As part of a continuing effort to build a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that meets the evolving needs of a 21st century agricultural economy, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack informed Congress On Feb. 27 that in 90 days he plans to approve consolidation of 131 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices with other USDA service centers, consistent with provisions of the 2008 farm bill.

Under the Blueprint for Stronger Service announced on Jan. 9, Vilsack laid out USDA's plans to modernize and accelerate service delivery, while improving the customer experience through use of innovative technologies and business solutions.

(For a look at the original proposal to streamline the USDA, visit http://southeastfarmpress.com/government/usda-close-259-offices-nationwide. After the initial announcement, FSA employees announced they were protesting the proposed office closings. For that story, click here).

The Blueprint included USDA's plan to close 259 domestic offices, facilities and labs, including the proposed closure of 131 FSA offices, and seven foreign offices.

Consistent with provisions of the 2008 farm bill, FSA held public meetings in every county in which an FSA office was proposed for consolidation. Members of the public were invited to make public comments at the meetings, and/or to submit comments in writing for up to 10 days following the public meeting.

All comments were reviewed and considered prior to the issuance of the Secretary's notification letters to Congress.

USDA followed two steps in identifying FSA offices to propose for closure.

First, USDA fulfilled its obligation under the 2008 farm bill to propose first for consolidation, to the maximum extent practicable, all offices that are located within 20 miles of another office, and which employ two or fewer permanent full-time employees.

In addition, FSA identified all offices that currently have zero employees, regardless of location.