Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made a bold move this week when he recognized that USDA, like families and businesses across the country, cannot continue to operate like it did 50 years ago. In doing so, he announced extensive plans to streamline operations and cut costs across the agency’s departments.
Vilsack announced a reallocation of USDA facilities and resources in light of the government’s budget challenges. Since 2010, Congress has reduced USDA’s discretionary operating budget by more than $3 billion – a roughly 12% cut.
That includes a workforce decrease of more than 7,000 employees, streamlining of services and the consolidation and closing of 259 USDA domestic offices, facilities and labs across the country, as well as seven foreign offices. In some cases, offices are no longer staffed or have a very small staff of one or two people.
“We must innovate, modernize and be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Vilsack said. The secretary assured that in an era of reduced budgets, farmers will not see reduced services.
Of those offices, 131 are Farm Service Agency offices, Vilsack said. Of those, 35 already had no staffing and the remainder had either one or two employees and all were within 20 miles of another FSA office capable of handling farmer and rancher clients. In other cases, technology improvements, advanced service centers, and broadband service have reduced some need for brick and mortar facilities, the agency said.
Vilsack said initially 4,441 employees retired on their own or took advantage of the early out programs. USDSA reinstituted the program again on a broader basis in this fiscal year, and since then another 2,529 employees elected to take advantage of the retirement opportunities. This brings the total to nearly 7,000 people in the last 15 months and “that number is sure to grow as this year progresses,” he added.
Vilsack said the Blueprint for Stronger Service is based on a Department-wide review of operations conducted as part of the Administration's Campaign to Cut Waste.
When fully implemented, these actions along with other recommended changes will provide efficiencies valued at about $150 million annually-and eventually more based on future realignment of the workforce-and will ensure that USDA continues to provide optimal service to the American people within available funding levels. These actions and plans to close or consolidate facility, office and lab operations will impact USDA headquarters in Washington and in 46 states and 1 U.S. territory.
- Farm Service Agency (FSA): Consolidate 131 county offices in 32 states; more than 2,100 FSA offices remain throughout the United States
- Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS): Close 2 country offices; more than 95 FAS offices remain throughout the world
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): Close 15 APHIS offices in 11 states and 5 APHIS offices in 5 foreign countries; more than 560 APHIS offices remain throughout the United States and 55 remain throughout the world
- Rural Development (RD): Close 43 area and sub offices in 17 states and U.S. territories; approximately 450 RD offices remain throughout the United States
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): Close 24 soil survey offices in 21 states; more than 2,800 NRCS offices remain throughout the United States
- Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): Close 5 district offices in 5 states; 10 district offices remain throughout the United States
- Agricultural Research Service (ARS): Close 12 programs at 10 locations; more than 240 programs remain throughout the United States
- Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (FNCS): Close 31 field offices in 28 states; 32 FNCS offices will remain throughout the United States
Vilsack said Congress also made deep cuts in Departmental Management and the staff offices that provide support for staff in the mission areas, such as the Chief Economist and General Counsel’s office. Their appropriation was cut by about 18% this year alone, he told attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting Jan. 9.
In addition, USDA is implementing a series of other changes that will save taxpayers' money while eliminating redundancies and inefficiencies. The Blueprint for Stronger Service details 133 recommendations that affirm processes already in place, as well as 27 initial improvements, and other, longer-term improvements.
The initial improvements include the following:
- Consolidate more than 700 cell phone plans into about 10;
- Standardize civil rights training and purchases of cyber security products; and
- Ensure more efficient and effective service to our employees by moving toward more centralized civil rights, human resource, procurement, and property management functions, creating millions of dollars in efficiencies without sacrificing the quality of our work.
Detailed fact sheets on the Blueprint for Stronger Service can be found here, by USDA Mission Area: Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS); Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS); Food Safety; Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP); Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE); Research, Education and Economics (REE); and Rural Development. For more, please visit www.usda.gov/strongerservice.
Tell us what you think: do you think the change will greatly impact USDA’s ability to serve you?