U.S. Senator Mark Pryor today grilled Secretary Vilsack about flaws in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's criteria for closing Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices, which affects 10 offices in Arkansas. The Senate Appropriation's Agriculture and Rural Development Subcommittee hearing was held to discuss the Fiscal Year 2013 budget for the Department of Agriculture.
"While I appreciate the USDA's efforts to curb taxpayer spending, the process for selecting offices for closure must be fair, criteria must be clear, and communities' voices must be heard," Pryor said. "It's unacceptable that I've continued to receive conflicting information from the USDA. Arkansans need answers."
Since the USDA released their "Blueprint for Stronger Service," Pryor has repeatedly questioned whether the data used to select office closures is flawed. During today's hearing, Pryor questioned the USDA's decision to use Euclidean miles versus road miles to select offices for closures. While the USDA has claimed that Euclidean miles are a more objective measure, Pryor said Euclidean miles in rural states often results in more driving miles and a significant amount of lost production time for Arkansas farmers and ranchers. Using the Euclidean approach adversely affects offices in Izard, Lafayette, Johnson, Faulkner, Benton, Garland, and Pulaski Counties.
In addition to his concerns about mapping calculations, Pryor also raised concerns about the USDA's public comment period. According to Pryor, there were there were 131 FSA offices initially slated for closure, and all 131 were included on the final list.
"The USDA held public meetings throughout the state to hear from Arkansans about how office closures would affect their local communities," Pryor said. "After Arkansans took the time to attend the meetings, I'm disappointed the USDA neglected to make any changes to their plan."
Under the USDA's "Blueprint for Stronger Service," 10 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in Bradley, Fulton, Garland, Izard, Johnson, Lafayette, Logan, Benton, Pulaski and Faulkner Counties were slated for closure. The USDA also proposed closing a Natural Resources Conservation Center in Pulaski County, as well as Rural Development Offices in Izard, Faulkner, Hot Springs, White, and Lawrence Counties.