I hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day weekend with family & friends. We appreciate living in a Country that values freedom. We remember & honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to defend this freedom at any cost. I am proud to be a member of an organization that begins our meetings with prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, and ends our meeting with the singing of God Bless America.
A request for information was submitted to the Federal Register by the Office of the Secretary, USDA on May 18, 2017 regarding EO 13781, "Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch," and using the authority of the Secretary to reorganize the Department under section 4(a) of Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1953. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is soliciting public comment on the proposed reorganization announced by Secretary Perdue on May 11, 2017.
I encourage each of you to give some thought to the positive changes necessary to the delivery of FSA farm loan programs, as well as all FSA programs. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "The people in the field are the closest to the problem, closest to the situation, therefore, that is where real wisdom is." Please share your suggestions with the NACS Board. You can simply send an email through our website, email me directly, or submit comments directly to the link listed in the Federal Register notice.
Comments and information are requested on or before June 14, 2017. That is more than enough time to formulate your thoughts for improvements to our programs and how we operate. The link to this posting is: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/05/18/2017-10063/improving-customer-service
On behalf of NACS, we offer congratulations to Past President Lisa Liska. She has been chosen to work in the State and County Fellowship Program in the National Office updating the FLP Strategic Plan and Goals. Lisa begins this tour of duty the week of June 5th. She is the right person for this very important job, and we wish her well!
Please put extra effort into completing the Employee View Point Survey. We must take advantage of these opportunities to effect change in the culture. I believe the Agency has made progress over the last several years; we appreciate their support of all employee organizations.
We have had good response to the NACS Convention registration. Please consider attending; you, the organization, and the Agency will benefit. We do not want to minimize the opportunity for professional development that NACS offers. The deadline for early registration is June 1st! Hope to see you in KC.
John W. Gehrke
The 2017 budget process was finalized Friday. Farm Loan Programs was given a substantial increase in loan funds which should more than carry us through the current fiscal year. This should ensure that we enter the FY 18 year with no funding backlog. This is extremely important with the current agriculture economy. No immediate assistance was provided to allow FSA to hire additional loan officers. This continues to be a concern. The theme that I continually here from our partner organizations is the push for a sizeable increase in our loan limits and ensure adequate funding. The concern that I hear from our members is that our resources are stretched further and further. We have legitimate concerns for the work that is not getting done. The NACS board and FSA management share this concern and discuss this regularly.
We have previously mentioned the start of the Farm Bill debate. NACS, with the help of our legislative consultant, keeps close tabs on the credit aspect of the discussions. Other farm groups and conventional lenders are aware of and share our concerns. They frequently cite our loan limits, adequate funding, AND the need for adequate FSA personnel to carry out our mission. The House recently held a hearing on our credit programs. I encourage you to see for yourself what the private sector says about the need for FSA involvement in the credit sector. To quote Sub-committee Chairman Austin Scott, " As we approach farm bill deliberations, we need to prioritize access to credit. Along with a strong farm safety net-including crop insurance-credit availability is a tool we cannot afford to lose. Modern farming requires modern financing ". You can access the video or the written testimony at: http://agriculture.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=3810
The NACS legislative committee will be in DC this coming week. Meetings have been scheduled with the Committees overseeing Agriculture authorizations, appropriations, and with specific members. Visits with our partner organization will also be held to ensure the proper message is being sent by all parties. NACS continues to tell our story and carry your message.
Thank you to those members that have reached out to me with specific concerns. It helps draft the conversations that will be held this week and beyond.
The NACS board recently held our spring board meeting. We normally complete this planning session while we are in DC meeting with the National Office, however, that trip has been postponed this year. We anticipate meeting with management once the new Administrator and other political appointments have been made. NACS concurred with this decision to wait, and we look forward to meeting with the new appointees. We all have read and heard the same information; the Secretary of Agriculture is scheduled to be confirmed on Monday, April 24th. The Agency appointments will then begin and we look forward to meeting with the new team soon.
Our board meeting was productive. We laid out specific goals and planned for convention. The committee structure will change somewhat after the upcoming convention. The new committee surveys will be posted to the web site prior to convention. We are currently looking for professional assistance with our web site. Our member rely heavily on the site to get information and we decided to direct more resources to modernizing and maintaining www.nacs-fsa.org. We expect to make progress in this area soon.
The NACS work on the funding mechanism that was placed into the continuing resolution proved very valuable as noted in the Agency's most recent newsletter. This was the first time that our loan funds were front loaded to allow us to process the amount of loans we have without a full budget. Without action and the help of our partner organizations, we would have run out of loan funds long ago. The fight is not over. We face the possibility of another lapse in funding the end of this week depending on when the next CR is approved. Much is unknown, but we certainly hope that any lapse in government and FSA loan funding is short lived.
The full legislative committee is preparing for a trip to DC in May. They will be providing a report to our members upon return. I get frequent questions regarding the human capital plan for the Agency now that the Government-wide hiring freeze is lifted. This will be among the topics discussed with Congressional representatives during the upcoming trip. We appreciate the work and effort put forth by our legislative team and we look forward to their perspective after meeting with Congress.
Many of us have read about the initial budget proposals and the desire to reduce the size of our Government. NACS has offered to assist the Agency in developing plans for FLP delivery as we look to the future. Time is relatively short for the initial submission and we expect this to be a priority for the new Secretary. We will continue to offer assistance and make sure your interests are considered. I have not always had the answers you wanted, but please continue to contact me or any of the board with your questions and concerns. We do listen and strive to represent every State and every member!
John W. Gehrke
Each of us should have received a link to a survey called FSA Business Applications Satisfaction Survey. The point of this message is to encourage all employees to complete this survey. As an employee Association, we spend a considerable amount of time and energy on IT issues. This is a sincere effort by FSA management to solicit feedback from the field on the functionality of our software systems.
I know many of us tend to roll our eyes and think "here we go again". Let's put forth the effort and aim for 100% completion. There is a direct link between this survey and the IT Steering Committee (ITSC). The main purpose of the ITSC is setting priorities for improvements and enhancements as we move forward. We all know that information technology systems are vital to the work we do in the field. Kim Eilerman, FLM in Illinois, is the NACS representative to this steering committee. NACS also has several other members as part of this group. This survey allows all of us the chance to be directly involved in the process to improve our systems. Let's take advantage of this opportunity! Thank you to those that have already completed the survey. For those that have not, we have until this Friday.
NACS will continue to share your concerns and monitor the progress made as a result of this survey. I know this is a very busy time of year for FLP. Thank you for the work you do and the way you do it.
NACS recently concluded our 2017 Zone meetings. A very big THANK YOU to the Zone Representatives and the members of the hosting states that planned and carried out the work necessary to make these meetings a success!!! We also appreciate the effort put forth by the National Office and NFAOC staffs. Considerable time and effort was given so that NACS members would be informed and have the chance to meet with management both in the group setting and individually.
I was told that the best part of being NACS President is attending each of the Zone meetings and meet new members. I found this to be very true. The Zone Reps are preparing a newsletter for each of their Zones to summarize the meeting, so I will not do that here. I will say that while each State or region may have some unique challenges, many of the issues important to our membership remain consistent across the country. I will attempt to touch on some of these.
FUNDING: NACS worked with our partner organizations to ensure some legislative relief for our immediate funding concerns. We believe the Department has the ability to secure additional funding prior to the next continuing resolution and we believe that will happen very soon.
BUDGET CONCERNS: Although the President's proposal was not what we hoped to hear, we have a long way to go until decisions are final. We must keep in mind that FLP continues to have strong support among the House and Senate agriculture committees and with appropriators. No drop in FLP funding levels have been proposed. USDA must retain adequate staff to provide record loan making levels and to service our existing $24 billion portfolio. NACS will continue to tell our story to the Administration and to Congress. We will not be alone; our private sector industry partners understand the need for the programs and service we provide and they continue to assist in this effort.
DAFLP Jim Radintz stressed during our recent meetings that we should" keep calm and carry on". Similar words of encouragement were expressed by Acting Administrator Chris Beyerhelm. Very good advice; we keep doing what we do serving our customers and creating economic development in the rural communities where we live and work. NACS will not relent on advocating on your behalf.
Your NACS Board is preparing for our Spring Board meeting next week. Please contact any or all of us with your questions and concerns.
Don't forget to check the NACS web site for details on the upcoming convention scheduled for June 25th - 29th. Congratulations to the Ohio Association for signing 8 new members this past week!!! Please continue to share your success stories with us.
John W. Gehrke
Inauguration Day is quickly approaching and NACS is preparing to introduce your Association to the new Administration. We look forward to telling the NACS story and the great success of the farm loan programs that we deliver everyday! Chris Beyerhelm will be serving as Acting Administrator during the transition period. He has been a great asset to all employee organizations and to the Agency.
Congratulations to Bill Cobb! He has been named as Assistant Deputy Administrator of Farm Loan Programs. Bill has been a supporter and great resource for our organization. We look forward to continue working with him and the entire National Office staff.
A legislative update has been sent out. I encourage you to look it over and become familiar with any legislators from your district and State. Never pass up the chance to tell the NACS story when the opportunity presents itself.
You recently received a flyer regarding the upcoming Zone meetings. I will not restate what was in there, but I do encourage you to join us. Every single member has a chance to make a difference; to NACS and to the Agency. The same way we are given the chance every day to have a positive impact in people's lives.
You will meet people that share the same successes, concerns, and frustrations you have. Most importantly, together, we can develop solutions. That is what we do. As a bonus, you will make great work contacts and new friends for life. I hope to meet you very soon at a Zone meeting.
John W. Gehrke
Merry Christmas! The holiday season is a hectic time for all of us. Rural America is facing difficult economic times and that can make this time of year even more stressful; both for FSA employees and our customers. Times like this remind us how important the work we do really is and the impact we have. Both what we do and how we do it is important.
I am a month behind publishing this update. The work and effort put forth by NACS members is ongoing and important, but it is also imperative that we share that information with you outside of Zone meetings and National Convention. I will do better; I may have just made my first New Year's resolution for 2017...
I traveled the weekend of Veteran's Day to Indianapolis for the American Bankers Association (ABA) annual Ag Lending Conference. Farmer Mac sponsored an FSA guaranteed lender stakeholder meeting prior to the conference. I was able to visit with many bankers and listen in on the various FSA presentations and lender panels. FSA National Office presenters did an excellent job and Farmer Mac, as always, was a great host and gave NACS the chance to submit comments prior to the meeting. I was somewhat surprised that the major concern centered on our environmental regulations. The Agency noted that the hot topics sessions they conduct for employees is intended to distribute information, address concerns, and answer questions directly to the field employees.
NACS member John Gehrke meets with Steve Apodaca and Ed Elfmann of the ABA Center for Agriculture and Rural banking.
This was followed by the National FLP Policy Meeting held the last week of November. Our thanks to the Administration for inviting each of the employee associations! Jim Radintz, DAFLP, and the National Office staff did a very good job planning and presenting several days of material. We also thank Jim for the time he spent with NACS during the conference. We were able to ask several HR and IT questions during the panel discussions. Succession planning continues to be a priority for the Agency. The new Administration transition process was also on the Agenda. Overall, the meeting was a great opportunity to network with fellow FSA employees. We also appreciated the opportunity to attend the Farm Loan Chief's Association annual meeting.
Don't forget to check out the ZONE MEETING REGISTRATIONS on the NACS web site at http://www.nacs-fsa.org/. Zone B will kick off the meetings the first weekend in February in Sioux Falls, South Dakota!!!
Wishing you and your families a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!!!
John W. Gehrke
Greetings NACS members! We find ourselves in the all too familiar place of operating under another Continuing Resolution. NACS has partnered with other farm organizations to ensure that members of the House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations Committees are aware of FSA FLP funding needs this fiscal year and beyond.
By the time you receive the next NACS update, the election will be over and we will be preparing for a new Administration. This brings me to an important point. NACS is NOT a political organization. We do not endorse candidates, donate money to parties or individuals, or even promote a PAC. What we DO is tell the NACS story. We educate members of Congress on our efficient FLP funding mechanism, our program successes (and struggles), and the impact Agency programs have in rural America. We believe it to be the best of the best Public - Private Partnerships. Many of our commercial lenders agree.
We never want to assume that these things are common knowledge among the legislative branch. NACS, through our legislative committee and our consultant McAllister & Quinn, has developed important relationships with other farm groups and Congressional staffers. We look forward to hosting our 2nd Ag Lenders Roundtable this coming spring, where we seek to collaborate on priority issues, find common ground legislatively, and further develop the relationships with these farm organizations.
NACS members meet with Congressman Bost, IL, member of the House Ag Committee, during the NACS Day on the Hill in July.
These efforts are not in conflict with our stated purpose to work with FSA management to address concerns and solutions we submit through our resolutions. The 2016-2017 Committees have been appointed and are working to obtain responses to the resolutions adopted at our National Convention. The final report, including National Office comments, will be posted to the website soon.
This past week, the National Rural Lenders Association (NRLA) held their 2nd annual convention. Ben Herink, NACS Legislative Chairperson and non-voting member of the NRLA Board, was unable to attend this year due to the very recent birth of their second child. We all wish the family well! Andy Quinn, partner in McAllister & Quinn, represented NACS at the event and will be providing a full report to the Legislative Committee and your NACS Board. We look forward to attending the next NRLA convention this spring; to be held concurrently with our roundtable meeting.
As we move forward into the new fiscal year, please feel free to contact me or any member of the Board with any concerns you have for us to address with the National Office.
John W. Gehrke
NACS recently concluded our 44th Annual National Convention, which was the first ever Convention held in Washington, D.C. I want to extend a big THANK YOU to the Convention Committee for all of their hard work and planning in organizing a very successful Convention. We were very fortunate to have several speakers from the National Office and the National Finance & Accounting Operations Center (NFAOC), including Val Dolcini, Administrator; Chris Beyerhelm, Associate Administrator; Greg Diephouse, DAFO; Jim Radintz, DAFLP; Sharon Sachs, Chief Farm & Community Services Branch; and Cindy Haas, Chief Farm Services Branch. NACS members were also able to have questions addressed by a large Q&A panel, which included Tom Mulhern, HR Director; Darren Ash, CIO; Radha Sekar, CFO; Brad Pfaff, DAFP; Tony Bainbridge, NFAOC Director; and Mark Rucker, DAM. I believe NACS members especially appreciated the special effort put forth by Jim Radintz and nearly the entire National Office staff to attend, introduce themselves, and mingle with members. A NACS Newsletter will be coming out soon to highlight convention events.
NACS was proud to honor Ben Herink, NE, with the "Blood, Sweat, and Tears Award" at our banquet on Wednesday evening. The award is the highest honor given by NACS, and Ben's humble, yet moving, speech showed why he was an excellent choice to be the recipient. There were also many adopted resolutions brought forth by the membership for improving our service to FSA customers, which the NACS Board will be discussing further with the National Office. The Committee Reports will be posted to the NACS website for your review in the near future.
The newly elected NACS Board consists of the following members: John Gehrke, IL - President; Theresa Windham, GA - Vice President; Ray Bartholomew, KS - Secretary; Ryan Lukassen, NM - Treasurer; Lisa Liska, NE - Past President; Casey Toyne, CO - Zone A Representative; Joseph Grier, TX - Zone B Representative; Jeremey Burner, VA - Zone C Representative; and Jamelda Fulton, MS - Zone D Representative. Please feel free to contact any member of the NACS Board with any concerns or issues which you may have.
In this upcoming year, it is important than we encourage and support each other and reach out to our fellow employees to join or again become involved in our Association. We will continue to tell the NACS story because what we do has a positive effect in rural America. As an Association, NACS does make a difference. We make the Agency work better for our customers and our employees, which, in turn, makes the Agency a better place to work.
I look forward to this upcoming year and working with you!
President's Update #11
National Convention is fast approaching next week in Washington, D.C. If you are planning to attend, remember to bring your LINCPass Card for access!
The following members have announced their candidacy for office:
President: John Gehrke, Farm Loan Specialist, Illinois
Vice President: Theresa Windham, District Director, Georgia
Secretary: Ray Bartholomew, Farm Loan Manager, Kansas
Treasurer: Ryan Lukassen, Farm Loan Specialist, New Mexico
Zone A Representative: Casey Toyne, Farm Loan Specialist, Colorado
Zone B Representative Joseph Grier, Farm Loan Manager, Texas
Zone C Representative: Jeremey Burner, Farm Loan Manager, Virginia
Zone D Representative: Cheryl Brooks, Farm Loan Officer, Arkansas
I want to strongly encourage all members to make sure they follow the happenings of NACS on our website at www.nacs-fsa.org and our Facebook page, NACS - FSA. Look for real-time updates and videos during the week of National Convention on our website and Facebook page.
This past week, I had the opportunity to represent you at the Managerial Cost Accounting (MCA) Governance Board's Working Group in Washington, D.C. This group has been re-established to review the processes, procedures, and input to the MCA System. We had great discussions both as a large group and in small break-out sessions. The calculations and methodology used to develop the model result in a large project with many components to consider. I provided a field employee's perspective and a broad spectrum of knowledge from across the nation so your voice would be heard. It is important everyone understand how essential it is to accurately record programs and activities in WebTA, as the data is not only used to calculate staffing levels but also the production rate at which we do our jobs. The data is very informative in showing where county offices need more resources and/or training in order to successfully serve America's farmers and ranchers.
A formal report will be compiled in the coming weeks to summarize the details and recommendations of the meeting, which will go out to all employees. Donald Dunn, NADD President; Susan Long, NASE Vice President; and I also plan to provide a short briefing of the working group meeting at National Convention.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Lisa A. Liska
Theresa is a District Director from Georgia . She was elected NACS President at the June 2017 Convention.