(Updated 3:12 p.m. January 11, 2012, with specifics on the Ohio FSA office closures.)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is trimming its budget, and is closing and/or consolidating more than 200 local and regional offices across all of its agencies.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement Jan. 9 during the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Hawaii.
“The USDA, like families and businesses across the country, cannot continue to operate like we did 50 years ago,” said Vilsack. “We must innovate, modernize, and be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.”
“The department is finding significant savings by consolidating more than 200 offices across the country,” he said.
The USDA will close 259 domestic offices, facilities and labs across the country, as well as seven foreign offices.
In some cases, Vilsack explained, offices are no longer staffed or have a very small staff of one or two people; many are within 20 miles of other USDA offices.
In other cases, technology improvements, advanced service centers, and broadband service have reduced some need for brick and mortar facilities, he said.
When fully implemented, these actions along with other recommended changes will provide efficiencies valued at about $150 million annually.
Plans to close or consolidate facility, office and lab operations will impact USDA headquarters in Washington and in 46 states and one U.S. territory.
In addition, USDA is implementing a series of other changes to eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies, including the consolidation of more than 700 cell phone plans into about 10.
(Scroll to bottom for map of all U.S. counties affected by closures.)
— 24 Natural Resources Conservation Service(NRCS) soil survey offices in 21 states, including the office in Mercer, Pa.
— 131 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in 32 states. Those recommended for closing include three in Indiana (Lake, Morgan and St. Joseph counties); four in New York (Albany, Saratoga, Yates and Sullivan counties); five in Ohio (Clark, Meigs, Montgomery, Perry and Carroll counties); five in West Virginia (Mineral, Gilmer, Monongalia, Cabell, and Nicholas counties); one in Michigan (Kalamazoo County) and seven in Pennsylvania (Blair, Carbon, Fulton, Mifflin, Perry, Wyoming and Lebanon counties). UPDATE: In Ohio, state FSA Executive Director Steven Maurer details the closings: Carroll County will be consolidated with the Tuscarawas County FSA office and located in New Philadelphia, Ohio; Clark County will be consolidated with the Madison County FSA office and located in London, Ohio; Meigs County will be consolidated with the Gallia/Lawrence County FSA office and located in Gallipolis, Ohio; Montgomery County will be consolidated with the Preble County FSA office and located in Eaton, Ohio; Perry County will be consolidated with the Fairfield County FSA office and located in Lancaster, Ohio.
— 31 field offices of the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in 28 states, including offices in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Charleston, W.Va.
— 15 offices of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in 11 states, including: Indianapolis and West Lafayette, Ind.; and Bowling Green, Ohio. International APHIS offices will be closed in Burma, Cambodia, Colombia, Indonesia and Laos.
— 12 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) programs at 10 locations, including the North Appalachian Experimental Watershed Research Center, Coshocton County, Ohio; and the Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center in Raleigh County, West Virginia. (USDA received approval from Congress in November to make these closures.)