Bennet urges USDA to lift hiring freeze in Colorado

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet recently sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging the department to lift a nationwide hiring freeze to allow Colorado’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices to fill field staff vacancies.

In recent listening sessions and meetings with farmers and ranchers throughout Colorado, Bennet and his staff heard reports of the USDA preventing FSA and NRCS from filling critical field staff positions. This, in turn, has had a ripple effect for communities and individuals that work with USDA to acquire loans, enroll in crop insurance, receive disaster assistance and enter into conservation programs.

In the letter, Bennet expressed deep concern over the vacancies, writing that the “failure to fill USDA field positions is hurting Colorado agriculture and the communities it supports.”

Bennet highlighted the various vacancies that exist at FSA and NRCS, including directorial positions in important agricultural counties, such as Yuma and Phillips. He also wrote of the growing concern that there appear to be no employees in training to fill the vacant roles.

“It is clear that this hiring freeze—which ignores input from local farmers, ranchers and businesses in the West—is hurting one of Colorado’s most important industries,” Bennet wrote. “We urge you to end the hiring freeze and move quickly to ensure FSA and NRCS offices have the resources and staff necessary to support Colorado agriculture in 2018 and into the future.”

Several organizations and individuals in Colorado have contacted Bennet to bring additional attention to the issue of USDA staff vacancies.

“Without trained, knowledgeable and, frankly, available staff, Colorado farmers and ranchers are literally at a loss when it comes to using the tools that should be available to them through the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation programs,” Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President Dale McCall said. “The hiring freeze must be lifted and authority given to the state executive director for FSA and Colorado NRCS State conservationist to hire staff that is critical and necessary.”