Annual Leave Carryover

Greetings fellow NASCOE Members

  • This is your NASCOE President, Brandon Wilson coming to you from the farm where I’ve been using a little annual leave to help with harvest.
    • Things are definitely crazy around here…  we are harvesting soybeans and corn.  Also, we are planting wheat and moving cattle around.
    • Busy is good and I wouldn’t trade this mini-vacation for nothing.

And speaking of annual leave, we know many of you haven’t been able to take leave this year since you’ve been busy administering important programs such as: MFP2, ARC/PLC, Disaster Programs (such as WHIP, ECP, ELAP, LFP AND LIP) and acreage reporting.

  • MOST important however, has been your work on administering CFAP 1 & CFAP 2 during the national health emergency. 
  • This unexpected work was (and is) being administered in a very quick fashion because of your tireless efforts and extra time spent at work.  -your farmers and ranchers appreciate your efforts very much – and they thank you.

In addition, we’ve heard from many of you about the inability to use leave because of your dedicated time at work to administer these programs which are critical to the citizens of the United States. 

  • The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) realizes the predicament Federal employees face with use or lose leave. 
  • OPM has determined that a new benefit may apply to Federal employees who helped our nation during the national health emergency.  Agencies (such as USDA) can decide to allow some employees to carry more than 30 days of annual leave into calendar year 2021, provided they were unable to schedule that leave due to their work responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
    • If USDA decides to qualify COF employees, like you and me,  they will be able participate in a streamlined process for “essential” employees to carry over leave next year.  This streamlined process would mean we do not need to schedule leave in advance for it to be considered cancelled.
    • While we all agree that carrying over leave is not ideal and can create problems in the long run, we also know that 2020 was an unusual year AND we have earned leave and we have a right to take it.
  • NASCOE believes the FSA COF employees should have the opportunity to have this benefit- similar to other Federal employees in other agencies that helped provide relief. 
  • Furthermore, NASCOE agrees with OPM that agencies must let their employees know soon if they qualify for the leave carry over assistance benefit.  Employees would need to know IF their services have been designated as essential during the emergency employees so they can begin planning. 
  • NASCOE has urged management at USDA to not hesitate in designating FSA COF employees as essential during the health emergency.  It is key that they declare our work on COVID-19 relief an “exigency of the public business.” AND that they notify employees soon of this status so that employees can make leave plans.
  • Look for an announcement and information to come from FSA management on the status of leave carry over for FSA COF employees.  Additional reading on the subject can be found in the link contained in the video in the bottom in description: https://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/2020/08/opm-outlines-process-restoring-leave-after-covid/167597/.

I’d like to close by saying “thank you again” for your support of NASCOE.  Your support empowers the NASCOE team to make sure that you get the benefits you deserve.

I hope to see you all again very soon.  Good night.

NASCOE fights for Paid Parental Leave Benefit

Recently NASCOE leadership has been answering lots of questions about paid parental leave and the applicability of that benefit for FSA County Office (CO) employees.  The National Defense Authorization Act (Bill S-1790) which funded parts of the federal government for fiscal year 2020 was recently passed and provides up to 12 weeks per 12-month period of paid parental leave available under the Family and Medical Leave Act for Federal employees.  This new leave is effective for births, adoptions or foster placements beginning October 1st of this year.  Unfortunately, this legislation did not extend the entitlement benefit to include FSA CO personnel.  Specifically, the employees hired and supervised by County Committees established under Section 590h(b) of Title 16.

Background

Many of the recent Paid Parental Leave questions received by NASCOE leadership center around why FSA CO employees aren’t included in the benefit.  The answer to that question is best explained by the background of the County Committee and the origins of NASCOE. 

Historically, the civil service was created in the late 1800’s to staff agencies newly created by Congress.  These employees now go by the nomenclature Federal, General Schedule (GS), or Title 5 employees.  Later, during the depression, when creating new farm and food security legislation, Congress was looking for an alternative to the typical federal program delivery system.   Congress wanted a new delivery method which provided a system of local credibility so that farmers and ranchers would “buy-in” to new agricultural support programs.  To that end, Congress created the County Committee (COC) system, designed to be an alternative system of government that farmers and ranchers could trust.  Legislation also allowed those same COC’s to hire staff, which includes the modern day CED and PT.  COC’s and their staff are considered Title 7, County Office (CO), or non-Federal employees, who are governed by the Department of Agriculture and not the Office of Personnel Management.

CO and GS employees, working side by side in USDA Service Centers, have many things in common including pay scales, leave earning, health/life insurance, work schedules, and more.  In recent memory, USDA has generally mirrored CO benefits to match the guidance that OPM gives for GS employees.  However, this hasn’t always been the case.  For much of our history, USDA GS employees who offered conservation and credit programs enjoyed salary, health, and retirement benefits while CO employees down the hall were working for a minimum wage with no benefits.  This was obviously a major disparity between two groups of employees who perform similar work for the same customer base.

In 1959, to correct the inequity of benefits, our predecessor CO employees voluntarily banded together to create NASCOE.  NASCOE is designed to improve working conditions and advocate for the profession of the CO employee.  Throughout its history, NASCOE has been responsible for obtaining and ensuring the continuation of annual leave, sick leave, health insurance, retirement, relocation benefits, within grade increases, annual cost of living adjustments, leave transfer & and other benefits for FSA CO employees.  NASCOE also works annually to obtain adequate levels of funding for agency salaries and expenses.  These benefits and supplemental funding have been attained through NASCOE working directly with USDA or the Congress.  In the spirit of equality, USDA and the Congress has answered previous requests by granting requested benefits to FSA CO employees.   Added benefits for CO employees are greatly enjoyed by the FSA non-federal workforce.  It is hard to imagine what a modern-day FSA workspace would look like if CO employees didn’t have the same benefits as other federal employees in the office.

Moving Forward

History repeats itself and once again we are looking at a situation where there is a disparity between GS and CO benefits.  In this case, the new benefit is paid parental leave.  FSA CO employees make up the majority of USDA’s field office staff who provide federal benefits to American farmers and ranchers.  NASCOE believes the ability of employees to take paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child can’t be overstated.  The absence of the paid parental leave would be detrimental to the morale and functionality of those employees who are starting or expanding their families.  

A request has been sent to the Department from NASCOE, asking for Paid Parental Leave to be granted to CO employees on October 1, just as it is for GS employees.  Again, this is historically how NASCOE has obtained other benefits such as annual leave and sick leave.  Additionally, while NASCOE fully expects USDA to grant this benefit to CO employees, we believe the exclusion of CO employees by Congress was an inadvertent oversight.  Therefore, NASCOE also intends to request Congress grant Paid Parental Leave as a benefit for all FSA CO employees. 

Rest assured, NASCOE leadership fully understands how important Paid Parental Leave, as well as all our existing benefits, are to each of you and we are committed to tirelessly fighting for them on your behalf, no matter how long it takes.  Obviously, we can’t do it alone and so we appreciate the support of membership as we work to ensure that you continue to have the same privileges that other GS employees enjoy. 

2020 NASCOE Convention Update

Greetings NASCOE Members,

As you are likely aware, the NASCOE Board of Directors recently met via conference call.  The sole item of business was to consider how we should move forward with the 2020 National Convention in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.  NASCOE finds itself in an unprecedented situation and the safety of our members and partners must be our number one concern.  Additionally, NASCOE also has an obligation to limit the potential liability to our association.  After much consideration, the Board of Directors voted to cancel the 2020 National Convention in Savannah, GA.  This decision was not taken lightly, and we want to personally thank all the individual Board members (two from each state) for their preparation, diligence, and careful weighing of the choices. 

NASCOE’s National Convention is primarily our annual business meeting.  While we won’t able to conduct that face-to-face this year, we still plan on having an annual meeting in some fashion.  Research has begun on alternatives to allow us to have a virtual meeting.  The alternatives would facilitate our elections, area breakouts, committee updates, and as many of the business functions of the convention as possible.  We’ll be engaging membership in how best to accomplish this and welcome your suggestions.

One can hardly count all the benefits that NASCOE brings, but fellowship and community are toward the top of the list.  We know that it is disappointing that we won’t be able to see each other, share stories and enjoy each other’s company.  However, these challenges won’t last forever and before you know it, we’ll all be together in Fort Wayne, IN for the 2021 convention.  We will also get to experience the hospitality of Georgia, as they will now host us in Savannah in 2022.

Thank you all for everything you do and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments.

Sincerely,

Rick Csutoras and Curt Houk
National Convention Co-Chairs

Urgent NASCOE Update – March 15, 2020

NASCOE has been in communication with management over Departmental directives which were issued to all FSA employees late Friday evening.

It has been confirmed that, unless prior leave arrangements have been made, FSA employees should report to work this week per approved and normal work schedules so they can review and be brought up to speed on the latest guidance.

NASCOE has, and will continue to express concerns of county office employees regarding this unprecedented situation to management.

URGENT Update Posted!

Task Force Volunteers Needed


One of the more important values that NASCOE provides to its membership, is the collection of input on processes that affect programs, customer service and working conditions.  As needed, management will engage NASCOE by asking for names of participants from the field, who can help provide a perspective on how policy might look. 

Previously, NASCOE has negotiated with management, through the NASCOE negotiations process, for the creation of a Shared Management Task force.  Recently, the national office has committed to improving resources available to shared management operations by preparing for the implementation phase of the negotiated task force.  This task force will take ideas from CED’s and PT’s in the field and help mold a model of guidance and available tools to assist shared management operations.  All ideas are on the table.

In addition to the Shared Management Task Force, the national office is preparing to create a County Committee (COC) Training task force.  This task force will be charged with improving the functionality of COC roles and responsibilities.  The group will assist in developing a training program for COC members so that they know and understand their very important everyday roles and responsibilities in program and human resource matters.  In addition to the creation of a COC training program, a similar effort will be launched to refresh State Committee training. 

Both Task forces are equally important, and both impact CO employees in the field.  To make these initiatives successful, NASCOE needs YOUR help.  NASCOE has been charged with finding a handful of good solid county office employees to help fill positions on both task forces.  If you think you can help out, we need you to tell us some information in a short, written format:

  • If you are a CED or a PT
  • The task force in which you would like to participate
  • What relevant experience and qualifications you have (pertinent to the task forces)
  • Why you are interested in participating -AND if you think you have solutions to make the effort succeed.

These duties will be on official time.  Travel may be possible but will probably be limited.  Participation will most likely be by teleconference and kept to a couple hours a week or several hours per month until the task is finished.  To participate you must have your CED or COC approval to participate.

The deadline to submit your name to participate is Sunday, March 15, 2020.  Entries and questions shall be emailed to the following address:  .  Task force positions will be limited, therefore NASCOE will be reviewing your written submissions to help decide who will be chosen to help-out.  Members who are not selected to be on the primary task force will still be engaged.  They will be included in a group that will provide input and ideas for the main task force.

I want to close by thanking you for your involvement in NASCOE.  Your membership creates wonderful opportunities for COF employees to participate in initiatives that improve customer service and make their workplace better.  NASCOE look forward to hearing from interested members who would like to lend a hand and help make processes better.

BREAKING NEWS FOR NASCOE’s MEMBERSHIP

We are hearing the White House is preparing to announce an agreement to temporarily end the shutdown. At this point, the House and Senate are expected to pass the proposal and send it directly to the President for his signature.

The rumor is a clean continuing resolution through February 15 or 28. This would allow President Trump to salvage a State of the Union appearance and allow federal workers to receive back pay.

NASCOE will be providing more details as we receive them.

NASCOE News Flash – January 24, 2019

Dennis Ray, NASCOE President

On January 22, 2019 the National Office held a teleconference with all Employee Associations in an effort to update them on Agency furlough activities to date. 

The call also included Q&A’s. 

Attached to this NASCOE News Flash are teleconference notes from the “All Employee Association Furlough Teleconference”

NOTES: 
The notes are not official agency policy / directive, but rather taken from handwritten contemporaneous notes created by a participant on the reference call.

Many of the items in this document were covered with the NASCOE State Association President’s on the January 23, 2019 call with the NASCOE Officers.


If there are any questions regarding the topics contained in this document, please contact your state association President. They will refer your questions or concerns to the NASCOE Officers through your Area Executives.

Furlough All Employee Association Conference Call notes (PDF)

All-Employee-Association-Meeting-01-22-2019

NASCOE News Flash – January 20, 2019

Dennis Ray, NASCOE President

Fellow NASCOE Members,

NASCOE leadership believes it is possible that all County Office Employees may be called back as “excepted” employees.  Excepted employees would be required to perform limited duties if approved by OMB and to work without pay until shutdown ends. The negative employee impacts that are the most concerning to NASCOE are the potential loss of unemployment benefits and the loss of the ability to utilize outside employment to make ends meet.

NASCOE fully understands that the negative impacts of the current agricultural economy are compounded by the additional loss of FSA benefits.  While NASCOE is sympathetic to the burdens our farmers face, NASCOE cannot support sacrificing the financial security of Farm Service Agency County Office Employees by subjecting them to a callback without pay.

As fellow employees, we are dealing with the same financial stress and fully understand the situations that employees are facing.  NASCOE is in constant communication with Administration leadership in an effort to discuss ways to minimize the impact on FSA employees.

NASCOE is deeply concerned that the callback could force some employees to leave the agency and force others to make the decision to retire. These actions will have a negative long-term impact on FSA’s ability to provide quality service to our producers when they need us the most. Trained, experienced and committed employees who leave the agency will not be easily replaced.

NASCOE has been very disappointed in the lack of clear direction and instructions from the very beginning of this historic furlough.  NASCOE has diligently made an effort to keep members up to date. Keep in mind this is not official notification.  As details continue to emerge, NASCOE will be sharing information with our membership as quickly as possible.  Please continue to look for email correspondence and website updates with the latest news from NASCOE.