By Matt Reese
On January 9, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA would be restructuring the department to meet budget restrictions. Part of that plan calls for the consolidation and closure of offices across the country. In Ohio those offices include:
- Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, in Bowling Green, Wood County
- Agriculture Research Service, ARS, Coschocton, Coshocton County
- Farm Service Agency Offices (FSA)
- Brookville, Montgomery County
- Pomeroy, Meigs County
- Springfield, Clark County
- Somerset, Perry County
- Carrollton, Carroll County
- Food and Nutrition Service, FNS
- Cincinnati, Hamilton County
- Columbus, Franklin County
Those in the affected communities have been quick to express their concerns. The Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) claims that the closure of their FSA office will result in decreased efficiency if merged with the neighboring Preble County FSA.
“What made a good sound-bite does not make good sense, or dollars! In an effort to look as if they are doing something (anything) to help us taxpayers, the USDA will be severely harming a system that efficiently, effectively, frugally, and cooperatively serves the citizens of Montgomery County. The operations of the Preble FSA will be compromised as they attempt to take in new personnel and files, and the consolidated government offices of both counties will be lost. Money, modernization, and efficiency will be lost, all in the name of politics,” said the Montgomery County SWCD in a statement. “This [Montgomery County FSA] building also houses personnel from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This centralization, and the convenience of having all these government services in one building is no accident. It was in response to a cry for efficiency and government cooperation over 10 years ago. And, in this case, it has been highly successful and convenient for our customers, the taxpayers.”
The Mongomery County SWCD contends that the reduced convenience resulting closure will decrease FSA program participation and combining both counties in the already cramped Preble County facility will force both offices to move to less centralized locations.
Following the announcement, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called on USDA to provide rationale for the office closures and to ensure access to high-quality service for Ohio’s agricultural and rural communities. In a letter to Sec. Tom Vilsack, Brown asked for assurances that service will be maintained and urged USDA to listen to community members before making final closure decisions.
“My top priority is maintaining services vital to Ohio’s communities while protecting taxpayer dollars,” Brown said. “Although decreased funding requires changes to USDA’s current operations, before these changes take place, we must ensure that these adjustments properly follow the law, involve Ohioans who will be most affected, and maintain the quality and reliability of USDA services.”
In the 2008 farm bill, Brown cosponsored an amendment with Senator Ben Nelson that put a moratorium on office closures and set specific guidelines for the USDA to follow when proposing office closures in the future. This amendment helped keep offices across the country open, including the Carroll County FSA office in Ohio.