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Food and Nutrition Service Heeds the Blueprint for Cost Savings

In the three months since Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA’s “Blueprint for Stronger Service,” the Food and Nutrition Service has continued to develop cost-saving and efficient strategies that will save taxpayers money and streamline operations.

The “Blueprint for Stronger Service” was designed to modernize and accelerate service delivery while improving the customer experience through the use of innovative technologies and business solutions. When the plan was announced Jan. 9, it called for USDA to close 259 domestic offices and facilities, as well as consolidating, standardizing or centralizing a number of other products and services.

In January the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the lead USDA agency for the nation’s nutrition assistance programs, announced plans to close 31 field offices in 28 states. That will leave 32 offices in the U.S., including the national office, seven regional offices and 24 field offices. Because of improvements in technology such as cloud computing, employees at the closed facilities will work from virtual locations that offer telework or other USDA facilities.

FNS’s Contracts Management Division has created the ALLSHARE system, a single electronic platform for customers and contracting employees that streamlines processes, training, tracking and reporting pre- and post-award administration actions. The system enhances customer service by integrating multiple databases and allowing for data consolidation to efficiently manage contracting activities; improving tracking of contracting officers and acquisition certification requirements; and improving visibility and reporting.

FNS is working to improve the process for employees who are leaving the agency due to retirement, resignation or transfer by implementing a pilot project based on Lean Six Sigma techniques. To replace the outdated practice of separating employees walking around the agency with a form that must be cleared by various internal departments, the Offboarding Project pilot utilizes a SharePoint website to “virtually” out-process them.

From a centrally managed site, process owners review separating employees’ records and either clear them for the various steps required to separate, or provide “action required” notification of what is needed to clear any particular step. Employees merely respond to “action required” messages to reduce the time spent walking around with the form, which eases frustration.

Once a SharePoint file is created, process owners can tap into employee records at any time. Employees, their supervisors, the process step owners and the human resources staff can monitor progress throughout the separation process. The SharePoint site also contains all of the agency forms employees might need as part of their separation process.

Going forward, USDA will sustain the principles of the “Blueprint for Stronger Service” and continue to take a hard look at all operations, from headquarters to field offices. The end result is a plan that creates optimal use of USDA’s employees, better results for USDA customers, and greater efficiencies for American taxpayers.

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