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

NASCOE News Flash – Hiring Update

NASCOE President Dennis RayI hope this note finds you well as can be during these challenging times. Many of you have been working hard for your farmers and ranchers with limited staffing which has challenged your ability to get the job done. I would like to share some promising news that should help relieve some of those challenges and improve service to our producers.

First, we are aware that FSA has approved the hiring of 400 FTE’s in May-June and states should know soon how those FTE’s will be distributed and their FY18 ceilings. These are in addition to the 175 temporary FTE’s that were recently allocated to the states. Furthermore, the FSA hiring plan that has been approved includes adding another 400 FTE’s in July-August and 239 FTE’s to be added in September and rolling into the next fiscal year. These new hires come after many meetings by the NASCOE officers and the Legislative Team with members of Congress, Secretary Perdue, Undersecretary Northey and Acting Administrator Peterson.

Second, the Secretary appointed Richard Fordyce as the FSA Administrator. Mr. Fordyce is a fourth-generation farmer who served as Missouri’s Director of Agriculture and Missouri’s FSA State Executive Director. I have had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Fordyce about NASCOE and look forward to working with him in his new position.

NASCOE welcomes and appreciates the hiring plan announced and recognizes the positive impact it will provide our producers and members. Going forward, NASCOE will continue to tell our story and use our resources as we work to improve the working environment for our members.