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March 11, 2020
Staffing Trends in the USDA Farm Production and
Conservation (FPAC) Mission Area

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers
Figure 1. FPAC Mission Area Staffing
federal farm and conservation programs primarily through
Permanent, Ful -Time Staff Positions, EOY
three agencies: the Natural Resources Conservation Service
(NRCS), the Farm Service Agency (FSA), and the Risk
Management Agency (RMA). All three agencies have
experienced staffing declines over the last 20 years. Many
in Congress have expressed general concern over USDA
staffing levels in annual appropriations statements and
oversight hearings. This report analyzes available data on
NRCS, FSA, and RMA staffing levels. Issues related to
total staffing levels—such as funding, workload analysis,
and capacity—are not discussed.
Available Data
All staffing data in this In Focus were obtained directly
from the annual President’s budget explanatory notes that
are published by USDA (see
Unless otherwise stated, only data listed as actual are
included and are from the most recent year that each data

point was available.
Source: CRS, using USDA, Budget Explanatory Notes, “Permanent
Positions by Grade and Staff Year,” various issues FY2001-FY2021.
This In Focus includes two types of staffing level data—
staff years and end-of-year staff levels. A staff year is the
The Administration’s FY2021 budget proposes to increase
equivalent of one full-time person working for one year.
hiring for the FPAC Business Center. However, combined
End-of-year (EOY) staff levels are calculated based on a
staffing in NRCS, RMA, and FSA (permanent federal staff
point in time, which in the case of USDA is the end of the
only, since estimates for total FSA staffing were not
fiscal year (September 30). Both staff year and EOY
available) is not proposed to increase through FY2021.
provide useful information about an agency’s staffing
Natural Resources Conservation Service
NRCS is the primary federal agency providing agricultural
Creation of FPAC
conservation technical and financial assistance to private
In 2017, USDA created the Farm Production and
landowners. The majority (98% in FY2019) of NRCS staff
Conservation (FPAC) mission area as part of a larger
are located throughout the country in state, county, and
departmental reorganization. FPAC includes NRCS, FSA,
technical offices.
RMA, and a new FPAC Business Center. Under the new
FPAC structure, certain administrative functions and
From FY2004 to FY2018, NRCS staffing has declined by
personnel were further reallocated from FSA, RMA, and
19% (from 11,886 to 9,605; Figure 2). The FPAC
NRCS into the new FPAC Business Center. The Business
realignment in FY2019 transferred about 880 staff years
Center is responsible for certain overarching management
from NRCS to the Business Center. This was over 9% of
and technology-related operations of the three agencies.
effective NRCS staff years at the time. If the FY2020
estimate for total NRCS permanent, full-time positions is
FPAC Staffing
realized, it would represent a 27% decline from FY2019.
Total staffing at agencies currently in the FPAC mission
This is a further reduction from the previous year’s
area has declined by 29% from FY2004 to FY2019 (from
Business Center realignment. USDA intends to reverse
27,429 to 19,511; Figure 1). Hiring freezes in 2017 that
most of this decline with additional hiring in FY2021,
continued into 2018 further reduced staffing, even as the
according to the FY2021 budget proposal.
FPAC Business Center was created and staff were shifted
from the component agencies. Since the end of 2016, which
NRCS has also maintained a balance of unfilled permanent
was a recent high-level staffing year, FPAC mission area
positions for the past 20 years. Unfilled positions hit a high
staffing during the current Administration has steadily
mark from FY2012 through FY2018 when they ranged
declined, decreasing by nearly 12% (from 22,051 in
between close to 900 to over 2,500. Unfilled positions
FY2016 to 19,511 in FY2019; Figure 1).
declined in FY2019 to 363 but increase six-fold in the
FY2020 estimate to 2,312 (Figure 2).

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Staffing Trends in the USDA Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Mission Area
Farm Service Agency
Figure 2. NRCS Staffing
FSA administers many of the agricultural support programs,
including farm loans, commodity support, and disaster
assistance. Similar to NRCS, the majority (99% in FY2019)
of FSA staff are located in state- and county-level offices.
FSA includes two staffing categories—federal and non-
. Federal FSA positions are considered career civil
service positions. Non-federal FSA positions are not part of
the civil service and are neither in the competitive nor
excepted service. Non-federal positions are employees of
local elected FSA county committees. Both federal and
non-federal positions are considered FSA employees and
are paid with federal funds.
From FY2002 to FY2018, total FSA staffing declined by
33% from 15,267 to 10,287 (Figure 3). The FY2019 FPAC
realignment transferred approximately 915 FSA staff to the

Business Center. Nearly all staff transferred were federal
Source: CRS, using USDA, Budget Explanatory Notes, “Permanent
FSA employees, representing nearly 25% of those staff at
Positions by Grade and Staff Year,” various issues FY2001-FY2021.
the time. Non-federal FSA staffing, largely outside of DC
Figure 3. FSA Federal and Non-Federal Staffing
and not realigned to the Business Center, have also declined
by 28% from a high of 9,413 in FY2002 to 6,781 in
FY2019, including 6% from the recent high-level staffing
year of FY2016.
Unlike NRCS, FSA has maintained a relatively small
number of unfilled positions. However, at the end of
FY2019, about 16% of available permanent federal
positions were unfilled. The Administration intends to
reduce unfilled positions and increase staffing by the end of
FY2020, according to the FY2021 budget proposal.
Risk Management Agency
RMA manages the federal crop insurance program and
operates with fewer staff compared to FSA and NRCS.
RMA staffing levels have remained steadier through

FY2018 than NRCS or FSA (Figure 4). Realignment of the
Source: CRS, using USDA, Budget Explanatory Notes, “Agency-wide,
Business Center and increased unfilled positions have
End of Year totals,” various issues FY2001-FY2021.
reduced RMA-specific staffing in FY2019.
Note: Estimates for FY2020-FY2021 for non-federal staff are
FPAC Business Center
Figure 4. RMA Staffing
To realign funding and staff to the Business Center,
Congress reduced funding for NRCS, FSA, and RMA in
FY2019. By the end of FY2020, USDA intends that the
FPAC realignment will result in the transfer of nearly 1,900
staff into the FPAC Business Center, including about 915
from FSA, 882 from NRCS, and 82 from RMA (USDA,
FY2020 Budget Explanatory Notes, “FPAC Business
Center,” p. 23-5). At the end of FY2019, the Business
Center employed an estimated 1,340 staff years.
The transfer of staff, funding, and functions are a part of the
Business Center’s goal to achieve operational efficiencies
(Government Accountability Office, “More Could Be Done
to Assess Effectiveness and Impact of Business Centers”).
It is unclear whether these efficiencies have been achieved.
Also unclear is how the Business Center realignment and

reduction in overall FSA, NRCS, and RMA staffing may be
Source: CRS, using USDA, Budget Explanatory Notes, “Permanent
affecting the ability of the agencies to carry out their core
Positions by Grade and Staff Year,” various issues FY2001-FY2021.
Megan Stubbs, Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and
Natural Resources Policy
Jim Monke, Specialist in Agricultural Policy

Staffing Trends in the USDA Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Mission Area


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