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.
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”
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)
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.
As we go into the weekend without a resolution to the shutdown, our legislative Consultant Hunter Moorhead, has provided an update on where the process is currently. You should be receiving that soon if you haven’t already.
NASCOE appreciates the answers shared by FSA leadership and the Business Center to questions we submitted last week as the shutdown began, however we know that many questions remain. While there isn’t much new information to pass on, we will try to share what we know.
- PP 26 pay status. Information provided last week indicated that PP 26 would process on schedule for the time the agency was funded. As of right now we have not received guidance on the logistics of how that will work.
- The FAQ document provided in the email from the Secretary’s Office has some good information. If you did not forward that to your home email, a copy of it will be posted to the NASCOE webpage.
- NASCOE will continue to monitor both congressional and departmental developments. Hopefully there will be more information to share soon.
- The NASCOE webpage is being updated to include links to the OPM webpage that contains information on the lapse in funding, including information on unemployment resources. Since each state is different NASCOE will provide the link from OPM as opposed to trying the provide specific answers.
- The NASCOE webpage is in the process of adding a page devoted to furlough and shutdown information. That should be done by the morning of January 5th and our publicity chair will send out an update when that page is live.
As we wait for further guidance, please continue to send your questions up through your state presidents and area execs. We will forward those questions to leadership for their review and response. As unusual as this shutdown has been, answers are difficult to come by. As mentioned above the NASCOE webpage will post all available information so please follow www.nascoe.org for the latest updates.
NASCOE 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.
If 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.
I 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.
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.