Sonny, There’s More Than One OneUSDA

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue abolished, in name only, the U.S. Forest Service. Also APHIS, FSA, NRCS, and every other agency under his purview: “From today forward, you will hear all of USDA leadership, from the Office of the Secretary on down, begin to refer to us as OneUSDA. Not as APHIS or as the Forest Service… not as Rural Development or as FAS… and not as distinct agencies sitting in the same office, like FSA, RMA, and NRCS.”

Turns out there is more than one OneUSDA. There’s the 2014 human resources One USDA, which “tries to keep it simple” with “a breath of fresh air that reminds us that sometimes simplicity is the way to go.” And the 2013 “One USDA speaking with One Voice” communications strategy. Then there’s the OneUSDA Digital Strategy, which will:

Ensure that data is open, accurate, clearly described, structured, machine-readable, and digital services are optimized for mobile use . . . Establish more agile acquisition and budget processes that support the procurement and management of digital technologies. . . . Develop additional guidance through policy to address open data, digital signatures, performance and customer satisfaction measurement, and mobile optimization . . . Refine and expand the use of enterprise data taxonomy to standardize commonly used data for business intelligence purposes . . . Develop open data strategy that addresses the framework for sharing critical information at key decision points throughout the entirety of the enterprise . . . Identify, prioritize, and modernize existing data that are not currently available to the public . . . Deploy a virtual dynamic inventory of open data at usda.gov/data, populated by digital agency data inventories . . . Deploy a virtual enterprise geospatial reference repository to promote data quality with metadata best practices, templates, conventions, and other USDA branding standards . . . Provide guidance and training to data SMEs to develop web APIs, structure unstructured content or information, and to incorporate customer feedback for product improvements.

Uh . . . okay.

Here at FSEEE (there is only one) we’ve started an office pool for the date on which a Forest Service receptionist answers the phone “OneUSDA.” You can join the fun by submitting your date in the comment section.

20 Comments

  1. Really glad to hear that Sec. Perdue, like the rest of the Trump administration, is focusing on things that really matter. I’ll sleep better tonight knowing the agency I enjoyed working for has lost its long held name.
    I’d prefer to see Perdue figure out why his OneUSDA forest management agency spends more per acre to suppress fires than either the BLM or National Park Service. The answer to that question might help Perdue and the Chief figure out how to get control of fire costs within the agency’s budget.

  2. Yes the USDA-I-fication of the Forest Service has been great – FMMI, for example! (Not!). Why would an agency that sells things be forced to use the accounting system that the rest of USDA uses (and no other USDA agencies sell things, so that has been a mess that has taken years to clean up). When the FS was perennially in the bottom group of agencies to work for, the chief set up a listening group – the things that were putting morale in the dumps were mostly things being forced on the FS by USDA and those were off-limits for changing. This OneUSDA will cost the FS much more than it will save – in poor morale and in systems forced on the FS that do not fit what the FS does. Plus it means massive amounts of time and money on new signs, new stationery and more…all for what for the FS? For many other USDA agencies it makes sense, but not for the FS. Get ready for a massive wave of retirements…which won’t help get the wood out either…

    • I agree that this is very silly. But then I thought changing to “USDA Forest Service” was pretty silly also (did we ever change back? can’t remember) . But I come from the perspective of the users of other agencies’ work.. if you want a grant from Rural Development you want to make sure you are not talking to ERS. Not efficient at all for users, just darn confusing.

      I also remember the FS having to follow (pre-Trump) silly USDA ideas, especially administrative and HR ones. Perhaps this is a plot by USDA to grease the wheels (by increasing the NSF (net silliness factor) for a move to Interior where several agencies Do the Same Kind of Work and hire the Same Kind of People, as Jon says.

      • I definitely remember when USDA was coming and going from the agency name. How efficient was that? Signs and stationery had to be changed…much ado about nothing. The new telework rules seem to be punishing everyone because a few folks who didn’t telework properly were not held accountable. In my office we have several staff who work remotely and do not go to a FS office at all. They are basically teleworking 100% of the time. So, they are going to continue to do that and the rest of us can’t?

  3. I completely agree that this is a silly and costly plan that’s all about looking like he’s on the Trump team. It is a disservice to our customers and a huge waste of time and taxpayer money. I’m still reeling from his sappy, religious Christmas video message to employees…so much for OneUSDA being an inclusive organization.

    Perdue’s latest move is to rewrite telework rules…not yet clear what the actual changes are, but it seems evident from his statements that he wants us all back having face time with our co-workers. This old school thinking is so out of touch with reality…oh, wait…he has a nice office with a door while the rest of us are relegated to open-space cubicles, listening to our neighbors’ telephone conversations. We’ve been doing “more with less” for so long that it seems normal now. What isn’t normal are these inexperienced political appointees adding even more stress. Time to retire….

    • I can only relate to my own experience when folks were pushing working at home to save the government $ (and carbon.. and so on). One of my very smart economist employees was resistant because it was clear that for that person the impacts involved putting on the heat/AC at that person’s own house and not at the office (that is, transferring costs to employees). The corporate story was that it would save employees $ in commuting, but of course each person can analyze that themselves.

      It’s also difficult to supervise employees (good employees work at home or in the office, others don’t work either place but are more difficult to manage far away). I think there was a rule that you weren’t supposed to babysit and work at the same time… and yet people would do it and what can the supervisor do? Enforcing unenforceable rules is as stressful as selecting employees by criteria that you can’t discern from the application. And it can seem unprofessional to the people who are trying to contact the agency (doesn’t have to, but can). In my experience, there was a lot more to it than people ever were allowed to discuss openly.

      • I do understand…and those issues are very real. However, the current Telework rules allow a supervisor to disallow or limit telework where there are performance issues or for employees in positions that involve external communications or if telework is just not practical for the type of work performed. Yes…I pay for heating my home office, and also foot the bill for hi-speed internet connection, but it’s a small price to pay in exchange for avoiding traffic (safety issue), transportation costs and delays, and a noisy work environment full of constant interruptions. Yes…my dog sometimes barks when I’m on the phone, but it’s on mute when when I’m not talking. On the rare occasion when conversing with an external customer, the barking has been kind of an ice-breaker. “What kind of dog do you have?” No longer a faceless (uncaring) government employee, I’m now a person who likes dogs. Granted, I can only speak from my own experience, but teleworking has significantly increased my productivity…I accomplish a lot more when I’m less tired and stressed. Teleworking is not for everybody….some people thrive in an office environment and want the social interaction and structure. That’s fine…telework is optional and the policy provides supervisors with the ability to restrict its use where it is not merited.

        “OneUSDA” just reeks of the outdated notion that we are all the same…and square pegs can be “fixed” by pounding them into round holes. I do consider the Forest Service to be a “family”, but “organizational culture” is an important, and natural part of that. I’m not ready to turn in my Smokey Bear toys…does USDA even have a “mascot”?!

  4. Visiting here from ARS- we hate the changes too. OneUSDA is ridiculous and really undermines just how diverse the missions are throughout the Department.

    As to teleworking- I usually telework 50% of the work week (2 of my 4 tens) and am much more productive at home where every Tom, Dick, and Harry is not stopping in to chat with me. It’s not that I dislike my coworkers, they just impede my work or ask stupid questions. Now I am being told that I get to telework 0 days due to the requirement of 4 days at the office per week.

    Just one more reason to consider private sector.

    • I thought that there was still an option for a supervisor-approved waiver for teleworking more than one day per week. My daughter, who works for DoD, said, “Chill out….wait and see what happens…it could just get buried under higher priority changes.” Probably good advice, though I’m still aggravated about it. Go team…

      • The DR is really poorly written. In section 4(e) you would think that the waiver is possible due to

        The appropriateness of the amount of telework suitable for eligible
        employees is ultimately a determination reserved for supervisors and managers.

        However, 5(a).4:

        However, all employees must work from the official worksite location 4 days per
        week. Supervisors may exercise discretion to authorize employees with
        telework agreements to be outside of the official workstation more than 1 day a
        week in infrequent, exigent circumstances and to achieve the Department’s
        mission and provide high quality customer service.

        If they had used an “or” instead of an “and” there would be an argument here. However, with the use of “and” they have made it so that more than 1 day per week of telework can only occur infrequently or under exigent circumstances. The key will be how they define “exigent” but historically it is only in emergency situations.

  5. It just creates a problem for the public. Do you think that calling or sending correspondence to OneUSDA is going to get the caller routed to the proper agency or person without first having long discussions with whomever answers the telephone. “I would like to know if I can grow chickens in my back yard, please have someone contact me.” “Who can talk to me about putting in terraces on my farmland?” “My WIC payment seems to be calculated differently from last month.” “Do you have information on pine beetle damage?” “How many farmers are veterans?” “How many bison are there is South Dakota?” Oh yeah, it is going to be a nightmare of routing those phone calls to the proper agency and contacts. Nothing like fixing something that isn’t broke. Or should I say nothing like breaking something that isn’t broke.” Customer service is going to suck!

      • Depending on how far the merges go who knows what sub-agencies of OneUSDA there will be. It is guaranteed to be a clusterfuck. Even though we are ARS our Admin staff routinely gets calls asking about Home Loans, and whether or not people can bring XYZ over the border from Mexico.

        I have to agree here with Steve, this is going to increase confusion and decrease quality of provided customer support.

  6. Hello from a fellow oneUSDAer here at what was previously known as NASS here in DC. The clock has already started counting down on the 30-day implementation period for telework. I have teleworked for so long now I can barely remember life before. What I do recall makes me tired – minimum of 3 hours in transit daily, returning home in darkness, being overweight because I was too tired to go to the gym after the commute. And then there are the other life issues – taking a minimum 4 hours leave for a short doctors visit, large gasoline bills, no quality time with kids, and the list goes on. Telework gave me my life back. And in gratitude, I gave my employer 24/7 access to my personal time. If a task needed to be completed that fell outside of regular duty hours, I was available, and most of my coworkers were right there with me. If I had tried to collect on the hundreds of hours I gave back working late and on weekends, I would be rich now. Anyway, pretty sure I’m gonna be too tired for any of that extra work now that telework is effectively cut out. Team, team, team my behind!

    • Well-said, Karin. The telework policy was changed for one reason – to roll back another Obama initiative and garner brownie points from the master. It disrespects employees. Morale is spiraling downward…no amount of rah-rah go-team can counteract such a blatantly hostile decision. I’ve worked for the FS for over 40 years and have experienced several long-term centralize-decentralize pendulum swings and lots of organizational policy fads (and who can ever forget “Suspend Disbelief”, a minor mantra of the “Team Building” 1970’s?). We survived, and learned, and changed….where change was warranted. This time, it feels like the pendulum has swung too far, and change is no longer a collaborative challenge, but the deliberate imposition of punitive rules intended to herd the sheep back into the pen.

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