WASHINGTON, January 11, 2012 -With Congress doling out roughly 12% fewer discretionary dollars for the last two years, USDA leaders have been looking for ways to take nips and tucks in their operating budgets ‑ cutting travel budgets, reducing publications, holding off on hiring and looking for operational efficiencies. But for the last few weeks, Secretary Vilsack has hinted that more major surgery would be required to position the agency as a lean, mean delivering machine for the future.

With a campaign-like style, the plan for saving about $150 million annually, dubbed the “Blueprint for Stronger Service,” was rolled out during a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation this week. Highlights from the “blueprint,” which will close 259 domestic offices, facilities and labs across the country, as well as seven foreign offices, are available here.

The National Farmers Union commended Vilsack for trying to conserve resources, while expressing disappointment with plans to close facilities and blaming Congress for spending cuts at USDA.

 “A ‘cut first, ask questions later’ attitude in Congress toward investing in agriculture and rural America is now showing its true cost to farmers, ranchers and rural citizens with these closures,” said NFU Vice President of Government Relations Chandler Goule.

Not surprisingly, FSA county officials, who would bear the brunt of the field changes, also expressed concern.

“Probably the one surprise that we’re finding as we sort through this is that it appears FSA offices are being targeted but some of our sister agencies don’t seem to have been subjected to the same process,” said John Lohr, president of the National Association of County Office Employees (NASCOE).  "It’s a little strange that one USDA agency might remain in a county and the other will close, and exactly how the savings will be realized.” Farm Service Agency Administrator Bruce Nelson has invited NASCOE leaders to Washington next Wednesday for a detailed briefing.

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman described Vilsack’s plan as a “good start at streamlining” and said some of the changes are likely long overdue.



Original story printed in January 11, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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