By Coleman Garrison
As we enter the final month of 2017, there are several issues on NACD’s radar that we want you to be aware of:
By the end of this week, Congress is expected to pass a bill to fund the federal government for two weeks and prevent a government shutdown from occurring on December 8. The Continuing Resolution (CR), introduced over the weekend, would put Congress back into the same situation the week leading to Christmas. Media reports are suggesting a subsequent short-term CR would potentially fund the federal government into January or early February, when it is expected a long-term funding agreement will be passed for the remainder of FY 2018. You can read more about the options Congress has to fund the federal government in NACD’s blog post from earlier this year.
Last week, several members of NACD’s officer team and Executive Board gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with Congressional Appropriators. Together, they discussed two other issues important to conservation districts: the USDA hiring freeze and USDA’s planned reorganization.
NACD leadership relayed to Congress how the almost year-long hiring freeze at USDA has kept NRCS from filling the multitude of field-level staff openings in county offices. NACD regularly hears from our members that the inability of NRCS to meet its workload has made it very difficult for NRCS employees – as well as conservation district employees who work alongside them – to serve farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners. In response to these concerns, President Brent Van Dyke wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in September, requesting that the department ensure adequate NRCS staff are in place. Although NRCS has had trouble filling openings for several years, this year’s hiring freeze has exacerbated the problem, and NACD is hopeful that the long-term funding bill can address it.
During these visits, NACD’s leadership also relayed to Congress where NACD stands on USDA’s current reorganization. After USDA’s most recent announcement that they were creating a new “Business Center” within NRCS’s mission area to consolidate all administrative decisions, NACD has continued to request additional information on the details of how this process will take place moving forward.
In a meeting with NACD President Brent Van Dyke last week and other partner leaders, the Secretary stated that USDA will continue to rely on districts and nothing should be changing from the ground level. While these statements were certainly appreciated, due to conservation districts’ inherent link with NRCS, NACD communicated to the Secretary, as well as Capitol Hill, that we will continue closely monitoring this process to ensure NRCS and the conservation delivery partnership will be able to continue effectively delivering conservation.