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USDA decides not to close FSA offices

Cookson Beecher, Washington State Staff Writer 10/17/2005

In a surpise move, U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to set aside a plan known as “FSA Tomorrow,” which would have consolidated Farm Service Agency offices across the nation.

Under the plan, about 713 of the 2,351 Farm Service Agency county offices in the country would have been closed.

The goal was to modernize and streamline the way services are provided to farmers and ranchers. Money saved from the consolidation was to have been reinvested into FSA.

No information was available from USDA today about why the agency had made an abrupt 180-degree turn on this issue. But an Oct. 14 Associated Press report revealed that Agriculture Undersecretary J.B. Penn told Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, about the decision when the two met during the Billings Livestock Auction.

Barrett Kaiser, spokesman for Baucus, said the decision was “all about maintaining face-to-face services for ranchers and farmers across the country. Closing down offices would have required producers to driver farther.”

Another concern was that the consolidation plan relied on a new computer program, which Kaiser said has been a disaster so far.

In Washington, D.C., an FSA official said the news about Penn’s conversation with Baucus had come as a surprise.

“It caught us kind of flat-footed,” he said, referring to the wire service story.

Early today, Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of the Washington state FSA office, had provided details to reporters about which county offices the state office had made a preliminary decision to close.

But by this afternoon, state FSA outreach coordinator Chris Bieker confirmed that a hurriedly placed conference call in which all state directors participated revealed that the plan was being set aside.

When asked if the national office had offered any reasons for the decision, Bieker said it had not.

“We hope to hear more about it in the next couple of days,” she said. “But if we’re not directed to consolidate offices, we won’t be doing it. It is a good plan, but we can’t just do part of it and make it work. The major decisions are being made in Washington, D.C.”

More on this story will be published in this week's editions of the Capital Press.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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