers.gov portal. Members were provided a 2-hour question and answer session where they could ask the panel questions that were on their minds. The notes from the Q & A are currently in WDC being reviewed and vetted for accuracy by those who answered the questions. Q & A notes will be posted to the NASCOE website as soon as they are received back from WDC. We thank the national office for being generous in approving travel for so many people to attend our convention. It is very beneficial for our membership to have that opportunity to network with our national leaders.

NASCOE leadership recently held our organizational meeting in Manhattan, Kansas site of the 2019 national convention. KASCOE is preparing for a great convention next year. It will be a great site for the convention and I hope folks begin planning now to attend. At the meeting, we reviewed the challenges for the upcoming year and discus sed our plans for addressing those concerns. We also spent one day working with national committee chairs and setting goals and action plans for meeting those goals. We also discussed the status of the Farm Bill and funding for FY-2019.

Based on information provided by our legislative consultant, it doesn’t appear that the Farm Bill will be passed before the current bill expires on September 30th. There are several items that have been agreed upon, but the nutrition title remains an issue. Committee conferees have been named and NASCOE is watching a couple items that are important to our membership and will need to be resolved in the committee before the bill goes to the full congress for approval. The results of the midterm elections could determine if the current bill is considered as is when Congress returns after the election or if the bill is revised.

Funding for the FY-19 has not been passed as of the date of this article. It appears likely that the ag approps bill will be included in a minibus scheduled to be voted on Friday, September 28th, which would provide a continuing resolution funding us until December 7, 2018. While the exact funding level is not known, indications have been positive regarding the amount provided FSA. We will continue to monitor the farm bill and funding issues and will provides updates through our legislative committee as they occur.

NASCOE is following up on a few items raised at the national convention such as the acreage reporting dates for perennial forages, increasing the number of activation sites for resetting lincpass cards and the late filed deadlines for acreage reports. We are currently trying to schedule a meeting with management to work on these and other pressing issues. We will provide updates to these efforts as we can. In the meantime, please feel free to contact any of your NASCOE leaders if you have any issues or concerns.

NASCOE News Flash — President’s Update – May 2018

It has been a very busy past few weeks attending state conventions and are rallies. The meetings have been well attended and very informative. I would like to thank Acting Administrator Steve Peterson for ensuring that the National Office was represented at the Area Rallies. In addition, I would like to thank Undersecretary Bill Northey for participating by VTC. He has been very gracious with his time and has been open with his comments and been very receptive to our questions at each of the Area Rallies. If he did not have an immediate answer he has taken notes to follow up as he can.

Being able to hear from and interact with the senior leadership of our agency and now mission area is one of the biggest advantages of attending an area rally or the national convention. I encourage everyone to try to attend the National Convention at Sioux Falls, SD this August and take advantage of the opportunity to hear from our national leaders first hand.

For those who have not been able to attend, I would like to provide a few highlights the national office attendees shared with membership during their presentations and the question and answer sessions.

Hiring and Staffing: Staffing levels and hiring have been two of the most common concerns expressed by membership. Both Undersecretary Northey and Acting Administrator Peterson have indicated they want to be at or above the number of on board employees as of October 1, 2017 by the end of this fiscal year. It is anticipated there will be multiple phases to the hiring process in an effort to not overwhelm HRD.

There were 150 slots approved back in February with 75% of those being internal hires and 25% being external. It is expected that the next groups of hiring will be much more directed toward external hires. It is also expected that vacancies created by an internal hire will be able to be back filled if warranted.

There were 175 temporary FTE’s allocated to state offices recently. The process of hiring temporary employees is shorter and quicker than advertising for permanents so hopefully the temporaries will be on board relatively quick. While we all want to see permanents brought on board we do appreciate the temporaries that have been approved.

Workload tool and staffing model: FSA has been working on a workload tool for the past couple of years. NASCOE and the other employee associations have been involved with that process. The first part of the work was developing the workload metrics (what items are to be counted, how they are to be counted, etc.). The second part of the process was to take the workload metrics and time reported in ARS to develop a staffing tool. Part of the delay in hiring has been the mandate that SED’s have the tool available to determine where staff is needed most in their respective states.

The SED’s are in Washington the week of May 7-11, 2018 to be trained on the staffing model and it is hoped that the deployment of the staffing tool will expedite the hiring process.

There are parts of the country where the customer service FSA is expected to provide has been severely impacted due to lack of staff. NASCOE has emphasized our concerns about the hiring difficulties with FSA, USDA and members of Congress and how that is adversely affecting the ability to provide customer service. We are cautiously optimistic, based on comments shared at the rallies, we are close to seeing progress on the staffing issue.

Respectfully Submitted,

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

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

NASCOE President Dennis Ray

NASCOE President Dennis Ray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully Submitted,

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

NASCOE Legislative Update: Federal Appropriations for FY18 & Congressional Meetings

NASCOE_LogoTo:                     NASCOE Membership
From:               Hunter Moorhead
Subject:          Federal Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018 and Congressional Meetings


This memorandum outlines the recent budget agreement for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The two-year budget agreement allowed for finalization of the 2018 bill which runs through September 2018.  The higher spending limits also allowed Congress to end sequestration cuts and add funding to certain programs.  In addition, the second portion of this document details recent Congressional meetings.

The final budget agreement included specific funding for the below policies.

Budget agreement:

FY17 FY18 FY19
Current law defense cap 551 549 562
Cancel defense sequester 54 54
Security priorities 26 31
New defense cap 551 629 647
OCO/emergency 83 71 69
Defense discretionary total 634 700 716
——————————————————– ————- ————- ————-
Current law nondefense cap 519 516 529
Cancel nondefense sequester 37 37
Domestic priorities 26 31
New nondefense cap 519 579 579
OCO 21 12 8
Nondefense discretionary total 539 591 605

Agreement includes:

  • National Institutes of Health – $1B for 2018 and $1B for 2019;
  • Opioids and Mental Health – $3B for 2018 and $3B for 2019;
  • Veterans Administration healthcare backlog – $2B for 2018 and $2B for 2019;
  • Infrastructure – $10B for 2018 and $10B for 2019;
  • Child Care Development Block Grant – $2.9B for 2018 and $2.9B for 2019; and
  • Higher Education – $2B for 2018 and $2B for 2019.

Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations:
On March 23, the Congress approved and President signed the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill.  The agreement was positive for NASCOE and we believe will lead to additional employees.

The bill includes $23.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $2.1 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. In total, the bill allows for $146 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding – $7.6 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.

The legislation provides $1.70 billion for farm programs, which is $2 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. This funding will continue support for various farm, conservation, and emergency loan programs, and will help American farmers and ranchers. It will also ensure customer service through full staffing of local county Farm Service Agency offices, including additional funding for farm loan officers, and meet estimates of demand for farm loan programs.

FSA Salaries and Expenses:

2017 Enacted 2018 Request Final Bill Final Bill vs 2017 Final Bill vs Request
1,515,720,000 1,428,051,000 1,519,756,000 +  4,036,000 +  91,705,000

The final agreement provides an increase of 22,216,000.  Based on the FPAC reorganization, the Committee transferred $4,944,000 for the Warehouse Act and $13,236,000 for international food procurement to the Agricultural Marketing Service.

  • Please know that certain NASCOE members have requested details about FSA’s salaries and expenses spending levels. The information will be provided soon.

Public Law / Bill Language:

FARM SERVICE AGENCY SALARIES AND EXPENSES
(INCLUDING TRANSFERS OF FUNDS)

For necessary expenses of the Farm Service Agency, $1,202,146,000: Provided, That not more than 50 percent of the $78,013,000 made available under this heading for information technology related to farm program delivery, including the Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems and other farm program delivery systems, may be obligated until the Secretary submits to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress, and receives written or electronic notification of receipt from such Committees of, a plan for expenditure that (1) identifies for each project/investment over $25,000 (a) the functional and performance capabilities to be delivered and the mission benefits to be realized, (b) the estimated lifecycle cost, including estimates for development as well as maintenance and operations, and (c) key milestones to be met; (2) demonstrates that each project/investment is, (a) consistent with the Farm Service Agency Information Technology Roadmap, (b) being managed in accordance with applicable lifecycle management policies and guidance, and (c) subject to the applicable Department’s capital planning and investment control requirements; and (3) has been reviewed by the Government Accountability Office and approved by the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress: Provided further, That the agency shall submit a report by the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018 to the Committees on Appropriations and the Government Accountability Office, that identifies for each project/ investment that is operational (a) current performance against key

H.R.1625—14 indicators of customer satisfaction, (b) current performance of service level agreements or other technical metrics, (c) current performance against a pre-established cost baseline, (d) a detailed breakdown of current and planned spending on operational enhancements or upgrades, and (e) an assessment of whether the investment continues to meet business needs as intended as well as alternatives to the investment: Provided further, That the Secretary is authorized to use the services, facilities, and authorities (but not the funds) of the Commodity Credit Corporation to make program payments for all programs administered by the Agency: Provided further, That other funds made available to the Agency for authorized activities may be advanced to and merged with this account: Provided further, That funds made available to county committees shall remain available until expended: Provided further, That none of the funds available to the Farm Service Agency shall be used to close Farm Service Agency county offices: Provided further, That none of the funds available to the Farm Service Agency shall be used to permanently relocate county based employees that would result in an office with two or fewer employees without prior notification and approval of the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress.

House Report language:
The Committee does not: 1) provide the one-time FY 2017 increases of $6,000,000 (this language was included in the House language but was not part of the final budget agreement); 2) accept reductions in non-federal full time employees (FTE); 3) accept savings from farm program modernization; and 4) accept any reduction in FTE for international commodity operations and food aid programs including Food for Peace Title II and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program.

The Committee does: (1) accept savings from FTE attrition; (2) provide funding for CCC audit readiness; (3) accept savings from federal and non-federal operating expenses; (4) direct farm program modernization savings to be used for other IT purposes proposed and as determined by the Secretary; and (5) accept IT operation maintenance and imaging savings.

CLEAR Initiative.—The Committee is encouraged by FSA’s announcement of the new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiative, the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative, which creates a funding mechanism for the installation of saturated buffers and denitrifying bioreactors (NRCS Standard Codes 604 and 605, respectively) into CRP buffers (CP 21 & CP 22). The CLEAR announcement established policy to incentivize and allow the installation of bioreactors into new, existing, and re-enrolled CRP buffers. However, saturated buffers were only allowed in new and re-enrolled CRP buffers. The Committee understands this has limited the ability of stakeholders to install saturated buffers into CRP without penalty. The Committee recommends FSA look into changing the CLEAR guidelines to allow the installation of saturated buffers in new, re-enrolled and existing CRP contracts to allow FSA cost-shared installation of saturated buffers, and to examine allowing for installation of saturated buffers through non- federal programs and initiatives without penalty to landowners.

Emergency Conservation Program (ECP).—The Committee encourages USDA to continue providing updates of funding needs for ECP, especially in the aftermath of drought, wildfires, and other natural disasters. The Committee encourages FSA to be flexible in meeting new challenges as it was during recent wildfire outbreaks when it allowed grazing on CRP lands.

Senate Report language:
Deputy Under Secretary for Conservation.—The Committee recognizes that NRCS, FSA, and RMA each play an important role in helping farmers, ranchers, and foresters manage risk and build the resilience of their operations. Additionally, better coordination and data sharing between the three agencies can limit inefficiencies, improve conservation outcomes, and enhance USDA’s ability to serve its customers. The Committee therefore encourages the Secretary to establish a Deputy Under Secretary for Conservation under the Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area to facilitate such coordination and ensure that each of the three agencies is supporting the conservation objectives of the producers that they serve.

Emergency Response.—The Committee directs USDA to produce a report outlining the average and longest length of time it takes USDA to provide reimbursement under the following emergency assistance programs: crop insurance; Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program [NAP]; Livestock Indemnity Program [LIP]; Livestock Forage Disaster Program [LFP]; Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program [ELAP]; Tree Assistance Program [TAP]; Emergency Conservation Program; and Emergency Forest Restoration Program [EFRP]. USDA is also directed to include in the report any barriers to implementing a more efficient reimbursement process and recommendations to the Committee on potential improvements.

Continuous Conservation Reserve Program.—The Secretary is strongly encouraged to, within the total acreage made available for enrollment in the conservation reserve program and without reducing the periodic availability of general signup, enroll, to the maximum extent practicable, acreage for activities included in the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement practice or other similar administratively established wetland and habitat practices that benefit priority fish and wildlife species identified in State, regional, and national conservation initiatives with a priority for initiatives that provide large blocks of cover ideal for wildlife nesting.

Information Technology.—The Committee remains dedicated to ensuring FSA has reliable and functioning IT systems because it is critical that farmers and ranchers have access to the tools they need to succeed. The Committee has invested significant taxpayer dollars to modernize outdated systems and continues to provide resources above the budget request. The Committee continues statutory language that allows funds for IT to be obligated only after the Secretary meets certain reporting requirements. The Committee has reviewed the third-party IT analysis and expects the agency to follow the recommendations where applicable.

National Agriculture Imagery Program.—The Committee recommends that funding shall be allocated to purchase imagery products to meet programmatic requirements.

Congressional advocacy efforts:
Donny Green, NASCOE Legislative Chairperson, and Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant, recently spent two days on Capitol Hill raising the importance of additional county office staff and rebuilding our footprint.  According to FSA’s Leadership, the agency lost over 150 employees between October 1 and December 23, 2017.  The current county office staffing level is unacceptable and hiring new employees is our top priority.

We met with the following offices;

Senator Thune – R-SD                Senator Gillibrand – D-NY            Senator Daines – R-MT
Senator Klobuchar – D-MN    Senator Heitkamp – D-ND            Senator Donnelly – D-ID
Senator Fischer – R-NE             Senator Smith – D-MN                     Senator Perdue – R-GA
Senator Hoeven – R-ND            Senator Casey – D-PA                     Senator Grassley – R-IA
Senator Boozman – R-AR         Senator Bennet – D-CO
Senate Ag Committee Staff – Majority         Senate Ag Committee Staff – Minority

Donny spoke about the below staffing numbers and the agency’s inability to service customers.

Years Total CO Total GS Total
17-18 Totals 6785 1745 8530
16-17 Totals 7104 1838 8942
15-16 totals 7180 1639 8819
14-15 totals 7145 1586 8731
13-14 totals 6944 1724 8668
12-13 totals 7484 1625 9109
11-12 totals 7678 1621 9299
10-11 totals 8636 1863 8636
09-10 totals 8661.5 1934 10595.5
08-09 totals 8651 1908 10559
07-08 totals 8637 1866 10503
06-07 totals 8647 1820 10467
05-06 totals 8823 1854 10677
04-05 totals 9209 1860 11069
03-04 totals 9329 2110 11439

NASCOE Attends FPAC Employee Associations Joint Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASCOE News Flash: Update from President Dennis Ray – February 27, 2018

NASCOE President Dennis RayNASCOE knows membership has many questions regarding reorganization of the department and FPAC realignment and we are working to secure answers to those questions. NASCOE is monitoring activities as they occur and engaging in the process when possible. Many of you have seen the FPAC Friday Roundup that indicated all employees would be receiving an update on the FPAC realignment. The leaders of the FPAC agencies (FSA, NRCS & RMA) have been charged with the task of sharing this information at the local level but were not given a specific delivery strategy to do so. Some State Offices have decided to provide the information jointly with sister agencies and others have not. Some are hosting webinars at the state level and others are doing it by district. There isn’t any one way or one agency that is dictating how this information is being shared. The FPAC Friday Roundup also mentioned they are planning a virtual town hall meeting in mid-March and continuing on a periodic basis after that. NASCOE encourages the membership to participate in the town hall meetings as they become available.

Convention and rally season is getting here quickly. Attending a state convention or area rally is an excellent opportunity to meet and interact with senior members of management from the national office, co-workers from across the state or area and NASCOE area executives and officers. The National Office has committed to having two members of senior management at the area rallies and I encourage everyone who can to make reservations and attend. With the many changes and challenges we are currently facing, being able to communicate face to face with National Office management leaders is a unique opportunity to ask questions directly to those involved in the decision-making process.

NASCOE is always seeking opportunities to participate on work groups and task forces established by management and have been provided that chance several times the past few years. For example, NASCOE has had a representative on the Managerial Cost Analysis work group for nearly two years. This group has been working on a workload tool. In addition to the cost analysis part of the tool, a smaller group has been established to start the process of developing a staffing tool. This work group has been holding multiple conference calls weekly and is scheduled to travel to Washington, DC the week of March 12th to continue the work in a face to face setting. Past NASCOE President Wes Daniels is NASCOE’s representative on the work group.

NASCOE was asked to provide names to participate in a Competency Assessment focus group, which is tasked with looking at and establishing the necessary competencies for various grades and positions. Their focus will be to identify the necessary competencies needed to move from a current level of responsibility to a level requiring a higher level of responsibility. Donny Green, a CED from Tennessee and Brenda Moore, a PT from Oklahoma are NASCOE’s representatives on this group.

We have also been asked to provide names to represent field employees on a task force to help write the policies and procedures for the new ad hoc disaster bill announced in the Bipartisan Budget Deal recently passed. The new program will focus on providing relief for producers who grow crops, vines, bushes and trees. NASCOE has provided several names to be considered for final selection on the task force. NASCOE will share those names as they become known.

NASCOE is making every effort to monitor activities as we transition into the new mission area. We will continue to provide as much information as possible going forward. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to your area executive or NASCOE officers.

Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

2017 NASCOE Convention Question and Answer Session

Thursday, August 3, 2017
Saint Charles, Missouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:     Where is the President’s picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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