U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA), along with U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), last week introduced legislation that would prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture from closing any Farm Service Agency offices until the completion of proper county workload assessments.
The bill, called the "Farm Service Accountability Act," would prohibit the closure or relocation of offices with a high workload volume. In January, the USDA announced – as part of a consolidation plan – it would be closing 131 FSA offices throughout the country. In addition to evaluating county workloads, the FSA Act would require the two employee provision to apply when the 2008 Farm Bill was originally enacted in May 2008 to reflect normal levels of employment, not post retirements and workforce caps.
Tough decisions must be made, but they should be fair and prudent
"While we recognize tough decisions have to be made due to funding levels established by the last Farm Bill, I also believe we must arrive at those decisions in a fair and prudent manner to minimize the negative impact on our producers. The USDA's approach to deciding which offices to close was flawed because the year prior the Department had implemented an early retirement plan and offices were under a hiring freeze, therefore staffing levels for many offices were below normal," Boswell said. "I believe that any decision to close these offices must include an assessment of county workload to ensure that the needs of our producers are met and our conservation goals are maintained."
"Farm Service Offices provides American producers with the services they need to produce the safest, most abundant and affordable food on the planet. We all know that Washington is trying to do more with less these days. However, we must ensure that decisions coming from Washington do not cripple our family farmers," Crawford said. "The Farm Service Accountability Act will make sure that offices with high workloads are not closed. The USDA must recognize the producers' needs and take workload into consideration before any FSA office is closed."
- The FSA Act would make the following changes to the 2008 Farm Bill:
- Require a workload assessment be included and provided to the public before any FSA county office closures take place
- Require that the two employee provision to be determined by the number of employees as of June 16, 2008
- Require that the same comment period, and reporting to counties and Congress take place before any closure or relocation happens after a work load assessment is completed. Text of the bill can be read here.