United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) secretary Tom Vilsack has presented a plan that will streamline operations and cut costs for the department, called the “Blueprint for Stronger Service.” The secretary detailed the changes in a speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 93rd Annual Meeting on Jan. 10.
The plan is based on a department-wide review of operations conducted as part of the Obama administration’s “Campaign to Cut Waste,” which was created to make government work better and more efficiently.
The USDA will close 259 domestic offices, facilities and labs across the country, as well as seven foreign offices. In some cases, offices are no longer staffed or have a very small staff, and many are within 20 miles of other USDA offices. In other cases, technology improvements, advanced service centers, and broadband service have reduced some need for brick and mortar facilities. The plans to close or consolidate facility, office and lab operations will impact USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and in 46 states and one U.S. territory.
The USDA also will consolidate more than 700 cell phone plans into about 10; standardize civil rights training and purchase of cyber security products; and centralize civil rights, human resource, procurement and property management functions.
Once fully implemented, these actions along with other recommended changes will save about $150 million annually.
"In the past few decades, U.S. agriculture has become the second most productive sector of the American economy, thanks to farmers adopting technology, reducing debt, and effectively managing risk,” Vilsack said in a press release. "These are lessons from which we can all learn. As we continue to invest in rural communities across the country, USDA has heard from producers about reducing red tape and the need to modernize its services. Today, we are answering the challenge by announcing a series of efforts to help us continue to streamline operations, make the best use of taxpayer resources and provide the best possible service to the American people.”