What is in this article?:
• The USDA will close 259 domestic offices, facilities and labs across the country, as well as seven foreign offices.
• In some cases, offices are no longer staffed or have a very small staff of one or two people; many are within 20 miles of other USDA offices.
• In other cases, technology improvements, advanced service centers, and broadband service have reduced some need for brick and mortar facilities.
Facing a shrinking budget, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has outlined moves — including the closure of 259 offices, facilities and labsunder the USDA umbrella — to save some $150 million annually.
Some of the closings have been announced previously.
The shuttering of the USDA offices, made under a plan titled “A Blueprint for Stronger Service,” was unveiled in Hawaii during a Jan. 9 speech that Vilsack delivered at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 93rd annual meeting. He told the assembly that since 2010, Congress has reduced USDA discretionary spending by nearly 12 percent, or more than $3 billion.
A map showing where USDA offices will be closed can be seen at http://usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=impacted_offices.html.
As a result, “some agencies were reduced more than others. Agencies facing steep cuts, specifically in their salaries and expense line item that fund personnel, included the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agricultural Research Service and the Food and Nutrition Service.”
To read Vilsack’s prepared AFBF remarks, see http://content.govdelivery.com/bulletins/gd/USDAOC-2517ea.
In a blog post (see http://blogs.usda.gov/2012/01/09/a-blueprint-for-stronger-service/), Vilsack pointed to measures already taken in some USDA offices including hiring controls and early separation programs. “These efforts, when coupled with regular retirement, meant nearly 7,000 employees have retired from USDA over the past 15 months.”
Further, “A Blueprint for Stronger Service” lists 133 recommendations that affirm processes already in place, as well as 27 initial improvements, and others aimed at longer-term improvements. The initial recommendations include the following:
• Consolidate more than 700 cell phone plans into about 10.
• Standardize civil rights training and purchases of cyber security products.
• Ensure more efficient and effective service to our employees by moving toward more centralized civil rights, human resource, procurement, and property management functions, creating millions of dollars in efficiencies without sacrificing the quality of our work.”