Censky: Perdue handling budget, telecommuting restrictions begin
February 5, 2018
PHOENIX — Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has personally taken charge of the development of the Agriculture Department budget and negotiations with the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to Agriculture Deputy Secretary Steve Censky.
USDA deputy secretaries have traditionally been in charge of budgeting for the department and for leading other USDA officials to negotiate with OMB over the contents of the budget.
President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2019 budget proposal to Congress is scheduled to be released Feb. 12. While Congress does not usually follow the budget and sometimes declares it dead on arrival, it is regarded as a statement of the administration's priorities.
Censky spoke last week at the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau meeting.
Asked afterward by The Hagstrom Report whether he, like his predecessors, was in charge of the budget, Censky said Perdue was handling the budget. Other sources said that Perdue's chief of staff, Heidi Green, is playing an important role in budget development and relations with OMB.
Censky said he could not discuss budget details before its release, but the fiscal year 2018 budget, which included cuts to crop insurance that farmers and the industry did not like, is an indication of what the fiscal 2019 budget is likely to contain.
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He noted Trump was elected to improve the military and rein in domestic spending and said "the budget proposal tries to reflect that."
There will be some "hard choices" in the budget, Censky said, but the administration wants to maintain the stability of farmers, continue the basic programs and grow the agricultural economy.
Censky also said the Trump administration is continuing the modernization of technology at USDA and that officials hope that all the programs in the 2018 farm bill will be available online.
Farmers will still need to go to county Farm Service Agency offices to sign some papers, but Censky said he hopes farmers will be able to deal with applications and other forms online from home before going to the office. Farmers uncomfortable using a computer will still be able to go to the county office to fill out paperwork, he said.
Deputy secretaries also are, by tradition, in charge of making the massive department function, and Censky said that a plan to require all USDA employees to be in the office at least four days each week rather than telecommuting is going into effect as scheduled.
USDA officials sent memos to employees in early January notifying them that in 30 days they would be expected to be in the office four days per week and that if they have been telecommuting more than that they would have to make arrangements to be in the office.
Censky said USDA employees have been allowed to telecommute if any part of a job is eligible for it, but that the Trump administration believes that "the whole job should be eligible for telecommuting before that person is eligible for telecommuting."