Farmers Harmed by USDA Vacancies, New Mexico Democrats Charge — Politico Pro

Source: Politico Pro (27 Nov 2017)
Author: Catherine Boudreau
“The Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation want Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to fill thousands of open positions at two key USDA agencies, arguing that the vacancies are undermining the secretary’s push to provide effective customer service.The lawmakers — Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján — noted that a recent USDA accounting revealed 1,446 unfilled positions at the Natural Resources Conservation Service and an equivalent number at the Farm Service Agency. Both agencies have numerous offices in every state where staff help implement farm bill programs and provide farmers and ranchers with technical and administrative support, such as connecting producers with loans, grants and disaster assistance. Retirements have likely increased the total number of vacancies at both agencies, the lawmakers said in a letter to Perdue that was dated earlier this month but not released until Monday. Carlsbad, N.M., a city located in an important agricultural part of the state, hasn’t had any NRCS staff for nearly a year, the lawmakers added. Leaving these positions unfilled, they said, neglects Perdue’s goal of enhancing the customer service USDA provides farmers and ranchers — a cornerstone of the secretary’s ongoing effort to reorganize the department…A USDA spokesperson said in an emailed statement to POLITICO that Perdue has received the lawmakers’ letter and a response is being formulated. “Meanwhile, we are already in the process of conducting workload assessments for our customer-facing agencies to ensure that USDA maintains its superior level of customer service,” the statement added. President Donald Trump instituted a hiring freeze across federal departments shortly after taking office in January. The policy was lifted in April but replaced with a call for departments to reduce personnel numbers. The New Mexico Democrats, in the first sentence of their letter, urged Perdue to “lift the current hiring freeze” at USDA. The department spokesperson did not specifically respond to the accusation that a hiring freeze remains in effect at USDA.” See Post here…

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