NASCOE News Flash 3/21/2018

NASCOE will be heading to Washington DC the first week of April to conduct our annual negotiation session. The negotiation team has been preparing to present and negotiate the items submitted by membership. For those unfamiliar, suggestions on how to improve efficiency, improve working conditions or improve service to our producers are submitted by membership through the online submission form located on the NASCOE webpage. Those suggestions are vetted and then sent to management for consideration. The negotiations team which is comprised of the officers, the area execs and area negotiation consultants, then meet face to face with management to negotiate the item. To ensure equal representation from the areas, negotiation consultants must be a PT if the area exec is a CED and vice versa. All members are encouraged to participate in the negotiation process by submitting items for review.

NASCOE has received a few questions regarding the comment during the town hall regarding the one to ten ratio for supervisors and employees. This has been the standard touted by OPM for the federal workforce for the past several years. It is important to keep in mind the goal is to average one supervisor for every ten employees across the agency, not that every supervisor must have ten employees. It is very likely you will see this standard used while standing up the business center and in areas of the mission area where possible. NASCOE will continue to monitor this and other areas of concern as we move forward.

In addition to the negotiating with management, NASCOE will also participate in an all association meeting on Wednesday, April 4th. We will have the opportunity to see and visit with leaders from the agency, department and FPAC. This will give us the opportunity to follow up on some of the information that was provided in the recent town hall meeting. An update will be provided to the membership soon after the meetings.

The following is a legislative report from our consultant Hunter Moorhead.

“All – I hope this note finds you well. I want to update NASCOE’s membership on two important legislative initiatives, the omnibus appropriations measure and Farm Bill. The current continuing resolution is set to expire on March 23. We expect the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will soon wrap-up negotiations and meet the current deadline. This legislation will fund the government through fiscal year 2018. The Congress recently agreed to new spending limitations (caps) that should allow for adequate FSA salaries and expenses funding. We continue to urge Secretary Perdue to make available any additional funds for hiring county office staff. When finalized, we will share information about the final package.

“The other important legislative issue is reauthorization of the 2014 Farm Bill. While I expected the House Agriculture Committee this week to release draft legislative language, our contacts tell us it will likely be the middle of April. A group of Democratic House members have raised concerns with any effort to limit Food Stamp benefits. The other challenge for Chairman Michael Conaway is securing House floor debate time. On the Senate side, the negotiations are slowly moving forward, and any draft bill will follow action by the House of Representatives. We will continue to monitor the Farm Bill process and share any legislative information.”

NEA Rally Reports

Please read the reports that were presented at the May 2017 NEA Rally.  The Rally was held in Wareham, MA.

Benefits Report

Legislative Report

Membership Report

NAFEC Report

Negotiation Report

Programs Report

Publicity Report

NEA Executive Rick Csutoras wants to send a big thank you to everyone who attended the NEA Rally this weekend:

I really appreciated your patience with our “fluid” agenda 😉  I also want to appreciate and congratulate all the Massachusetts folks who worked so hard to pull this off.  I have already received several compliments on the amazing job you did!!  

I also want to thank all of our area chairs who put these reports together and who work so hard all year round.  NASCOE couldn’t be as successful as we are without folks like you.  

NASCOE Legislative Outreach

PACOE President Dan Smeal encourages you to follow updates on the proposed 2018 federal budget as things develop in the next several weeks and months. NASCOE has been sending out updates to members who have signed up for emails.  This information is not going to be posted to the websites.  If you are a member and you are not getting such emails, please contact your PACOE representative to see about getting added to the email list.

NEA Executive Rick Csutoras has shared a legislative outreach packet with state presidents.  The information in the packet is shared here:

Good Evening NEA Presidents,
Many of you have heard that the President released his blueprint for the 2018 budget this morning.  Among many other things, this plan called for the reduction of staffing in USDA Service Centers.  There are two important things I want you to be aware of:
First, Don’t Panic.  This is very early in the budget process.  President’s budget proposals rarely resemble the final budgets that get passed.  We’ve already seen responses from the heads of the agricultural committees indicating they will be making adjustments.  If you haven’t already done so, take a few minutes to review the statement from Hunter that was sent to all membership this morning.  I included it below in case you didn’t haven’t seen it.
Second, this is a great reminder of how important it is to reach out to our legislators and explain who we are and what we do.  Budget cuts are a very real possibility, but we need to continue to share how agriculture in general and FSA in specific has already shouldered reductions.  
NASCOE has put together a package to help you and your membership outreach to local legislators.  I urge you to use these tools and work with your state legislative chairs and our NEA Legislative Chair, Larry Parker, to share our mission and the vital work we do here at FSA for our farmers and ranchers.  Education is the key, because I firmly believe that anybody who understands how much we do with the limited resources we have will want to support us.
Time is of the essence.  If possible, please start this immediately with a goal of having made significant progress by April 4th.  This is when NASCOE will be in Washington DC and be in a position to follow up on the groundwork that you began to lay.
Unfortunately I will be out of the country for the next couple of weeks and unavailable to reply to any concerns or questions you may have.  However, I’m confident that Larry will be a great resource for you in my stead.
Thank you in advance!
Rick Csutoras
NASCOE NE Area Executive
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At the 2016 NASCOE Leadership/Legislative Conference in Washington DC, nearly every state sent members who received training on the importance of congressional outreach and information that can be used to conduct stakeholder outreach. In addition, attendees put their training into practice with congressional visits on the Hill. Following the 2016 elections, there have been many congressional changes which create new opportunities to build relationships on the local level and build our grassroots coalitions in preparation of transitioning to the new agenda of our current administration. Our legislative initiatives will be designed to be proactive, rather than reactive, and will be designed with a futuristic vision.

In the Midwest Area, Area Executive Chris Hare began a program to put that exact process into action. The NASCOE President has directed the Legislative Co-Chairs to expand this program nationwide through the Executive Committee.

Below is an action plan that each area executive should implement and share within his/her respective area. The only way this plan will be successful is if each area takes ownership of responsibility and follows through. We must inform and engage our members at the grassroots level. This initiative will take every level of leadership, with state presidents and state legislative chairpersons being key players at the local level of accountability. The National Legislative Co-Chairs will be monitoring this process and giving regular and frequent updates to the NASCOE President and Vice-President. This is a very important initiative and we are committed to seeing it through. We simply cannot wait until we are facing a legislative crisis to start building our coalitions. Again, our focus is to be proactive; not reactive.

Plan of Action

Phase 1
(action required by national legislative chairs, area executives, state presidents and state legislative chairs):

Step 1:             The Legislative Co-Chairpersons will send a legislative coalition project package to all area executives. This package will contain: 1) cover letter, 2) data collection spreadsheet for each state (completion instructions provided on each spreadsheet), 3) NASCOE introduction white paper, and 4) business card template.

Step 2:             The area executive will then forward the packages to each of the states in his/her respective areas. Each area executive will follow up with the state president and state legislative chairperson to make sure the packages were received.

Step 3:             State presidents and state legislative chairpersons will review and verify the congressional office holder listing and update if necessary. After verifying the state listing, the state president and state legislative chairperson will make assignments to complete the contact information on the spreadsheet, identify any key agriculture/appropriations committee assignments, determine office contact (staffer) for agriculture-related issues, and identify (provide name and contact information) any NASCOE or County Committee person who has a direct relationship with the congressional member or staffer.

Step 4:             The persons assigned these tasks will complete the spreadsheet, make a personal contact with the congressional office (personal visit is preferred, but telephone call at the minimum) to gather further contact information, deliver the cover letter, NASCOE introduction white paper, and a business card from the NASCOE member.

Step 5:             The assigned member will then report to the state president and state legislative chairperson who will be responsible for completing the state’s spreadsheet information and submitting the state’s response to the area executive.

Phase 2:

(action required by area executives, national legislative chairperson(s), and area legislative chairpersons)

When the area database is complete, the states have made personal contacts (either by personal visit or telephone call), and delivered the printed materials (either in person, by mail, or by email), the area executive will submit the completed area spreadsheet to his/her area legislative chairperson and the national legislative chairperson(s). Area executives should not submit individual state spreadsheets. Rather, the area executive should compile all the state responses into the area spreadsheet and send only the completed area spreadsheet.

The national and area legislative committee chairpersons will file this information so that it is readily accessible when needed. On an annual basis, or as requested, the area legislative chairpersons will distribute this database to state presidents and state legislative chairpersons to review and update any congressional changes, local office changes, and NASCOE member contact changes. To ensure maintenance accountability, the legislative committee will routinely discuss each areas participation in maintaining the database on the committee’s monthly conference call.

Phase 3:

(action required by area executives, area legislative chairpersons, NASCOE President, and national legislative chairperson(s))

Each area executive and area legislative chairperson should report the results to the NASCOE President and legislative co-chairpersons who will forward any outstanding issues or pertinent information to NASCOE’s legislative consultant, as necessary. Additionally, the area executive shall identify any problems with obtaining information necessary to complete and maintain the spreadsheet. This process should be repeated on an annual basis, or as-needed when specific legislative activities require such.

Responsibilities

NASCOE Legislative Chairperson(s):

Provide an official and uniform spreadsheet template to collect the database information.
Provide the white paper and template for a personal letter that can be sent along with the white paper.
During monthly legislative team conference calls, discuss database progress, maintenance and accountability.
Follow up with NASCOE president, vice-President, and area executives on the progress.
Forward outstanding issues or pertinent information to NASCOE legislative consultant.

Area Executive:

Ensure each state submits the requested information timely.
Follow up as necessary.
Ensure area legislative chairpersons are keeping the spreadsheet updated.
Hold states accountable for following through with their responsibilities.
Delegate none, part of, or all of this process to alternate area executive to allow them to build relationships with state leaders and gain experience delegating and following up on issues. Even if delegated, the area executive will maintain accountability for this process.
Lead by example. If you are not getting support within a state, find a past leader of the state willing to assist with the process. Take ownership and require accountability from states within your area.
Follow up when you are not getting results. This process utilizes area executives rather than area legislative chairpersons to ensure accountability.

State President and State Legislative Chairperson:

Assign members, directors, or officers within congressional districts to gather information for database template and make it a priority to build grassroots personal relationships with members of congress and key staffers that deal with agricultural and/or appropriations issues.
Ensure all contact information is collected and forwarded to the area executive as quickly as possible.
Ensure all local congressional offices are visited by a NASCOE member. If this is not possible, the next option is to contact the office by personal telephone call and ask to speak with the member, or staffer assigned agricultural issues, and provide the contact with a general and brief overview of NASCOE. It will be important to follow up office visits and telephone calls by mailing a copy of the white paper along with a personalized letter of appreciation for visit or telephone conversation. During the visit or telephone call, the member’s or staffer’s contact information should be collected.
Follow up when changes occur within your state.
Complete this process on an annual basis.
Lead by example! If you are not getting support within your state, take charge of the process and train your state legislative chairperson to own this process. Find past state leaders who are willing to assist with in your state. Be determined to make this initiative work.

Legislative Area Chairperson:

Update and maintain the database.
Follow up with states as needed.
Ensure that your area executive and national legislative co-chairpersons are cc’d on all communications.
If area executives are not holding their states accountable for completing, updating, and maintaining the database, or building local coalitions, report deficiencies to the national legislative co-chairpersons who will direct these issues to the NASCOE President.

NASCOE President’s December Report to Memebers

NASCOE
President’s Report
December 18, 2016

I hope everybody is getting ready for the holiday season and has big plans to enjoy your family and friends during this time. Even as busy as it has been all across the country, we all have a lot to be thankful for. I wanted to address some concerns and thoughts that have been shared with NASCOE lately.

Many of you are anxious about the transition to a new President of the United States of America, his administration, and how it will impact FSA and the membership of NASCOE. We have read about the proposed hiring freeze and the uncertainty this creates for membership. First of all, we will probably learn more about this proposal and other changes as we get closer to the Inauguration and our new President takes office. We have all heard there will be a hiring freeze but we don’t know if that will allow us to continue to fill from within or not. For example if we have CED openings and COTs on board, can we fill those vacancies? We also don’t know if we will actually have a hiring freeze – we just know what we have read. Most of the information we can obtain doesn’t seem to indicate a hiring freeze would be long term. NASCOE’s legislative Consultant, Hunter Moorhead, has been working hard and will continue to keep us informed.  His “Legislative Update” was sent out recently, and I encourage you to read through that on the NASCOE website’s homepage if you have not already.

Membership has also inquired about changes to our retirement system and TSP. NASCOE will continue, as we always have, to monitor these benefits and will keep you updated. Most of these types of things would take congressional action and have been discussed previously without a lot of traction. Some of the conversations have addressed changes for new hires and we will stay on top of all these things. Again, having Hunter is a great advantage. He is watching, and will keep us updated on any proposed changes that will affect our membership and FSA employees in general.  

Over the past two years, NASCOE’s leadership has worked aggressively to build relationships with both the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees. With the election behind us, these relationships will be important as we collectively monitor the new Administration’s legislative and regulatory proposals. Following January 20, we will start to learn more about the pathway forward. Our team can guarantee membership that we are prepared for all proposals and view the new Administration as an opportunity to improve our working environment. We feel strongly about the importance of our customer service function, and believe Members of the House and Senate are prepared to assist us throughout the process.

Most of the concerns we are hearing will become clearer in the next few months. I want to reassure you that your NASCOE Executive Committee is doing all we can to stay on top of these and many other issues. As we learn more, we will do all we can to share the information we gain with all of NASCOE. Please let us hear from you! All of your issues and concerns are important to us and our membership. You can send your issues directly to us, or go through your State Association Presidents and they will forward it to your National Leadership Team through the Area Executive Committee Persons. 

At this point, as we move into the transition and New Year, let’s remain positive and continue to accomplish our main goals and mission, which is to serve the greatest farmers and ranchers in the world. One thing I know that we can be sure of, is that there has never been a more important time to be a member of NASCOE.  I hope every one of you has a Merry Christmas and the best New Year ever!!!

Respectfully Submitted by,
Wes Daniels
NASCOE President

NASCOE Legislative Update

Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE’s Legislative Consultant has provided us with an update regarding some current legislative impacts and Wes and Dennis have asked us to share with our membership. Below are Hunter’s remarks:

“Good afternoon – Please accept this informal email as an update on both the legislative outlook and the Trump transition process.

Legislative Outlook – The House and Senate are working aggressively to pass two or three important bills before adjourning. The 114th Congress is likely to expire Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Before hitting the doors, Congress will likely pass the Continuing Resolution which will fund the government through April 28, 2017. The level for FSA and FSA programs will continue at current levels. At this point, the Congress is expected to redraft/complete the drafted fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills. In my opinion, that will be difficult considering the new President and new agenda for 2017. The National Defense Authorization bill and Water Resources Development bill will likely be the only significant pieces of legislation reaching this President’s desk before adjournment.

In regard to our interest, the Continuing Resolution includes our FSA specific policy riders and adequately funds the agency. The bill doesn’t include any additional funding/Farm Bill implementation funding to extend or hire temporary workers.

Trump Transition – We are all doing our best to monitor the Trump transition process for all positions within the Executive branch. At this point, it is difficult to determine who will become the Secretary of Agriculture, much less any policy proposals that may impact employees or farm programs. Remember, President-elect Trump’s inauguration will not occur until the end of January. At that point, the Administration will likely move quickly to address burdensome government regulations and repeal Obamacare or the ACA Health Care law. In addition, the Administration and Congress will quickly focus on overhauling the tax code. I’m hopeful that you all understand the timelines and know that nobody has the answers regarding Trump’s policy proposals. Most news articles are based on press comments and twitter feeds that come and go.

Who will be the Secretary of Agriculture? If anybody tells you they know, they are lying unless you hear it directly from the incoming President or Vice President. Remember, it could certainly be a person who has not been mentioned. This transition team is using decoys to shield actual candidates.

Hunter”

We will continue to keep you updated as things in the legislative arena develop.

Thank you,
Jackson Jones, Legislative Committee Co-Chairperson
Donny Green, Legislative Committee Co-Chairperson

Congressional leadership and the President reach budget agreement

Legislative Update from Hunter Moorhead
Provided by NASCOE
October 28, 2015

Congressional leadership and President Obama have reached an agreement regarding the statutory budget caps and increasing the debt limit. Please see the attached section-by-section for full details. This agreement should allow the appropriations process to be completed before the December 11 deadline. The agreement does include the below crop insurance policy provision.

Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) — The SRA must be renegotiated no later than December 31, 2016. This section also establishes an 8.9 percent cap on the overall rate of return for insurance providers under the agreement. Currently, the negotiated overall rate of return is about 14.5 percent.

House and Senate Agriculture Committee members view this as opening the recently negotiated Farm Bill and remain publicly opposed.  Please see the statement below.

At this point, we expect the House and Senate will approve the legislation.

Ag Committee Leaders Stand United Against Reopening Farm Bill to New Crop Insurance Cuts

Today, Agriculture Committee Chairmen Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Ranking Members Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., made the following statements on the budget deal.

The Members of Congress stand united against reopening the 2014 Farm Bill to further cuts, emphasizing that the proposed cuts to crop insurance in the budget agreement would undermine a critical risk management tool for American agriculture producers and consumers.

“Farmers and ranchers have done more than their fair share to reduce government spending,” said Chairman Roberts. “To target the number one priority for producers with additional cuts will undermine the delivery of this important protection for agriculture. While Congressional leaders may sell this package as providing budget stability, it is anything but stable for farmers and ranchers. It took years to negotiate and pass a new Farm Bill. Producers have signed contracts and purchased policies. These proposals to make further cuts to the crop insurance program were not included in the House or Senate passed budgets, in any appropriations bills or in the President’s budget request. Once again, our leaders are attempting to govern by backroom deals where the devil is in the details. I will continue to oppose any attempts to cut crop insurance funding or to change crop insurance program policies.”

“Make no mistake, this is not about saving money. It is about eliminating Federal Crop Insurance,” said Chairman Conaway. “The House Agriculture Committee was not consulted regarding any changes to policies under the jurisdiction of our committee. This provision is opposed by an overwhelming majority or our committee members. It was debated and defeated during the 2014 farm bill process, and to move forward with it now breaks faith with the American producer. I am working alongside many of my colleagues to have the provision removed. If it is not removed, I will vote against this bill and work to defeat its passage. The American people deserve better than continued backroom deals struck in the middle of the night that entirely undercut the legislative process.”

“I oppose any efforts to cut or reopen Farm Bill programs. It is particularly disappointing to see cuts to crop insurance in the budget agreement,” said Ranking Member Stabenow. “These types of cuts only undermine the economic certainty that the Farm Bill provides. The Farm Bill made meaningful reforms to help reduce the deficit. Any attempts to reopen any part of the Farm Bill to more cuts would be a major set-back for rural America and our efforts to create jobs.”

“We made major cuts when we wrote the Farm Bill,” said Ranking Member Peterson. “It is not appropriate to cut agriculture again. The Farm Bill should not be raided. I oppose any cuts.”

I will continue to send updates as the discussion continues.

NASCOE News Flash: OPM re-interprets temporary service time as creditable service for retirement eligibility

NASCOE News Flash
October 8, 2015

Please take time to read this important update. This is one of the most important legislative/management issues we have faced during the current Administration. To begin, NASCOE leadership has been working to reverse the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) decision and will continue until this decision is reversed. The information below has been obtained through multiple channels and provides the most updated information. In summary, a certain lawyer at OPM has declared that Public Law 85-568 (enacted July 1960) no longer applies to FSA’s county office workers. In effect, this means temporary time no longer counts toward retirement benefits. In addition, it appears that the Department of Agriculture is moving forward with OPM’s interpretation based on information obtained from FSA State offices. Please see the related documents below.

As recently as this morning, NASCOE President Wes Daniels visited with Administrator Dolcini about the impact of OPM’s decision. Administrator Dolcini and other USDA officials are working to rectify this situation. We are now significantly expanding our outreach and will work toward reversing this unjustified decision.

Creditable Service for Retirement Eligibility and Annuity Computation Purposes

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has recently reviewed and re-interpreted Chapter 20 of the CSRS/FERS Handbook to exclude temporary/non-deduction time with the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) as creditable service for retirement eligibility and annuity calculation purposes, even if a deposit application has been submitted and the deposit paid in full.

Chapter 20 of the CSRS/FERS Handbook states the following with regard to Creditable service:

“Public Law 85-568, enacted July 1, 1960, declared employees of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation (ASC) county committees to be Federal employees as of July 10, 1960, for retirement purposes. This law covered all ASC county committee employees except those specifically excluded by law or regulations (such as temporary and intermittent employees). However, an employee who separated before July 10, 1960, cannot receive credit for that service.”

Q and A:

What is non-deduction service?

Non-deduction service is service performed for which retirement deductions were not taken from your pay.

Who should I contact with questions about my temporary/non-deduction service?

Employees should feel comfortable contacting either their employee association or State HR specialist with questions or concerns related to their temporary/non-deduction service.

Who has been made aware of OPM’s interpretation?

It is our understanding that the USDA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC), FSA’s Human Resource Division (HRD), FSA Administrator and Deputy Administrator Offices, as well as the employee associations (NASCOE) are aware of OPM’s interpretation. Further, we understand that OGC is actively pursuing a favorable re-interpretation of the law to include temporary/non-deduction time as creditable for retirement eligibility and annuity calculation purposes.

Who is affected by OPM’s interpretation of the CSRS/FERS Handbook?

OPM’s interpretation, as stated above, applies to individuals under the FERS retirement system with ASCS temporary/non-deduction service performed prior to January 1, 1989 (FERS employees were not previously allowed to pay a deposit for temporary/non- deduction service performed after 01/01/1989 – this period of service remains ineligible for a deposit). OPM’s interpretation would also apply to individuals under the CSRS/CSRS-Offset retirement system with temporary/non-deduction service with ASCS (pre or post 01/01/1989).

What do I do if I am planning to retire in the near future or think I might have temporary/non-deduction time with ASCS?

At this time, the FSA Human Resource Team is asking that you review your service history for such periods of temporary/non-deduction time that were previously considered creditable (pre 01/01/1989 for FERS employees and all non-deduction service for CSRS/CSRS-Offset employees). If you have these types of service you can contact your Administrative Specialist or HR Specialist to review your service history with/for you in an effort to help you understand the full impact of OPM’s determination. If an employee does not meet retirement eligibility without including temporary/non-deduction service, HR is advising that you do not retire until such time that an official determination (re-determination) is issued by OPM or retirement eligibility thresholds are met without including temporary/non-deduction service with ASCS.

What if I paid a deposit and OPM has accepted the deposit and issued a “Paid-in- Full” invoice?

At this time, it is our understanding that OPM accepting your re-deposit does not entitle you to service credit for the non-deduction time. This determination would be made by OPM when finalizing your retirement annuity. If OPM upholds their current interpretation, it is HR’s understanding that you would be allowed an opportunity to request a refund of your service credit deposit. OPM would refund your deposit paid with annually compounded interest from the date of deposit. At this time we are not recommending that you request a refund of your paid deposit in case OPM’s interpretation would be reversed.

What will happen to those individuals who have already retired and who have temporary/non-deduction service with ASCS?

We are not sure yet how the pension will be affected for those individuals who have already retired and who have temporary/non-deduction service with ASCS.

What happens if I retire and it is later determined that the temporary/non-deduction service with ASCS is creditable for retirement purposes?

Upon retirement OPM becomes your servicing personnel office. We encourage you to track this issue via employee associations, news outlets, OPM website, etc. Contact OPM when/if any development occurs.  

Continuing Resolution

NASCOE News Brief:  Congress Acts to Avoid Government Shutdown

September 30, 2015

The U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation today that would fund the government through December 11. The President signed the measure this evening.  Please see the additional information below.

FY 2016 SHORT-TERM CONTINUING RESOLUTION

  • Keeps the government operating through December 11, 2015.
  • Provides funding at annual rate that conforms to the topline discretionary spending limit established by the Budget Control Act for FY 2016 – $1.017 trillion.
  • Provides Overseas Contingency Operations funding at a rate of $74.758 billion.
  • Includes $700 million in emergency funding for wildland fire suppression.

Includes small number of funding anomalies to address unique circumstances that arise during the CR period, such as:

  • Supporting claims processors for veterans’ disability claims at the rate necessary to address backlog
  • Maintaining launch schedule for the joint polar satellite
  • Paying ongoing rental assistance contracts in the rural housing program
  • Accommodating increased demand for 7(a) small business loans

Includes extensions of certain expiring authorities for the duration of the CR (except as otherwise noted):

  • Internet Tax Freedom Act
  • E-Verify
  • Federal Aviation Administration (6 months)

July 2015 NASCOE Legislative Update

NASCOE LEGISLATIVE TALKING POINTS:
by Jackson Jones
NASCOE Legislative Committee Chair 

The NASCOE legislative team continues to advocate on our behalf before both the Legislative and Executive branches of government. We remain the only USDA employee organization of our type that provides membership with full-time representation on Capitol Hill.

Current Year Federal Appropriations

  • This past year was a real success for farm programs and turning back the President’s proposed budget. As you all may remember, the proposal would have closed 250 county offices and reduced 815 non-federal (county office) staff. This type of cut would have been devastating to our efforts to service FSA’s customers and implement new farm bill programs.
  • NASCOE leadership and members across the country worked aggressively to educate Members of Congress and industry stakeholders about the impact of the President’s Budget request. The work paid off and our activities led to some real legislative victories.
  • Our efforts led to the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate providing $61 million above the President’s request so that we avoid elimination of county office staff. In addition, the final legislation blocked all proposed office closures.
  • The appropriations success represents one example of why our legislative activities are important as we strive to service American agriculture.

Fiscal Year 2016 Federal Appropriations

  • For this calendar year, we are still focused on federal funding for FSA’s salaries and expenses.   This year’s proposed cuts totaled $12 million so we are continuously working to avoid funding cuts and losing employees. The House and Senate have drafted appropriations language for the respective bodies. With the fiscal year ending on October 1, the final outcome is yet to be determined.

USDA Management Meetings

  • NASCOE leadership also visits multiple times monthly with FSA management. We have noticed improvement with Val’s team and know that our concerns are being heard and fully considered. In addition, NASCOE has been invited to participate in recent task forces and other experimental projects.

 Acreage Reporting

  • NASCOE is also involved with FSA’s process to update acreage reporting activities. In general, the new Farm Bill directed the Department to develop new software programs that allow producers to file acreage reports through multiple channels. The most basic program would be allowing producers to submit acreage information via crop insurance agents. We have expressed our concern with the proposal and how it could negatively impact our processes and jeopardize the data being collected. Ultimately, FSA should continue to take acreage reports and remain the gold standard for farm acreage information.

Office of Personnel Management Data Breach

  • Last month, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reported that secure information for more than 21 million former and current federal employees had been obtained through cyber attacks. Our legislative team is advocating for additional protections for federal employees impacted by OPM’s data breach. Senate legislation has been introduced that would provide no less than $5 million in identity theft insurance.
  • OPM has issued the following guidance to affected individuals:

o   Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.

o   Request a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.  Consumers are entitled by law to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – for a total of three reports every year.  Contact information for the credit bureaus can be found on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, www.ftc.gov.

o   Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, www.identitytheft.gov.  The FTC maintains a variety of consumer publications providing comprehensive information on computer intrusions and identity theft.

o   You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name.  Simply call TransUnion® at 1-800-680-7289 to place this alert.  TransUnion® will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

  • We will continue to monitor the OPM data breach and make sure our membership is aware of all legislative efforts.

GSA Rental Space

  • We continue to stress to management and Members of Congress the importance of making our space acceptable and accessible to production agriculture. It has become clear that GSA is aggressively trying to move FSA County Offices into available GSA space. We continue to monitor this concern and believe that USDA should have control over county office lease arrangements.

Conclusion

These examples help our NASCOE membership understand the importance of our Washington, DC presence and the ability to impact the legislative process.

We need to work toward getting every county office employee to join NASCOE so that we improve our ability to advocate before the Congress. I hope you will join the effort and convince the rest of our colleagues to join NASCOE.

Legislative Conf Call

Your NASCOE legislative team has been busy!!  We’ve all heard about the cuts in the president’s 2015 draft budget and potential office closings.  Well, thanks in no small part to Hunter, our legislative consultant working on behalf of you guys, the House sub-committee version of the 2015 budget added FSA staff funding back in (161 million/815 positions) plus an additional 27 million!! They also included language prohibiting office closures and forced reassignments!  It is our understanding that the Senate version will have similar language.  This isn’t a done deal yet, as it has to clear both houses of Congress and get passed, but it’s a strong start!  It is much much better to have it in the bill and risk having it removed versus not having anything in the bill at all.  This kind of staff funding could be nearly 1000 more employees.  How many offices could potentially benefit?  This is a great example of how PACOE membership (and thus NASCOE membership) has very real benefits.  Without you all we wouldn’t be able to have amazing folks like Hunter advocating for all we do.  Thanks for being a member!
 
Take a look at the notes from the conference call here: Leg Conf Call.  I’ll keep you posted as things progress.
 
Rick