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Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI) Initiative 4

Initiative 4 - Implement Programs through alternative staffing and delivery approaches designed around more efficient business processes.

As part of the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills, most of the administrative responsibilities for delivering conservation financial assistance programs (except CRP) were assigned to NRCS. This transfer of responsibilities consolidated the Programs’ delivery under a single agency, and provided the opportunity for programs that are less confusing for participants, streamlined business and IT systems, efficiencies through centralization of clerical and administrative tasks, and better integration between technical and financial assistance processes.

While NRCS has taken steps to more efficiently deliver the financial assistance programs (e.g. development of ProTracts, policy changes, establishing program support staff positions in states), there continues to be widespread concern that NRCS is too “programs-driven” and field technical staff are spending too little time in the field conservation planning with clients.

To address these concerns and take advantage of the opportunity to deliver both technical and financial assistance in an integrated and efficient manner, NRCS must reevaluate its historical organizational model that places much clerical and administrative burden on the field. Ensuring NRCS’ business model has the right people working on the right tasks is essential. In addition, financial assistance processes that drive much of the field conservationists’ time and energy (e.g. ranking, notifications, client signatures) must be reconsidered.

To effectively construct a sustainable business model for delivering technical and financial assistance, the following strategies have been identified as part of a broader evaluation of streamlining business processes, establishing needed financial management controls, integrating new technologies, and implementing a model that reinforces that financial assistance is delivered through science-based conservation planning.

STRATEGY 4.1 - NRCS will establish a more centralized financial assistance administrative and clerical support structure and supporting information system to minimize the non-technical workload on field staff.

Implementation of a more centralized approach is a critical step towards removing the clerical financial assistance workload from field office technical staff, standardizing financial management processes, and facilitating better designed workflows and business processes.

Over 30 specific FA-related tasks often performed by field technical staff have been identified that could potentially be streamlined, eliminated, automated, or reassigned to non-technical clerical or administrative positions. These tasks include, but are not limited to, checking eligibility and dealing with eligibility issues, customer notification and correspondence, entering ranking data, obtaining customer signatures, generating and assembling contracts and related documentation, and other processes.

To centralize key parts of NRCS’ financial assistance business processes, the following actions have been identified:

  • Formalize a financial assistance support strategy within NRCS that reassigns at least 80 percent of the non-technical FA workload from the field office technical staff to a centralized support function.

  • Formally define the tasks to be performed by this centralized support function, standardizing these nationwide, and expanding the number and types of tasks commonly performed by current “support positions” in states.

  • Integrate workflow management into a Conservation Desktop for FA Support, as well as the Conservation Desktop for planners and the Mobile Computing Tool, to allow centralized staff to efficiently and transparently provide clerical and administrative support for FA programs.

  • Conduct formal Centralized FA Support Pilots in selected states during FY2011-2012.

  • Establish a strategy to address funding and human capital issues for alternative centralized FA support approaches.

STRATEGY 4.2 - NRCS will evaluate and implement alternative business processes that streamline the delivery of financial assistance programs.

Integrating technical and financial assistance processes not only offers significant opportunities to streamline workflow and gain efficiencies, but also reinforces the concept that financial assistance exists to assist customers apply practices identified through science-based planning.

To effectively streamline the delivery of financial assistance programs, the following are required:

  • NRCS will integrate an automated FA program ranking capability into the conservation planning process and mobile planning platform.

  • NRCS will integrate the opportunity for streamlined funding selection using a threshold concept to immediately pre-approve high quality applications.

  • NRCS will integrate the option to use an electronic signature in conducting business with NRCS technical or financial assistance programs.

  • NRCS will integrate other miscellaneous policy and process changes that streamline the delivery of financial assistance.

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