In response to an official inquiry from Congressman Jeff Landry (R, LA-03) USDA Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack indicates no change of heart about closing of the local office.
“The decisions we made to consolidate and close offices were designed to deal with less money and fewer workers while avoiding furloughs and reduction in force actions that would have had a more disruptive impact on our ability to provide key services,” Vilsack wrote.
At a public hearing held in Franklin in February, USDA representatives were told that the local office has no expenses other than the salary of one employee. The FSA is provided office space free of charge in the St. Mary Parish Courthouse, and has been for more than 40 years. Additionally, the employee would be given the opportunity to relocate to the Iberia Parish office, thus there would be no true cost savings in closing the St. Mary location.
Vilsack said USDA first considered closure of offices with two or fewer employees located within 20 miles of another office.
But the correspondence also indicates errors in USDA’s data collections. Vilsack indicated that “we have identified the St. Mary County office as being 20 miles from the Iberia County office. The St. Mary office also has only one employee. The Lafayette County office is eight miles from the St. Mary County office, and has three employees.”
Landry also questioned Vilsack about a combined FSA and Natural Resource Conservation office.
“I have asked all USDA agencies to evaluate their field office structures,” Vilsack wrote. “Additionally, each agency’s budget has been impacted differently by Congress’ cuts and subsequent cuts to the agency’s standing resources. Both Rural Development and NRCS, along with other USDA agencies, are closing offices.”
“This letter is indicative of the problems with our federal government,” Landry said this morning. “For over a month now, I have repeatedly requested in both written and oral communications for the USDA to prove their criteria of cost savings and geographic guidelines are being met in order to justify the closure; and this is what we get. For those who live in St. Mary, isn’t it obvious now that the rules of math don’t apply to Washington? This is a classic case proving why we need to remove the establishment in Washington. I will continue to stand by our farmers and demand accountability from the USDA on this closure.”