USDA will close 259 offices, facilities and labs across the country, plus seven foreign offices, in an effort to save $150 million annually, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Monday.
In unveiling the plan, called Blueprint for Stronger Service, he pointed out that Congress has reduced USDA discretionary spending by 12%, or more than $3 billion, since 2010.
“The USDA, like families and businesses across the country, cannot continue to operate like we did 50 years ago,” he said. “We must innovate, modernize, and be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. We must build on the record accomplishments of farm communities in 2011 with a stronger, more effective USDA in 2012 and beyond.”
The recommended closures will impact USDA headquarters in Washington and in 46 states and one U.S. territory. They include:
● Farm Service Agency (FSA): Consolidate 131 county offices in 32 states. According to Vilsack, 35 of the offices earmarked for closure currently have no employees; the rest have one or two employees and are within 20 miles of another FSA office.
● Foreign Agricultural Service: Close two country offices.
● Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Close 15 offices in 11 states and five in foreign countries.
● Rural Development: Close 43 area and sub offices in 17 states and U.S. territories.
● Natural Resources Conservation Service: Close 24 soil survey offices in 21 states.
● Food Safety and Inspection Service: Close five district offices in five states.
● Agricultural Research Service: Close 12 programs at 10 locations.
● Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services: Close 31 field offices in 28 states.
USDA is implementing a series of other changes, including the consolidation of more than 700 cell-phone contracts into about 10.
“American agriculture is currently experiencing its most productive period in history, thanks to the resiliency, resourcefulness and efficiency of our farmers, ranchers and producers,” said Vilsack. “As we move forward, USDA will continue to find ways to modernize its services, improve the customer experience, and ensure a successful, sustainable future for rural America.”