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Improvements to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program

NRCS has been working to streamline and simply the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), to ease the burden on employees and partners, and help maximize flexibility for partners leveraging their investments with NRCS resources and capabilities.  

Through a concerted effort in 2023, using guidance, feedback and expertise from partners, employees, leadership and stakeholders, NRCS identified several improvements to RCPP that the agency has implemented and will continue to implement in the months and years ahead. In fiscal year 2024, NRCS is: 

  • Streamlining RCPP agreement negotiation to allow simultaneous execution of program partnership and supplemental agreements; 
  • Updating policy and business tools to streamline the development of RCPP agreement deliverables and reducing the need for nationally approved waivers; 
  • Conducting annual comprehensive training for state program managers and support staff; and
  • Delegating additional authority to State Conservationists to support locally led projects.  

NRCS will continue to invest in development of a new business tool to support greater automation of RCPP agreement development, obligating funding to partners, and quicker processing of payments.

NRCS is working on model easement deeds to streamline implementation of RCPP easements that use common deed terms for specific land uses.

This year, NRCS aims to reduce negotiation time from 15 months to 6 months, with the goal to reduce that even further in future years.

See below for details about the improvements NRCS is implementing. 

Note:  Some improvements are identified as short-term and will be delivered in fiscal year 2024.  Other improvements will take longer to implement as they may require a new policy to be drafted, IT development, or other action to occur prior to implementation.    

Simplify and Reduce the Number of Agreements 

  • A single overarching programmatic agreement to obligate technical assistance funds and, when applicable, to obligate financial assistance funds. In addition, provide the flexibility of a supplemental agreement with non-lead partners as needed. (Long-Term) 
  • Reinforce the locally led process by having State Conservationists involved in the pre-submission phase, ensuring project objectives, staffing costs, and waiver requests are known before project award. COMPLETED
  • Improve communication with partners at the state-level in the proposal phase to reduce time spent negotiating the project agreement using a State Conservationist Questionnaire: a document to help guide State Conservationists in conversations with applicants. COMPLETED
  • Reduce complexity in the negotiation process by simplifying the partnership agreement. (Short-Term) 
  • Use an interim process for FY 2023 proposals to simplify RCPP agreements. COMPLETED 
  • Renewal eligibility no longer limited to projects based on an expiration date range. Projects that meet the definition of a successful project are eligible to apply for a renewal. COMPLETED
  • NRCS is issuing updated guidance to State Coordinators including the reduction of waivers, flexibility to redistribute technical assistance funds, if appropriate, and oversight by the State Conservationist, among others. (Short-Term)

Streamline RCPP Easements 

  • Offer alternative approaches in partnership agreement negotiations that allow partners to balance flexibility and efficiency to implement US-Held easements and Entity-Held Easements. (Long-Term) 
  • Allow for easement projects using alternative valuation methods to include them in the proposal and the RCPP agreement, eliminating the waiver process.  COMPLETED
  • Streamline RCPP negotiation and acquisition process by promoting the use of standard procedures and making available model deeds for common easement enrollment types, such as US-Held Wetlands, Entity-Held Forestland, and US-Held Grassland. (Short-Term) 
  • Offer the option for customizable deeds and procedures for RCPP easement acquisitions to improve process transparency and relay realistic timeframes. (Long-Term) 
  • Clarify that while certification of eligible entities is not available under RCPP, ACEP-ALE certified entities can use a streamlined acquisition process when purchasing agricultural land easements under RCPP. COMPLETED 
  • Provide increased RCPP cost-share to the eligible entity, up to 75 percent   of the easement value with right of enforcement, where an Entity-Held Easement will directly facilitate the purchase of lands by historically underserved landowners. COMPLETED 
  • Create an easement resources library for the RCPP website. (Short-term)
    Add model easement deeds to the easement resources library. (Short-term)
  • Provide a State Conservationist Questionnaire for Easements to help guide RCPP easement proposal discussions. Having critical conversations early in the process will expedite negotiations and agreement timeframes. COMPLETED  

Improve the RCPP Portal 

  • Reduce agreement and technical assistance complexity. COMPLETED  
  • Reduce the number of data entry cells within the Portal. (Short-Term) 
  • Integrate and automate partnership agreement contracting, payments, and reporting. (Long-Term)

Improve Guidance and Training for Employees and Partners 

  • Implement a voice of the customer effort specific to the RCPP Coordinator SharePoint, NRCS’s internal file sharing and collaboration tool.  Continue collaboration with the Business Center’s Customer Experience Division to implement SharePoint user focus groups sessions, consolidate feedback, implement improvements and communicate outcomes to SharePoint users and leadership. (Short-Term)
  • Develop and implement a training roadmap that includes partner listening sessions, virtual training sessions for employees and partners, and a national RCPP program manager foundational in-person training. COMPLETED
  • Develop regional training for employees and partners. (Short-term)

Simplify Technical Assistance Structure 

  • Enable partners to request up to 25 percent technical assistance funds to support project implementation.  COMPLETED  
  • Provide partners clear guidelines for salary ranges based on the technical expertise of the partner employee. COMPLETED 
  • Give State RCPP managers added flexibility to simplify the number of deliverables within the supplemental agreements and program partnership agreements, i.e., lumping versus splitting technical assistance activities by type and year. (Short-term)
  • Eliminate the need for partners to apply for a waiver if the partner chooses to devote more of its technical assistance funds to financial assistances funds, provided the partner’s technical assistance allocation does not exceed 25 percent. COMPLETED
  • Give State Conservationists the discretion to redistribute funds within the TA-E and TA-I, provided agreed-to outcomes can be achieved within the allotted timespan. COMPLETED
  • Allow technical assistance funds to support NRCS inherently governmental functions to be allocated to states prior to the agreement award. Additional NRCS technical assistance may be negotiated with the partner if required to support additional NRCS program implementation tasks. COMPLETED
  • Reduce National Office review. Project oversight is delegated to the State Conservationist, with National Office required concurrence on the following: eligibility of technical assistance/financial assistance deliverables, adjustments to conservation benefits achieved, and partner contribution eligibility. COMPLETED 

Improve Conservation Desktop 

  • Reduce the potential for improper obligations, modifications, and payments with a fully automated producer and parcel contracting process. (Long-Term) 
  • Improve the timeframe for processing producer payments for contracts obligated in fiscal year 2024 through connection to the NRCS financial management system. (Short-Term)  

Simplify the Partner Reimbursement Process 

  • Improve by a reduction of three days process time and three process steps.  
    • Current Partner Reimbursement = 3 weeks, 11 process steps 
    • Future Partner Reimbursement = 2.5 weeks, 8 process steps (Long-Term)   
  • Automate partner reimbursement payments through connection to the NRCS financial management system. (Long-Term) 
  • Decrease the time partners wait for reimbursement of project management and outreach deliverables due to funds being obligated at the time the programmatic partnership agreement is signed. (Long-Term) 
  • Eliminate requirement for partner to reimburse NRCS for program implementation costs; the allotted five percent for inherently governmental tasks is allocated to the states before the agreement award.  NRCS may receive additional technical assistance funding for implementation if NRCS and the partner deem appropriate. COMPLETED