By now I hope everyone has had an opportunity to read Denise’s blog about her experience at the NASCOE SEA Rally in New Orleans, LA. She digitally recorded most of the speakers, and with their permission, has posted those recordings to the TASCOE website. I encourage you to take a look and any feedback or questions that you may have, please send those my way. This was my first time to experience New Orleans and I believe (actually I know) I returned toting a few extra pounds on the airplane (I’m not talking about souvenirs either.) The food was amazing as well as the fellowship with other NASCOE members from across the southeast. I would like to say a HUGE thank you to MACOE and LAPOE for planning an outstanding rally. Also, I want to say THANK YOU to all of you who purchased SEA Rally Raffle Tickets. Your contribution went a long way to insure that the SEA Rally was well funded. Unfortunately, no one from Tennessee took home the money.
The following paragraphs are a snapshot of the meeting and discussion we had with FSA leadership. In addition to the FSA leadership from Washington speaking, we heard some great words of encouragement from the Mississippi SED and Louisiana SED. It was especially refreshing to hear Louisiana SED, Craig McCain, speak. He began his FSA career in the county office, like us, and has made his way through the ranks to become SED. He truly has a passion for NASCOE, FSA and the customers we serve. Also, our very own Mike Mayfield made announcement while in New Orleans. He will be running for alternate Southeast Area Executive this year. I wish him the best of luck in his pursuit for his position.
Administrator Val Dolcini was unable to attend the rally as previously planned due to an illness in his family. Greg Diephouse, Deputy Administrator for Farm Operations, traveled in his place and reported on FSA happenings in D.C. and across the nation. He made 4 specific points about challenges that FSA is currently facing. First, Mr. Diephouse commented on the great job our county offices are doing providing customer service with limited resources. Just in the last few months, FSA has serviced over 1.8 million farms. In addition to the number of farms serviced, there are several other clients that our county offices service by providing information that may not be collected through our various programs software. The 2014 Farm Bill contained law that we are to provide/offer a Receipt for Service to all clients. The first phase of RFS has been initiated as we already know. RFS will demonstrate a more accurate number of the clients we service on a day to day basis in addition to the program numbers we already have. The clients could be requesting information about NRCS, RD, Farm Loans, Tennessee Department of Agriculture or UT Extension. It was stressed over and over by not only Mr. Diephouse, but also NASCOE leadership, the importance of RFS. As most of you may have seen by now, there has been a report generated showing how many RFS’s have been completed by each county office. This will continue to be observed even more closely as a new workload model is to be established. The new workload model is to be completed by September 2015 and then reviewed by a third party with recommendations submitted by the following September according to Mr. Diephouse.
The second challenge facing FSA is employee morale. Since 2013 there has been a 5% cut in our ceiling. This can really have a negative effect on the employee morale. Thankfully, for 2015, cash awards and spot awards were brought back. COFs are receiving new computers and monitors. “Happy employee = Happy Customer”, stated Mr. Diephouse. The third challenge he mentioned was Workforce Transition. He highly encouraged each state to have a succession plan in place. According to Mr. Diephouse, a state can advertise and fill positions above their current ceiling as long as they are back to their ceiling by the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2016. This is a tool that we may need to be taking advantage of here in Tennessee. The fourth and final challenge facing FSA is Modernization/Mission. We need to be able to justify our staff. This may be providing extra resources, sending customers to the correct agency and ACRSI. As discussed previously, RFS can help FSA paint a better picture of what is going on in the COF. ACRSI is the Acreage Crop Reporting Streamline Initiative. This will give producers an opportunity to report their crops to the agency of their choice. FSA is the agency of records and NASCOE feels that when given a choice, producers will choose to report their crops to FSA as long as FSA has the resources.
Mark Rucker, FSA Deputy Administrator for Management, spoke briefly about his job duties and responsibilities. He reminded everyone that he is not a political appointee so he will be here long after the political appointees are gone. Leasing was mentioned during the question/answer session. He said he realized our needs in the COF were different so please send him the waivers and he will sign off on them as long as they are reasonable. Mark is also the chair of the Space Utilization Council. There was a lot of concern expressed about the ability or lack of ability of ARS/WebTA data in determining staffing levels. An example was given of a Mississippi County with a heavy workload and only 2 employees on staff. The 2 employees have been getting the job done, however they have had much help from other county office employees being temporarily detailed to their office. The efficiency of the office is deceiving due to the detailed employees’ ARS data being collected and directed back to their official duty station and not the office where they are detailed. ARS data will show that the 2 person office is getting the job done with fewer employees due to this discrepancy.
Kim Graham, Assistant Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs, spoke about the new programs implemented with the 2014 Farm Bill. She mentioned a taskforce reviewing the regulations of the FSFL program and forth-coming changes. Specifically, the Agency would like to reduce paperwork and streamline the loan making process for loans less than $50,000, as well as add portable handling and drying equipment. The second phase of ARCPLC training will be web based and not face to face.
There were several more items discussed I know I am failing to mention. Again, please take a look at those videos posted by Denise. They can be viewed from the TASCOE website at www.tascoe.com . There you can get the real story. In conclusion, don’t forget to mark your calendars for TASCOE Convention, which will be held at the Downtown Marriott in Chattanooga September 17-19. TASCOE Convention is a great opportunity to visit with colleagues from across the state, learn more about what NASCOE and TASCOE are doing for you, and hear comments from our Tennessee FSA Leadership. Of course there are always folks there to assist you in preparing for retirement as well. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to give me a call or email. My personal email address is email@example.com and my cell number is (731)-695-1333. I look forward to seeing everyone in September!
Clint H. Bain