"FSA of Tomorrow," the Farm Service Agency's plan to consolidate 30% of it's local offices is receiving criticism. In an effort to open up the dialogue on how to best modernize the Agency, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is calling on state and congressional leaders to discuss alternatives.
Johanns says FSA state directors are engaging stakeholders, local, and state congressional leaders to develop proposals that will help us chart the course for the agency's future. "My hope is that we can agree on a plan that will make it possible to invest in equipment, technology and our employees," Johanns says.
The FSA dates back to the 1930s when one in four Americans lived on a farm and it was necessary to maintain a presence in virtually every rural county to administer farm payments. Agriculture and rural America
have changed dramatically since that time, as have farm programs, while the structure of FSA has undergone fewer dramatic changes.
While many farmers are equipped to conduct business via the Internet, FSA technologies do not fully support Web-based services.
Nationally, the agency has 2,351 county offices across the country. More than 400 of these offices now have two or fewer full-time staff. Nearly 500 offices are within 20 miles of the next nearest office. And, the cost of delivering services varies widely, ranging from less than 1 cent for the delivery of a dollar of program benefits to more than $2 in expenses for every dollar of benefits delivered.
FSA state executive directors are currently reviewing analytical information for their respective states. This data includes workload assessments for each office, location of offices in proximity to one another, farm lending volume and density of agricultural activity. The state executive directors will work with stakeholders, local, state and congressional leaders to consider local needs that might not be reflected in the data and submit consolidation proposals by November 15.
The ultimate goal of the modernization proposal is to create a network of state-of the-art FSA offices by upgrading equipment, investing in technology and providing personnel with additional training. Minimal, if any, net reductions in personnel are anticipated.