INside NRCS: January 2013
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NRCS Public Affairs
Meet Acting Chief Jason Weller
Q. When did you first become interested in agriculture and conservation?
A. I had a job one summer at a small ranch in Montana. I moved cattle, fixed fences, stacked hay, and laid pipelines. That summer I learned a lot about myself as an individual. I learned about the rural way of life, about how hard families work on farms and ranches, the honor of the work they do day in and day out, and about how proud they are of their families and the land. It resonated with me; it was incredibly powerful. I never worked harder, but it was also rewarding and I left there with a great passion for Western resource issues and wanting to make a career of working in conservation resource management.
Q. When did you first get involved in public policy?
A. After grad school I worked at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, which gives advice on fiscal and policy issues to the state legislature. I focused on natural resource conservation and environmental protection issues. I was really excited and energized about that position. I saw how public policy can benefit both public and private lands and help folks better manage our natural resources.
Later, Acting Chief Weller worked with the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he assisted with the development and implementation of the budget for USDA conservation programs; the U.S. House Budget Committee, where he helped construct the annual congressional budget for agriculture, environment, and energy programs; and the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, where he provided oversight and crafted bills to fund USDA programs and activities. See his bio for more information.
Q. What are the biggest challenges NRCS is facing?
A. We know we’re facing a difficult budget climate. Now is not the time to curl up into a ball and feel bad for ourselves. Now is not the time to hope no one notices that we're here. In fact, we must do the exact opposite of that. We must step up and step forward, and own our future. More than ever, we have to demonstrate our relevance and prove our value to producers and American taxpayers.
Q. What do you see as the next steps for NRCS in the months ahead?
A. There are seven key priorities NRCS will focus and deliver on as we look to the future:
We’ll continue to strengthen our business operations and how we deliver conservation – focusing on the Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative and improving on our core administrative functions;
Expanding the soil health campaign to benefit range, pasture, and forest lands;
Enhancing our landscape conservation initiatives and better integrating science, assessment, and monitoring in our efforts;
Increasing conservation access for underserved communities by expanding the StrikeForce Initiative efforts nationally;
Broadening regulatory predictability – expanding beyond just wildlife to helping producers address water and air quality regulations as well;
Harnessing private markets to incentivize conservation and engaging private markets to encourage producers and consumers to make wise conservation decisions; and
Deepening strategic partnerships – maintaining our core partnerships while reaching out to new partners, and identifying our shared priorities early on to better leverage our staffs and resources.
We won’t accomplish all of these right away, but through hard work we can make great progress. I’m honored to have this opportunity to lead us there.
Read more about Acting Chief Jason Weller.
Federal Budget Decisions & NRCS
On January 2, the President signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 to avert the tax side of the Fiscal Cliff. The Senate passed the legislation on January 1, 2013 by a vote of 89 to 8, and the House passed the bill late the same day by a vote of 257 to 167.
The Act raised the top tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for individual income above $400,000 and married couple income above $450,000. The top capital gains and dividends rate rose to 20 percent (from 15 percent) above those income thresholds. But for the 98 percent of people living below those thresholds, the tax rates will not change. Congress deferred action on across-the-board spending cuts (sequester) and the debt ceiling until March 2013.
Importantly, Congress provided a one-year extension of many 2008 Farm Bill programs, giving agricultural producers certainty while the Agriculture Committees take up work on a five-year comprehensive farm bill.
The Act reauthorizes a number of conservation programs that lost enrollment authority with the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill (Wetlands Reserve Program, the Grasslands Reserve Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, Healthy Forests Reserve Program, and Conservation Reserve Program) at FY 2012 funding levels. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program also was extended with an authorized appropriation of $20 million and the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) provision that had expired with the 2008 Farm Bill is reactivated.
The Act did not apply the one-year extension to the conservation programs that already had been extended to FY 2014 through the 2012 Appropriations Act (EQIP, CSP, FRPP, WHIP, AMA). However just as with the newly extended programs, these programs also are operating at FY 2012 funding levels as a result of the Continuing Resolution.
SoilWeb App Update
In November 2012, the NRCS SoilWeb mobile phone app was updated to work across all types of devices (desktops, smartphones, and tablets) as a web-based application. In addition, maps and data for Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands are now available, soils information is now seamlessly linked, and help sections for non-technical users were added.
Users can view summaries of soil information for their geographic location or anywhere soil survey exists using Google’s online navigation capability or the GPS on mobile devices. The SoilWeb Smartphone application averages between 500 and 1000 hits per day by people looking for soils information through their Smartphone’s GPS coordinates and the SoilWeb Google Earth application averages about 15,000 hits per day.
To submit feedback, contact Toby O’Geen at email@example.com
Latest on NRCS Improvements
NRCS improvements will help NRCS thrive in new budgetary environments by using cutting-edge technology, making operations more efficient, and focusing resources on what we do best—putting more conservation on the ground.
The Conservation Practice Documents (CPD) improvement plan, under “Science Improvements,” was approved. This improvement streamlines the development and management of CPDs, saving staff time that can now be spent in the field with landowners.
The annual time savings of 175 full-time equivalents (FTE) at the state level was previously spent doing duplicative CPS development. The CPD improvement supports the online Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI) and will nationalize state-level conservation practice documents, reducing duplicative efforts.
The decision memo, overview, and full proposal have been posted to the improvement efforts SharePoint (under “Science Efforts”). The team is beginning the five-year implementation process by coordinating with CDSI on software needs and forming implementation teams.
Administrative improvements are a high priority for both Secretary Vilsack and Acting Chief Weller. To develop a clear vision and options for the future structure of NRCS Financial Management, Human Resources, Property, and Procurement (including Grants and Agreements), NRCS’s team has been working with the Department’s Administrative Solutions Project (ASP) team and documenting the current state of our administrative organization.
As we move forward with developing recommendations, the administrative staff across the agency will be engaged to create a strong plan that will help create a reality from the administrative vision of the future.
If you have any questions or ideas, please ask your State Conservationist, or use one of these:
Featured Photo from the Field
Water-swept Spartina alterniflora in a salt marsh; Jamestown, R.I. By Tim Dunne
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