If U.S.D.A. is allowed to implement its "Farm Service Agency Tomorrow" plan accordingly, then by early to mid November, state F.S.A. offices will have submitted plans for the consolidation and or closure of well over 700 local and county F.S.A. offices. That directive comes from U.S.D.A., and, indirectly, through the Bush Administration's Office of Management and Budget. The purpose of "F.S.A. Tomorrow" is improving efficiency within the agency. And according to F.S.A. Associate Administrator Mike Yost, the proposed closures are overshadowing the real need to make the Farm Service Agency more service oriented and cost efficient. How cost efficient? To the tune of savings of around several million dollars according to Yost.
YOST: We have to get the plans back from the states, but our estimates are roughly in the fifty million dollar a year category. And I believe we want to reinvest that money into technology, better training, better equipment for our employees.
But the news has left a negative taste in the mouth of some F.S.A. employees. Some like Dan Root of the National Association of F.S.A. employees says morale is already down in some offices as a result of the news. And it was not helped by the announced timing of Jim Little's resignation as Federal F.S.A. Director the same weekend as "F.S.A. Tomorrow" was rolled out to state F.S.A. leaders. No one knows if the events are related, but Root says it has fueled the water cooler talk at F.S.A. offices.
ROOT: And there's a lot of rumors going around. There's some budgetary concerns, Congressional leaders that I deal with and talk to, concerns of mismanagement. Again, I don't know the reason behind it for sure but there's just a lot of rumors going around about why he resigned or if he was asked to leave.
But "F.S.A. Tomorrow" faces a tough battle in Congress, where many farm state legislators are not only upset that several F.S.A. offices in their respective states face closure, but with U.S.D.A. failing to gather public input first before rolling out the plan. That led Missouri Senator Jim Talent to successfully introduce an amendment to the 2006 Senate Ag Appropriations Bill. That measure requires U.S.D.A. to go through a process of closure impact analysis, consultation with F.S.A. local offices, and reporting to Congress before any county offices are closed.
TALENT: This was a classic Washington exercise that they were engaged in, where they decided that they wanted to save some money and so they basically came up with a plan and they were just going to tell everybody what they were going to have to do and they didn't talk to anybody and so we just said "Well, no, you can't do that. So I think that will be the end of that process".