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Gillibrand, NASCOE opposed to USDA office closures

Opposition to the closure of Agriculture Department offices announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has begun.

Vilsack said earlier this month that USDA will close 259 domestic offices, of which 131 are county Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. USDA says it can find significant savings by consolidating these offices while ensuring vital services are not cut.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY

Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand, D-N.Y.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., urged Vilsack in a news release Friday to keep open all seven offices in New York state that face closure. Those offices include four Farm Service Agency county offices, two Food and Nutrition Service offices, one Food Safety and Inspection Service office and one Natural Resources Conservation Service office.

“New York’s farmland saw the worst of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee this summer – one right after the other,” Gillibrand said in the news release.

“Rebuilding our farms cannot and will not be done without the support provided by local USDA offices – whether it’s help securing emergency funding or technical assistance, removing debris and other help getting the resources our farms need," Gillibrand said. "For our state’s economy to grow and thrive, and to keep the food we grow safe and healthy, we need access to our local USDA offices.”
John Lohr

John Lohr
The National Association of County Office Employees said today it has sent a letter to key agricultural leaders in Congress charging that USDA did not involve stakeholders in making the decision to close county offices and that the agency should consider more closures at the regional and state levels.

“NASCOE understands that the national deficit needs to be addressed, but we strongly recommend that USDA take a comprehensive look at all levels of the department, starting at the top and working its way down,” NASCOE President John Lohr wrote in the letter.

“NASCOE is in support of a top-down approach that addresses all inefficiencies within the department and its agencies,” Lohr said. “This includes Washington, D.C., Kansas City, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, state and district offices. NASCOE encourages producers and ranchers to contact USDA and ask that any plan to reduce the number of county offices be put on hold until a complete top/down approach be taken to identify possible savings. This approach will provide savings so offices that your constituents use can remain open and viable.”

As required by the 2008 farm bill, USDA will hold hearings on each of the county office closures.