USDA head backs more cuts

Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman threw his weight behind an agency reorganization that will consolidate and centralize administrative functions in order to reduce costs improve services and maintain credibility with Congress.

"Unless we simplify our administrative overhead and reduce costs we will not have credibility when we ask Congress to appropriate funds for our programs and will ultimately be unable to provide adequate services to our customers " Glickman said in a memo sent July 11 to field-service agency chiefs.

The field-service centers made up of the Farm Service Agency the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Rural Development Agencies are the target of the reorganization. These agencies are responsible for rolling out the Service Center Implementation program which aims to reorganize 3 700 county-based field locations into a network of service centers that provide one-stop shopping to farmers. This program formerly known as Info Share has been criticized repeatedly by Congress and its funds frozen or cut.

Glickman plans to reduce administrative staffing by a total of 50 percent during the fiscal 1993 and fiscal 2002 period. Neither agency nor congressional sources could quantify the number of jobs that may be lost. The agency will consolidate current agency administrative organizations at headquarters and in the field into one a move designed to promote better use of technology and strong leadership.

Integrated computer systems shared by the co-located agencies "will give far better service to our customers. That's the ultimate objective " said Anne Reed chief information officer at the USDA.

Currently these centers are using proprietary systems that are not compatible she said.

Reed and assistant secretary for administration Pearlie Reed were given "full authority and responsibility" for administrative management activities and resources. Anne Reed will have responsibility for all information resources management-related activities. The two women along with a new planning team they will lead will develop by Sept. 3 a specific plan to consolidate headquarters units by the end of March 1998 state-level units by the end of December 1998 and a move to regional centers by the end of fiscal 2002.

Some longtime Washington observers remain skeptical however. A source on the House Agriculture Subcommittee said while this is a "step in the right direction" the department may have an uphill battle. "The Farm Service Agency has fought against reform of any kind. It doesn't want to consolidate it wants its own operations " the source said. "The secretary has had a difficult time with that."

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