The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reorganizing its field offices at USDA Service Centers in Iowa beginning in March.
Kurt Simon, state conservationist for NRCS in Iowa, says the changes will help improve customer service and allow for flexibility to manage workloads. NRCS employs more than 400 in Iowa, which includes soil conservationists, engineers, biologists, agronomists and many other positions. The reorganization will not require a reduction in staff or employees to relocate outside of their local commuting area.
Key points about the new structure include:
Iowa NRCS field offices will no longer share district conservationists. Two-thirds of Iowa offices were part of a shared management unit in which the district conservationist, who manages the NRCS office, traveled back and forth between offices. That structure left only 34 of the 100 offices with its own district conservationist. Now, NRCS will have one district conservationist for every Iowa field office.
Resource teams will cover four-county areas. Besides district conservationists, most NRCS field office employees will be on resource teams that cover a four-county area. The number of employees on each team will depend on the amount of workload in each area. Resource team members will eventually be housed together in a selected USDA Service Center within their four-county area. State and area office staff will be less affected by the changes.
Partner staff will continue working in their coverage areas. Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Pheasants Forever, soil and water conservation districts, and other conservation partners stationed in NRCS offices will continue to cover the same areas.
When Simon began his Iowa tenure in 2015, a common theme from conservation partners and customers was “a lack of daily NRCS visibility from district conservationists in our offices. We want the district conservationists to be the ‘face’ of the office,” he says. “This new structure will allow our district conservationists to focus their time in one county.”
Better customer service
John Whitaker, executive director for the Conservation Districts of Iowa, says having one district conservationist for every county is particularly important to the SWCD commissioners. “The new NRCS structure will help implement the short-term and long-term conservation goals in every county,” he says.
Another benefit of the new structure is added workload flexibility, Simon says. “In just the last two years, we have dealt with drought in southeast Iowa and flooding in many parts of the state. We feel in our new structure, we will be better prepared to ‘triage’ people within our teams to locations and more easily shift workload in emergency situations.”
The reorganization took a few years to plan. “Members of our staff visited several states to study their organizational structures,” Simon says. “Eventually, we decided on a plan that we feel best suits our staff and our customers.”
No reduction in staff
Susan Kozak, division director for IDALS Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality, says her staff worked closely with NRCS throughout the reorganization planning process. “We appreciate how Kurt and his leadership team kept us involved in the reorganization planning process,” she says. “We have close to 200 IDALS employees working in NRCS offices, so it was important for us to be involved.”
She also appreciates that this reorganization will not require a reduction in NRCS staff. “There are 400 NRCS employees in Iowa, and we need all of them. There is a lot of work to do in getting more soil conservation and water quality practices put on the land.”
“Key to the reorganization is that it will be implemented within the USDA-established staffing ceiling and will result in a long-term reduction of space, while improving NRCS Iowa’s capability to serve internal and external customers,” Simon says.
Last year, NRCS provided nearly $53 million in financial assistance to Iowa farmers to implement conservation practices such as terraces, grassed waterways and cover crops on private lands. NRCS staff also wrote 13,720 conservation plans in Iowa.