Various members of the farm community at first weren't quite sure what to make of a news report two weeks ago that stated that part of U.S.D.A.'s future plans for the Farm Service Agency, called "F.S.A. Tomorrow", included the consolidation and or closure of as many as 665 county F.S.A. offices. "F.S.A. Tomorrow" is designed to make the agency more efficient financially and service wise, through improved technologies and services. Part of that effort stems from pressure on F.S.A. and U.S.D.A. by the Office of Management and Budget to trim costs and become more efficient, so says ag insiders like Mary Kay Thatcher of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
THATCHER: The F.S.A. budget per se has been under pressure for a long time. And I think they do have to look at whether or not the brick and mortar, and the personnel, where the personnel is located, is the right way to spend this money.
However, U.S.D.A. officials said after the initial report broke that office consolidation and or closure was not necessary under consideration at this point. But that stance seemed to change when state F.S.A. Executive Directors came to Washington D.C. last week for a briefing on the shape of "F.S.A. Tomorrow", and as U.S.D.A. officials began briefing Congressional leaders about the plan. Under "F.S.A. Tomorrow", there will be consolidations and closures, up from the previously reported number to well over 700 local and county F.S.A. offices. Only six states are protected from potential county office consolidation and closure, but none of those immune are from the Pacific Northwest. So what has been or is expected to be the chain reaction to this announcement? Well, first, under the premise that U.S.D.A. continues forward with the consolidation / closure aspect of "F.S.A. Tomorrow", the burden of deciding which offices would be affected falls on the Executive Directors of each F.S.A. state office. But Thatcher says that U.S.D.A. leaders most likely set some guidelines to aid state officials in their determinations.
THATCHER: They certainly have data that show for example, for every dollar of benefits you put out, how many dollar of administrative costs are there. And they'll give them those kinds of ideas, as well as mileage. They tell us they have some county offices that are as close together as six miles apart. And so, to look at some of that kind of data and say "Does this really make sense?" Or will farmers be better served if you had more staff in one office within a reasonable driving distance.
And U.S.D.A. has given state F.S.A. offices forty-five days to submit plans for consolidation and closures. In our next program, a continued look at reactions, from F.S.A. staffers to members of Congress.