SED Question and Answer Session
PACOE Annual Meeting 11/10/2012
Prior to the question and answer session, SED Bill Wehry introduced himself and noted that all State Committee members had agreed to continue to serve on the STC. Mr. Wehry noted the budget constraints that the country, agency, and state were experiencing. Since he came into office, the staffing levels have dropped from 228 employees to 203. The budget in 2012 contains similar funding levels to 2006. Figuring out how to work in this budget uncertainty is one of the biggest challenge facing all of us. However, we are servicing the producers. In the years from 2009-2011, Pennsylvania has made 429 million dollars in payments, including FLP.
Q: District meetings are still important in many different ways. Are we generally going to be able/allowed to have them as we move forward?
A: SED Wehry left the decision to have district meetings up to individual DDs. The guidance given was that there should be a reason/need for a meeting. Not to just have a meeting to have one.
Q: Is the STO getting any specific budget information from OMB?
A: No allotments have been received in the STO yet. SED Wehry was instructed to operate at last year’s level. Nobody knows what the possible sequestration will do to our budget this FY.
Q: Have you heard anything about further office closings?
A: SED Wehry has not heard anything about them. The previous round of closings was a result of a 2 billion dollar cut in USDA funding.
Q: Have you heard anything about using program dollars for implementing the programs, similar to NRCS?
A: SED Wehry has not heard anything along those lines.
Q: Can you explain what happened this last year with all the extra money in FY2012?
A: SED Wehry found some unused money in accounts that weren’t used, such as travel, that was able to be utilized for other purposes. This did include a little bit of salary that hadn’t been spent.
Q: Where are we at in the leasing situation throughout the state?
A: Bill recognized that we were in need of outside help and asked DC for it at the last SED meeting. They committed to putting a “jump” team in PA, but that was stalled by office closures and never really happened. The SFAC has sent a letter to NFAC regarding the issue and SED Wehry feels confident that some assistance is coming soon.
Q: Is the STO replacing the budget admin person that left?
A: A tentative offer has been made to a veteran who is currently serving in Afghanistan to serve as the budget/leasing person in the STO.
Q: Are we going to be allowed to utilize any temps or permanent part-time staff? What is the status of the staffing plan?
A: We won’t know about staffing until we know what the budget is going to be. We received about $250k for COC and FA’s last year, but that doesn’t go too far. So the decision was made that we couldn’t afford temporary help. SED Wehry is very open to permanent part-time positions. The staffing guide has been helpful and beneficial for making decisions. SED Wehry will continue to use it in some shape or form. He wants to address staffing issues without directed reassignment. He is waiting on making any major moves until he knows what the budget is going to be at.
Q: Does the staffing plan take employee leave into account?
A: It was discussed, but ultimately a factor was not included for leave.
Q: Are employees going to be allowed to have some travel flexibility in the upcoming MIDAS training? i.e. not being required to drive 2 hours each way into and out of Pittsburgh?
A: The STO is currently working on a cost estimate now. They don’t know what MIDAS will approve. They are looking at previous travel policies as the develop the travel plans, however there is a lot in conversation. They are going to try and take care of the staff when making the plans.