WASHINGTON — In an effort to save more than $150 million annually, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is closing 259 domestic offices, facilities and laboratories across the United States as well as seven foreign offices, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced.
“In the past few decades, U.S. agriculture has become the second most productive sector of the American economy, thanks to farmers adopting technology, reducing debt, and effectively managing risk,” Mr. Vilsack said. “These are lessons from which we can all learn. As we continue to invest in rural communities across the country, U.S.D.A. has heard from producers about reducing red tape and the need to modernize its services. Today, we are answering the challenge by announcing a series of efforts to help us continue to streamline operations, make the best use of taxpayer resources, and provide the best possible service to the American people.”
Of the offices that are closing, some are no longer staffed or have a staff of just a few people and many are within 20 miles of other offices. The U.S.D.A. also is consolidating more than 700 cell phone plans to about 10. The overall U.S.D.A. workforce has been reduced by more than 7,000 employees recently as the result of employees taking early retirements over the past year. Of the offices closing, 131 are Farm Service Agency offices, and 35 of those had no staffing and the rest had one or two employees and were within 20 miles of another Farm Service Agency office.
While some expressed concern for food safety issues as the closings include five Food Safety and Inspection Service offices in five states, 10 district F.S.I.S. offices will remain open.