While most of us like the idea of smaller, more efficient government, it can hurt when services we use are the ones being cut. USDA this week announced plans to close 256 domestic facilities as part of the agency’s “Blueprint for Stronger Service,” raising concerns of lost services affecting local support through FSA, food safety and long-term agricultural research.
In a news release Monday, the agency says the cuts are based on a department-wide review of operations conducted as part of the Administration's Campaign to Cut Waste. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the efforts will streamline operations and cut costs while continuing to help producers drive America’s economy. The planned cuts include:
- Farm Service Agency: Consolidate 131 county offices in 32 states; more than 2,100 FSA offices remain throughout the United States
- Foreign Agricultural Service: Close 2 country offices; more than 95 FAS offices remain throughout the world
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Close 15 APHIS offices in 11 states and five APHIS offices in five foreign countries; more than 560 APHIS offices remain throughout the United States and 55 remain throughout the world
- Rural Development: Close 43 area and sub offices in 17 states and U.S. territories; approximately 450 RD offices remain throughout the United States
- Natural Resources Conservation Service: Close 24 soil survey offices in 21 states; more than 2,800 NRCS offices remain throughout the United States
- Food Safety and Inspection Service: Close five district offices in five states; 10 district offices remain throughout the United States
- Agricultural Research Service: Close 12 programs at 10 locations; more than 240 programs remain throughout the United States
- Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services: Close 31 field offices in 28 states; 32 FNCS offices will remain throughout the United States
The National Farmers Union expressed disappointment in the decision. “It should come as no surprise that FSA and other USDA service and research facilities are closing because of the continued emphasis on spending reduction,” says NFU Vice President of Government Relations Chandler Goule. “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. Agriculture cannot be continually asked to do more than its fair share to resolve our nation’s deficit problems – our leaders must look elsewhere to find solutions.”
Goule does, however, praise USDA for its work to protect vital services. “The efforts Secretary Vilsack and USDA have undertaken to conserve resources are commendable,” he says. “They have made great strides toward streamlining and economizing the department’s operations. Since 2010, Congress has cut USDA’s discretionary spending levels by about 12 percent, and USDA has done its best to prevent those reductions from affecting the quality of service that farmers and ranchers have come to expect. With the latest spending reductions, it was not possible to avoid painful cuts that will harm farmers and ranchers across the country.”
Quoted in an Associated Press article, NCBA’s VP for Government Affairs Colin Woodall, commended the USDA for trying to save taxpayers' money in tight economic times but also expressed concern about food safety, probably in reference to the loss of five FSIS district offices and 15 APHIS offices.
"We can't say this is all great news because some offices will be closed," he says. "We have to make sure we have the process in place to keep food safe."