From the President’s DeskMarch 19, 2013I want to welcome all the new members of NAFEC and I’m honored you have joined with other committee members like myself to make NAFEC a stronger organization. I look forward to working with all the county committees to help support the local control through elected members of our committees. Your Officers and State Directors recently traveled to Washington DC for a joint NAFEC/ NASCOE Legislative Conference to reach out to the new 113th Congress, USDA and the Farm Service Agency on several important issues affecting county committees.NAFEC carried the message about the importance of passing a new 5 year Farm Bill. Producers need to make informed decisions based on the programs available to them for their operation. It makes planning extremely difficult, if not impossible, when Congress goes from one manufactured crisis to another without taking care of important business such as the Farm Bill.
In addition to meeting with Congressional Members and staff, Officers and Directors met with:
Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyard Agency Administrator Larry Mitchell.
Several issues were addressed with these USDA representatives including:
The appointment of voting SDA members to some COC’s;
Budget issues affecting COC’s;
Setting up an appeal process when a county committee disagrees with a state committee;
Office staffing — currently FSA can close offices if there are two or less employees. That is unfair unless workload is considered because the office might need more employees but were unable to hire additional employees because of budget cuts; and,
Protecting and highlighting issues regarding county committee authority including attacks on COC authority by overreaching District Directors.
NAFEC continues to believe that members of our county committees should continue to be elected by the producers in our county and area offices. NAFEC does support the initial appointment of the minority advisors to be voting members of our committees but feel very strongly that new at-large voting minority seats be established so that all members are elected and have the same accountability to those who have placed us on the committees.
NAFEC continues to urge that COC’s are allowed to meet when the committee has decisions to make and not be told, “You cannot meet because of budget”. We are finding that every state has different rules when it comes to COC meetings and feel there should be uniformity in allowing committees to meet nationwide. In one particular situation, NAFEC was contacted about an arbitrary time limit placed on all COC meeting within that state. If the time limit was reached the COC had to contact the District Director to get approval to continue the meeting. In addition to restricting the committee’s ability to conduct the necessary business of their producers, but also exhibits yet another example of the overreaching nature of the District Directors and State Office. NAFEC contacted FSA in Washington DC and got the rule rescinded. We applaud the National office’s action since these types of decisions such as that should be made by the local county committees.
NAFEC occasionally works with county committees that are in disagreement with decisions made by the State Committee. In some cases, the county committees were proven to be right in their decision and the State is proven wrong. Currently there is no appeal procedure in place for COC’s when a decision is overturned by the State Committee. NAFEC believes an appeals procedure needs to be put in place for those rare times when it is needed and warranted. During NAFEC’s discussion with USDA officials, we asked FSA to consider establishing an appeal procedure for COC’s to exercise at their discretion.
Many times NAFEC is asked by COC’s about their rights. One of the best ways to protect your rights as a county committee is to ask for everything to be put in writing, then be properly documented and entered into the COC Minutes at your next meeting. So, if the District Director State Office or anyone else tells you to take certain actions, TELL THEM the details MUST BE in writing so you have a written record.
In other news around Washington, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) have released their budget blueprints with the White House announcing their budget will be released in April. What is apparent in both the budgets currently being discussed are a number of proposals with serious implications on programs and services many in rural communities have come to expect. The major differences between the two Congressional budgets appear to be the classic battle between Democrats and Republicans – increase revenues through taxation vs. cost savings through entitlement reform. Neither is completely right, nor completely wrong. Two prime examples of these budgets target direct payments to farmers as laid out under the current Farm Bill and massive cuts/reforms in Medicare and Medicaid.
Both of these issues are extremely important to the continued recovery of the rural economy. Many in Washington view balancing the budget and reinvigorating the economy through very narrow parameters, without fully exploring how these initiatives will impact real rural residents’ quality of life.
As Congress and the White House debate further budget cuts to public programs, such as Medicare – the health care insurance system for elderly and disabled individuals – patients in rural areas need to watch potential cuts to Medicare. Currently, Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage) consistently comes in under budget. As we all like to say – “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Congress is looking at possible cuts in reimbursement rates for rural hospitals and doctors. Unfortunately for rural patients, cutting payments to physicians for administering medicines could mean that clinics in rural America are forced to close their doors. Rural America cannot afford to have any more communities without any health care options.
As you can see, NAFEC has been working very hard for our members and look forward to continuing to be a strong voice for rural America. In order to accomplish our goals, if you know anyone interested in joining NAFEC, please direct them to www.fsacountycommittees.org to join electronically and see the many benefits of NAFEC membership or simply mail a membership form to:
PO Box 10190
Kansas City, MO 64171
For those of you unable to attend the NAFEC/NASCOE Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, I have taken the liberty of attaching the information we distributed to our elected representatives and USDA officials. On a related note about an issue in the NAFEC Statement of Policy Paper, NAFEC has been pushing for stronger oversight of the Federal Crop Insurance program and allowing FSA to work with RMA to collect crop yield and production data and have input into any loss adjustment to root out any possible fraud and abuse. To highlight the potential savings NAFEC could save the American Taxpayer, look no further than this article about a huge, $100 Million scheme recently uncovered in eastern North Carolina.
As always, my door is always open to discuss any issues which may arise from time-to-time. Please do not hesitate to contact me at (806) 269-0610.
National Association of Farmer Elected Committees
“The primary purpose of the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC) is, and will always be, to promote and improve the farmer elected committee system for the local administration of farm programs. The coordinated effort will give us strength, and much more influence in Congress for the kind of farm program America’s farmer, ranchers and rural communities need in order to survive.”
NAFEC was organized in 1965 and our mission has not changed from then to the present. We are dedicated to retaining, improving and strengthening the county committee system of program delivery. With the long-running and continued onslaught of different factions in Washington, D.C. seeking to eliminate the County Committees (COC), our mission has become more difficult, but we will prevail.
County Committees provide the spark and imagination as well as the local judgment needed in adopting and administering FSA programs. COCs have earned the confidence of their neighbors by doing an educated, capable, vigorous and dedicated job. There have been numerous attempts to strip the COCs of their statutory authority, on the issues of supervision, selection of the County Executive Directors (CED) and virtually every aspect of the jurisdiction. NAFEC has always been a tireless advocate to protect COC authority, written by Congress in legislation and in the Code of Federal Regulations.
NAFEC has worked with the United States Congress and the administration to provide fairness for county committees and the employees in the FSA offices. NAFEC has worked diligently for years to keep the county offices open. If we fail at this endeavor, the country’s farmers and the integrity of the agency and its programs will be the big losers. Many seasoned, professional FSA employees will not be allowed to stay with the agency and county committees will cease to exist. Although NAFEC has not always been successful in every attempt they have undertaken, we have won the friendship of many within the Congress and the executive branch through their continued efforts to promote the interests of the American farmers and ranchers. Our association has played a role in shaping several farm bills and expects to do the same in the future.
National Association of Farmer Elected Committee
STATEMENT OF POLCY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Appointment of County Committee SDA Members
NAFEC has endorsed the initial appointment of the minority advisors to voting members of the county committees. We see this as taking an important step forward. However, NAFEC urges that beginning in 2013, at-large voting seats be established for the underrepresented groups and in 2014, nominations and elections be held so that all members of the county committees be elected by a majority of the eligible voters. NAFEC is very concerned about the proposed appointment process which would inject politics into the COC system and we believe it would be a huge problem for the Secretary of Agriculture to identify and appoint numerous qualified committee members each year. NAFEC feels very strongly about maintaining the local accountability the current elected system affords and encourages USDA to continue this process.
Budgetary Issues and Recommendations
NAFEC fully understand the austerity measures all Agencies and Departments throughout the government are facing. The county committees have been forced to rein in spending to a point in which services and programs are beginning to be impacted, either through inadequate staffing in the local offices or unreasonable limits placed on committees meetings to discuss important program business. The requirements and duties instilled in county committees are a crucial component in producers receiving program benefits in timely manner.
NAFEC fully supports USDA to review ways all agencies can work together to serve producers in a timely and efficient manner. According to a recent study, if FSA compiled all crop acreage reports and collect production yield data, which would save the Department approximately $200 Million annually by removed duplicative reporting requirements for producers.
Additionally, FSA should review allowing local offices to purchase goods and services locally and leasing authority in order to reduce overhead and shipping expenses on items which in many cases are sent automatically, regardless of need.
It seems that during these tight budgets, too many resources are being spent on middle-management at the cost of the county offices delivering critical programs to producers. For many years, FSA has systematically consolidated county offices and reduced employee numbers. NAFEC encourages any additional budget cuts shall apply across the board to all levels of FSA.
County Committee Appeals
NAFEC has identified an inequity whereby there is no appeal process in place for County Committees for their protection. NAFEC has worked with several COC’s that have made decisions that have been overturned at the State Office. That is provided in the regulation that State Committees have the final say but there is no appeal procedure if a COC does not agree with the action of the State Committee. We have found several instances where on appeal by the producers, the COC’s were right and the STC was wrong in their decision. This has resulted in up to 2 years delays in receiving benefits due to producers.
NAFEC requests that FSA consider a fair process where if a COC disagrees with a State Committee, they can appeal that decision to Washington for a final opinion.
County Committee Authority
One of NAFEC’s top priorities has been to protect the authorities given to County Committees both in permanent law and published regulations. County Committees hire and supervise the County Executive Director who then supervises the County Office Employees. NAFEC has dealt with numerous cases of the District Directors trying to interject themselves as the supervisors of the COC and the CED. NAFEC asks that all the SED’s make sure that DD’s fully understand the chain of command and that COC’s are an important and vital part of the system.
NAFEC Initiative Now Underway!
By Kevin Dale, NAFEC Committee Chair
Back in November the NASCOE executive Committee formally launched a new national committee. This new committee is charged with assisting the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC) and includes Greg Hudson from the NEA, Cliff Fussell from the SEA, Randy Tillman from the MWA, Darrin Slack from the SWA, Annettee Schneck from the NWA, and myself, Kevin Dale from Oklahoma the chairperson of this new committee. The establishment of this new committee means NASCOE has made a commitment to support NAFEC with communications, infrastructure and membership.
Over the past couple of months of the committee’s existence, a lot of questions have been asked regarding NAFEC, the County Committee system, and why NASCOE is getting more involved with NAFEC. Some have suggested the county committee system may be antiquated, or past their useful life. If that is in fact the case, the need to support NAFEC would essentially be a waste of time, effort and dollars. So what is the truth in this matter and why has NASCOE launched this new initiative. Please read on for a few minutes as we explore that question.
Is the County Committee system antiquated or past it useful lifespan? Some would argue that we now live in a time where the need for local committee’s has past. To really answer that question we all need to go back and look at why the County Committee system was formed in the first place. To do that, we need to go back to the very beginning of Agriculture programs in America, the early 1930’s. At that time Franklin Roosevelt was President and the entire nation was in the mists of the worst depression in American history. Farmers and ranchers were bankrupt and many of citizen’s hungry. The President and Congress knew an abundant food supply was essential if the United States were to prosper.
However, there were many critics that were opposed to the government getting involved in production agriculture. There was a great concern that the results would look more socialistic than democratic. To reduce the fears of farmers and ranchers and the general citizenship, the new Agriculture Adjustment Act included a system whereby the farmers themselves would administer the Act rather than the federal government. County Control Associations (the forerunner to our current COC’s) were formed throughout the nation which allowed farmers to implement the Adjustment programs themselves. According to then Secretary Agriculture Henry A. Wallace, “Thoroughly democratic in form and spirit, the associations are effective instruments in economic self government.”
So what does all this history have to do with where we are today? It is at the very root of the Farm Service Agency. The reason the County Committees were formed was to ensure locally elected input in Federal farm programs. In other words, our system is the best model for government with checks and balances right at the lowest grassroots level. Have any of your children ever gone to a school without a school board or have any of you ever sold your crops at a co-op without a co-op board? How about living in a city with a city manager, but no city council, or visiting a bank without a bank board? Why do all of these private entities have local boards or committees? Because they recognize local boards are the best way to ensure oversight, to provide accountability, and to be the most responsive to the communities in which these groups exist.
Our county committee system is not antiquated; on the contrary it is the most responsive system within the USDA and quite possibly within all of government. Our system isn’t the past; on the contrary it is the future! As such NASCOE recognizes the importance of a strong COC system. Since NAFEC is the primary supporter of the COC system, the best way to support the COC system in thru the support of NAFEC.
Therefore, our new committee has embarked on a mission to assist NAFEC in the areas previously mentioned. NAFEC directors are being appointed in every state. The distribution of NAFEC information is on the rise and membership is being highly encouraged. For only $1 per pay period (using Dues withholdings) any FSA employee can be an associate member of NAFEC. On the following page is a membership form to make it easy to join. Just print out an FSA-444 and submit to your STO. Submit this membership form according to the instructions on it. Please provide your COC’s an opportunity to join as well. They can do so for only $3 per meeting (using payroll withholdings). All of the STO’s have been informed about how to load these FSA-444’s for both you and your COC members. If any of you have any questions about how to join please call me or any one of our area NAFEC committee members.
1. Henry A. Wallace – 1935 – Yearbook in Agriculture, page 8.
NAFEC/NASCOE Joint Legislative Conference
By Kevin Dale, NASCOE NAFEC Committee Chair
NASCOE and NAFEC joined together the last week of February in our Nations capitol for a targeted legislative conference. There were a very good number of NAFEC members attending including:
Craig Turner, Texas – NAFEC President
Cathie Kreager, Ohio – NAFEC Sec/Treasurer
Dennis Kuhlengel, Illinois – MW Area Director
Cole Sims, Louisiana – At Large Director
Tommy Shepard, Oklahoma –SW Area Director
Chris Parker, Alabama State Director
David Polifka, Kansas State Director
Bob Cheeseman, Illinois State Director
Aaron Friez, North Dakota State Director
Robert Lynn, Georgia State Director
Charlie Gully, Texas State Director
Tuesday morning the NAFEC delegation met with their Washington D.C. Legislative consultants David and Billy Senter to discuss a host of issues impacting FSA offices. Many issues were discussed during the meetings including but not limited to:
1. Legislative Issues
a. FSA Committee involvement in oversight of private insurance acreage & production.
b. CO supervision of GS employees
c. COC Leasing of Local Space
d. FSA Administration of all Conservation
2. USDA/FSA Issues
a. 16-AO, DD delegated authority (NAFEC believes Amendment 6 oversteps the intent of law)
b. Required COC concurrence in Shared Management Operations
c. Sem-21 – Possibility of COC approval of Time & Attendance
d. Performance Evaluations – Inconsistency between states
e. Grass Reporting deadlines – too early for non PRF and/or NAP grass crops.
3. Current Issues initiated by NAFEC
a. SDA Elected rather than appointed COC Members
b. Increasing the role of COC in FSA programs
c. COC Appeals
Tuesday afternoon NAFEC met with NASCOE for a legislative training session. This session included review of the NASCOE position papers to be presented on the hill.
On Wednesday morning NAFEC joined NASCOE for a Capitol Hill briefing. Later that afternoon NAFEC split up, with the Executive Committee having meetings with FSA and other USDA officials, while the NAFEC state directors met with key Congressional members.
In closing, I believe NAFEC has a very strong executive committee who are passionate about the County Committee system of government. With their increased level of participation and involvement NAFEC is in a position to make a positive difference for Agriculture and FSA.
The National Association of Farmer Elected Committees is a non-profit organization composed of and led by farmers, nominated and elected by farmers, and serving all farmers in each of their county USDA Farm Service Agency offices. To learn more about NAFEC or to join please go to http://fsacountycommittees.org
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