Monday, February 06, 2006

Bush's Budget Proposal for Farm Service Agency

Budget of the United States Government, FY 2007:
"Improving the Effectiveness of Providing Support to Farmers

The Department's Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers farm programs and services through one of the Federal Government’s largest and most decentralized field office structures. This arrangement, which remains largely unchanged today, dates back to the 1930s when communication and transportation systems were limited by geographic boundaries. FSA currently has 2,351 county offices across the country, of which nearly 500 are within 20 miles of the next nearest office. Over 1,000 of these offices are staffed by three or fewer employees.

This outdated office structure is inefficient and must be streamlined to realign benefits and services with a rural America that has changed dramatically since the early part of the 20th Century. Today, the number of farmers has declined sharply and computers, modern telecommunications and transportation systems have increased farmers’ access to information and assistance without ever visiting a USDA field office.

To streamline operations, FSA must consolidate offices and invest in information technology tools to improve business operations and service delivery to farmers. Before investment in modern information technology is made, the agency will work with stakeholders to close and consolidate offices, where appropriate, and ensure that future investments are made prudently and in a manner that ensures taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely. The Budget fully funds the agency’s staffing needs while targeting these resources to the agency’s more efficient offices, and includes funding to modernize FSA’s outdated computer systems."

The background is that the administration floated a proposal to close field offices last year which very quickly got shot down. They're now promising to work with Congress on the issue.


Anonymous said...

I once knew a man who suggested that the FSA go to local coffee shops and other spots that customers frequented to enroll them in government programs.

At the time, it sounded different and presented many obstacles. However, in the budget climate of today it becomes plausible and probably makes good business sense in some areas. The other contributing factor to the success of this idea is the internet.

I think the FSA could close some offices, achieve savings, and make some employees contract employees paid by each producer they serviced. This would probably represent a large savings to the USDA.

UPS drivers used to be required to bid on a specific route. In other words, they told UPS what they felt their minimum amount of payment would be for a specific route or a specific group of customers.

Maybe FSA should think about the same policy and close several of the smaller offices.

Bill Harshaw said...

I've mixed feelings. Having spent years at ASCS/FSA I hate to see the agency decline. On the other hand, efficiency would say that offices should close and business should shift to the Internet. Contracting out is also conceivable. But closing offices also hastens the decline of the rural economy.