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Regional Conservation Partnership Program - Identified Improvements for the Future

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 from March 2023 to September 2023, using guidance, feedback, and expertise from partners, employees, leadership, and stakeholders, NRCS has identified several improvements that we will be working to implement in the months and years ahead.  

Note:  Some improvements are identified as short term and were implemented immediately or will be delivered early 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. (Short-Term) 
  • 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. (Short-Term)  
  • 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. (Short- Term) 
  • 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. (Short-Term)

Streamline RCPP Easements 

  • Once improvements have been implemented, NRCS estimated that the negotiation time of RCPP agreements with U.S.-held easement activities will be reduced from 15 months to three months, and from 19 months to three months with entity-held easement activities. (Long-Term) 
  • 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) 
  • Include Areawide Market Analysis (AWMA) or other industry-approved valuation methodology identified in the proposal as part of the final RCPP agreement, eliminating the waiver process for alternative valuation methods. (Short-Term)  
  • Streamline RCPP negotiation and acquisition process by promoting the use of standard procedures and making available 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. (Short-Term) 
  • 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. (Short-Term) 
  • Streamline obligating  funds for projects with Entity-Held Easements  by consolidating in most situations the partnership agreement, supplemental type IV agreement, and type I agreement into a single agreement. (Long-Term) 
  • Consolidate the agreements for projects with US-Held Easements into one that obligates technical assistance funds and allows partners to be reimbursed for time spent refining the project for implementation. (Long-Term) 

Improve the RCPP Portal 

  • Reduce agreement and technical assistance complexity. (Short-Term) 
  • 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. (Short-Term) 

Simplify Technical Assistance Structure 

  • Simplify the detail of technical assistance deliverables to more closely mimic traditional cooperative agreements. (Short-Term) 
  • Enable partners to request up to 25 percent technical assistance funds to support project implementation.  (Short-Term) 
  • Provide partners clear guidelines for salary ranges based on the technical expertise of the partner employee. (Short-Term) 

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)