WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following last week’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to close 10 Ohio offices, 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.
Offices Slated for Closure in Ohio:
Farm Service Agency – Clark, Meigs, Montgomery, Perry, and Carroll Counties
Food and Nutrition Service – Franklin County, Hamilton County
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service –Wood County
Agricultural Research Service – Coshocton
Below is full text of the letter.
January 18, 2012
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Jamie L. Whitten Building
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC. 20050
Last week you announced a Blueprint for Stronger Service to save taxpayer dollars by increasing efficiency in operations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I appreciate the concerted effort you are making to improve management practices and to protect taxpayer dollars while maintaining services vital to American agriculture and rural communities.
Because the USDA is involved in so many aspects of day-to-day American life – from supporting farmers to ensuring food safety and water quality to investments in broadband - I have fought to maintain support for the department and to keep the doors of critical USDA offices open across Ohio.
In 2007, I worked with my colleagues to include a provision in the Senate version of the farm bill that would prevent the closure of FSA offices proposed for closure and to establish a process by which offices could be considered for closure in the future. A version of that provision was included in the 2008 farm bill (Sec.14212 of P.L. 110-246), placing a two-year moratorium on closure or relocation of county offices for the Farm Service Agency and establishing a transparent and public process by which offices should be considered for closure or relocation following the expiration of the moratorium. Offices within 20 miles of another FSA office were exempted, as was relocation within the same county.
From your Blueprint for Stronger Service I understand that the USDA will close 259 domestic offices, facilities, and labs across the country, as well as seven foreign offices. Your proposal calls for closure of variety offices throughout Ohio. Specifically, the Blueprint would close the following offices:
- Farm Service Agency: Clark, Meigs, Montgomery, Perry, and Carroll counties;
- Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services: Columbus in Franklin County;
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Bowling Green, in Wood County; and
- Agriculture Research Service: North Appalachia Experimental Watershed Research station in Coshocton
In the present budget climate, my top priority is saving taxpayer dollars while maintaining the highest-quality services to Ohioans possible. For each of the office closures in Ohio listed please provide: (1) the rationale behind your decision for closure of the office; (2) an explanation of how services to Ohioans will be maintained; (3) the ramifications for current USDA personnel; and (4) how USDA’s process will involve public comment and comply with provisions such as Sec. 14212, which specify the circumstances and processes that must be followed if an office is to be closed.
I reiterate that my top priority is maintaining high-quality and essential services in all USDA offices and recognize that decreased funding necessitates 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 affected by changes to USDA operations, and maintain the quality and reliability of USDA services on which Ohioans rely.
Again, thank you for your leadership and your constant work to improve USDA services for Ohioans and all Americans. I look forward to your reply.
United States Senator