Senate Ag Committee Chair Saxby Chambliss of Georgia told U.S.D.A. thank you, after the agency announced it would postpone implementing the timetable and approach of streamlining the Farm Service Agency. The plan announced last month drew considerable criticism from both several farm state lawmakers like Chambliss as well as several ground level ag producers. The main concern was the proposed consolidation and or closure of over seven hundred F.S.A. local offices across the country. U.S.D.A. Under Secretary J.B. Penn's letter to Chambliss states that while the "F.S.A. Tomorrow" plan was put on hold, dialogue between potential stakeholders and comprehensive review on how best to streamline and improve service at F.S.A. local offices needed to continue. That was a point emphasized at a recent Farm Bill Forum by another U.S.D.A. Under Secretary, Chuck Connor.
CONNER: If you are a high cost office, and you're within twenty miles of another office, let's look at this office and see what the economics are. Not that we're going to close it, but let's look at it. If it's one of those offices where it costs two dollars to deliver one dollar's worth of benefits, we owe it to the taxpayers of this country to at least review it.
Penn cited numbers in his letter to Chambliss for the need to consider modernizing the way F.S.A. does business. Penn notes nearly 500 local offices are within twenty miles of the next nearest office. Over one-thousand F.S.A. local offices have three or fewer employees on staff, and more than 400 offices have two or fewer full time staff. Now no one has argued the need for F.S.A. to increase its ability to serve its customers, or to modernize in the form of advanced technologies like state of the art computer hardware and software. But as U.S.D.A. Press Secretary Ed Loyd points out, that the best way to determine how best to streamline the Farm Service Agency and meet U.S.D.A. goals, is to reach consensus.
LOYD: We are going to continue to work with all the stakeholders involved. People from local officials, farm and commodity groups, Congressional delegations, to make sure that we are going to be able to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers and better serve them.
There are still concerns that even after the dialoging and attempts at consensus building, the agency will try to reintroduce the plan. That is why some opponents of local office closures, like Missouri Senator Jim Talent, plan to keep legislation in play that would prevent F.S.A. office closures without Congressional consultation.