NASCOE News Flash: Meetings with FSA Management July 8-11, 2018

Dennis Ray, NASCOE PresidentNASCOE Vice President Brandon Wilson and I traveled to Washington, DC July 8-11, 2018 to meet with management. The purpose of the trip was to complete a holdover negotiation item from our April meeting, consult on several items that had been submitted by members during the negotiation process and to get an update on the workload tool and staffing model. We had three full days of meetings and want to thank Administrator Fordyce and his leadership team for their open doors and the willingness to meet and discuss items of concern. I will not have enough space in this article to fully discuss every topic we worked on during the trip. I will however, try to highlight as much as we can.

We were able to meet with Administrator Fordyce on a couple of occasions. The first meeting was with DAFO staff members, Acting Associate Administrator Peterson and contractors who were working on the staffing model and workload tool. This meeting was designed to give NASCOE leadership a deeper look into the Staffing Model, Optimally Productive Office (OPO) Model and the workload analytics which are used to fuel both models. We were also shown how the SED’s can use the various resources contained in the tool to analyze their state as they and their leadership teams determine where staffing in most needed. NASCOE membership will have an opportunity during the general session on Thursday of the National Convention to see a presentation provided by DAFO on the Staffing Model and Optimally Productive Office.

The second meeting with Administrator Fordyce and his team focused more on the concerns that NASCOE has heard from membership. These concerns include the lack of workload/staffing information shared by some states, an update on hiring and staffing, clarification on backfilling internal hires and the upcoming farm bill. When asked about the Staffing Model and OPO being available for all employees to see, Mr. Fordyce explained there are future enhancement planned and until that is completed, the SED’s have been asked to not share the tool itself. However, it should be noted that SED’s are not restricted in discussing and sharing FY18 ceilings and the workload analytics with all employees. State associations are encouraged to work with their SED about the availability of the data.

While we were in town, the Administrator and his senior staff were meeting in preparation of the next release of hiring, which will include backfilling vacancies created by an internal hire. We also discussed the money that was designated in the omnibus appropriation for hiring up to 200 FLOTS. That money was earmarked for FY18 and FY19 and any money not spent by the end of FY-19 will be forfeited by the agency. We also discussed the upcoming farm bill and comparisons between the house and senate versions.

There were many consultation items including revising data collection forms, revising and creating reports, requesting training and updating software. NASCOE met with several people representing several divisions on these consultation items. We also met with the Office of External Affairs to negotiate the remaining item from the 2018 negotiation session. These were productive meetings and we will try to give updates in future communications as these items progress to resolution.

I would like to close this update with some final comments about the 2018 National Convention coming up in Sioux Falls, SD. We have a tremendous agenda planned for you with attendance by Undersecretary Northey, Administrator Fordyce, Acting Associate Administrator Peterson, Acting DAFP Brad Karmen, Acting DAFO Linda Treese, FPAC CIO Darren Ash, FPAC Business Center Chief of Staff Terri Meighan and DAFO nominee Peggy Browne. I know that the time until the convention is short, so I hope you have already made your plans. The South Dakota Association has worked tirelessly to make this an experience not to miss. Hope to see you there.

Respectfully submitted,
Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

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NASCOE News Flash: Hiring Plan and Workload Tool Presentation

Dennis Ray, NASCOE PresidentIf you have been following our NASCOE updates, you know that the hiring plan for FSA to bring on over 1,039 FTE’s was approved a few weeks ago. Recently, 400 of the 1,039 were allocated to the states and most, if not all, will have been advertised by the time you read this update. An additional 400 are scheduled to be hired in August and the balance in September and October. These hires are in addition to the 150 approved in February and the 175 temporaries that were allocated to states. It is important to note that the 1,039 FTE’s include positions at all levels of FSA, not just the county level. NASCOE welcomes and supports the hiring of permanent employees.

State Executive Directors were recently given their state ceiling numbers for FY-18. National ceiling numbers are driven by budget and allocations. NASCOE has been advocating for a workload tool ever since 126 offices were closed without any consideration to workload during the last round of office closures. For the past few years FSA has had a working group develop a workload tool and staffing model. NASCOE requested representation on that working group and NASCOE, along with the other employee associations, have been part of that process. While the tool developed by the working group will never be perfect, it is the closest method of determining workload that we have seen since we stopped doing work measurement.

The FY-18 staffing numbers are the first to be allocated using the new staffing tool. As mentioned earlier, the budget sets the number of employees we can have on board. The staffing tool is used to determine where those employees are needed. The workload tool counts metrics in 25 programs and the corresponding time recorded in Activity Recording System is used to calculate processing rates that can identify efficiencies or inefficiencies. These processing rates are then used to identify where staffing is needed. Even though the workload tool demonstrates a need for increased staffing, there was an overall reduction in fiscal year 2018 ceilings due to the amount of funding to FSA for salaries and expenses. The reduction in ceilings due to the decreased funding was distributed among the states according to analytics suggested by the staffing model.

Workload can fluctuate from year to year based on the programs that are enacted in the farm bill. Due to this fluctuation, we have seen some changes in the approved staffing levels for several states. Since there is an overall lower ceiling in FY-18 those changes have been amplified in some states. NASCOE has advocated and will continue to advocate that the workload data should be transparent and available to the county level so that FSA employees in the field can see how and why decisions are made.

NASCOE is aware that some states have taken a significant hit on staffing levels based on the changing workload data and the staffing model. We also know that due to the changing workload and staffing model other states staffing levels have increased. It is also our understanding that if unrestricted by budget the workload tool shows the need for more employees than what the budgeted FY-18 ceiling allows.

In August, at the National Convention, management will provide a demonstration of the workload tool and staffing model during a presentation to members at the general assembly. NASCOE hopes membership will take this opportunity to learn about the tool and the results it produces. As we move forward, NASCOE will keep telling our story to members of Congress and working with our legislative consultant to secure the highest level of appropriations that we can for County Offices.

Respectfully submitted,
Dennis Ray
NASCOE President

CR Update: January 16, 2018

Below is an update from Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant.

Donny Green & Jackson Jones
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs


The House has introduced the attached continuing resolution funding the government through February 16. The House Rules Committee will meet tomorrow (Wednesday) at 3:00 p.m. 

Lifted from House Appropriations Committee:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen today introduced legislation (H.J.Res 125) to maintain current funding for federal operations and prevent a government shutdown. The Continuing Resolution (CR) is a stop-gap measure that will extend government funding through February 16, 2018. In absence of this legislation, existing funding would run out on January 19, 2018.
 
In addition to continuing government funding, the bill includes language to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years, a provision that allows the Department of Defense to provide funding for “Missile Defeat and Defense Enhancements” activities, and extensions of several health care related tax provisions.

HR195

Update on Continuing Resolution and Budget Process

Budget handwritten with blue lettering and underlined. Hand shown underlining the word
Good morning – With the current continuing resolution (CR) expiring on December 8, we want to share some information about federal spending bills and how Congress may fund the government. At this point, we don’t expect any government shutdown.
Hunter Moorhead
NASCOE Legislative Consultant


APPROPRIATIONS:
After the reconciliation process on tax reform is concluded, the Congress will turn to completing legislative action on funding the government for FY 2018 and other must pass items. The Senate Appropriations Committee has reported 8 of the FY 2018 appropriations bills from full committee and “posted” the remaining four unreported bills and reports (DoD, Financial Services, Homeland Security, and Interior). Those bills and reports can be viewed at:

DoD:
https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news/majority/fy2018-defense-appropriations-bill-released ;

Financial Services:
https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news/majority/fy2018-financial-services-and-general-government-appropriations-bill-released ;

Homeland Security:
https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news/majority/fy2018-homeland-security-appropriations-bill-released

Interior:
https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/news/majority/fy2018-interior-environment-appropriations-bill-released .

This release of the Senate Appropriations Committee recommendations for the remaining FY 2018 bills sets the stage for conference activities between the House and the Senate on an omnibus appropriations spending measure once a “top line” spending level is agreed to between House and Senate leadership. Observers expect the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will need about three weeks to work out the differences between the 12 appropriations bills and assemble them into an omnibus appropriations bill.

Currently, under the existing continuing resolution, the government is funded through December 8, and an additional CR is expected to be necessary to fund the government beyond December 8 while the appropriations bills and other must pass legislation is finalized. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has suggested a CR until the end of the year may be necessary to complete the Congress’s legislative agenda and others have suggested CRs through December 22nd and through January 15 (2018). The longer the tax reform/relief process takes, the more likely continuing resolutions extending into 2018 become.

Spending levels for Defense and Non-Defense Discretionary continue to be the topic of speculation, with a two year spending adjustment to the Budget Control Act (BCA) of between $182b ($57b DoD, $34b NDD) and $224b ($70b DoD, $42b NDD). Expect the Budget Control Act adjustment to be on the lower side of the range being discussed. After the top line levels are agreed upon by leadership, the Appropriations committees will provide subcommittee allocations for the 12 individual bills to be negoatiated between the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittee chairs and professional staff.

3rd EMERGENCY DISASTER RELIEF SUPPLEMENTAL:
On the 18th of November, the White House submitted the third emergency supplemental request for hurricane (Harvey, Irma, Maria) disaster recovery efforts. That request can be viewed at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/Letters/fy_2018_hurricanes_supp_111717.pdf

While the request included $44b for FEMA ($23.5b), the Small Business Administration ($1.6b), agricultural assistance ($1b), Education Recovery fund ($1.2b), and miscellany Federal agency recovery costs ($4.6b), the request was notable for what it did not include: any funding for California wildfires relief efforts, incomplete funding for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands hurricane recovery efforts, etc. The Administration acknowledged that further supplemental requests would result from continuing efforts with Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands “to identify, refine and articulate additional emergency funding requirements.” The supplemental is expected to move first through the Senate (on an existing and available appropriations vehicle), grow in size and scope, and move to the House in December. Both House and Senate Appropriations Committees are expected, time permitting, to hold oversight hearings on the administration’s request. The 3rd Supplemental may also carry other must pass legislative measures as it moves through the Senate and the House.

Possible other legislative measures rumored to be under consideration for inclusion in a Disaster Relief Supplemental, CR, or Omnibus measure that moves in December:

  1. Budget Control Act cap adjustments;
  2. Extenders (CHIP, Medicare, other);
  3. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) fix;
  4. FISA Section 702 Extension;
  5. Debt Limit Increase;
  6. National Flood Insurance Program Authorization (NFIP); and
  7. Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) Stabilization legislation.

NASCOE Legislative Update – Federal Retirement

Below is a legislative update from Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant, with information on the House and Senate actions regarding federal retirement benefits and other budget actions. Please distribute widely to membership:


The US Senate has completed Committee consideration of the 2018 Budget Resolution. I’m pleased to report that it doesn’t include language impacting Federal retirement benefits. The full Senate is expected next week to consider the Committee’s budget resolution.  Following adoption by the full Senate, House and Senate negotiators will conference the two resolutions. At that point, the House will insist on including the retirement cuts and the provision will be negotiated between the two bodies.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

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.”

Thanks,

Jackson Jones & Donny Green,
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairpersons