Last week, I announced a Blueprint for Stronger Service at USDA. It is our effort to make sure that in this era of reduced budgets, the folks who live, work and raise their families in rural America don’t see reduced services from the Department.
Over the past three years, USDA has made significant investments in rural America and supported farmers and ranchers. Today the farm economy is thriving, with record income and exports – and the unemployment figure in rural America has fallen faster than in other parts of the country.
But these are tough times. Since 2010, USDA’s budget has been cut by $3 billion dollars – a 12% reduction. To help preserve the success we’re seeing in the countryside, we had to take a close look at the way we do business with less money, a smaller staff, and more complex programs.
Over the past year, USDA has offered early retirement for our staff and substantially reduced our travel and supplies budgets. We took a comprehensive look at our administrative services to find savings in areas like technology and human resources. It was not enough. In order to avoid layoffs or furloughs we looked at our footprint across the country and made plans to close and consolidate more than 250 offices, many of which have only one or two employees.
While this was a tough call, the other option was an interruption in service that results from furloughs and employee layoffs – and we’re committed to avoiding that path. Instead, we have a plan that will create optimal use of USDA’s employees, better results for USDA customers, and greater efficiencies for American taxpayers. You can learn more about it at our website USDA.gov/StrongerService.
Like families and businesses across the country, USDA cannot continue to operate as we did 50 years ago. The Blueprint allows us to keep our commitment to streamlining services for farmers and ranchers – and making more services available online. It will allow us to innovate, modernize, and be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. It means we’ll build a stronger department to meet the evolving needs of rural communities and the agricultural economy in the 21st century.
You can also find the audio version of the weekly message here.