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Maine Service Center Employee Remarks

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					New York Rural Development Statewide Meeting September 12, 2007 Thomas C Dorr Under Secretary for Rural Development Remarks on New Directions, Reorganization

Thank you, Patrick [Brennan], for that very generous introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today.

I’d like to begin, first and foremost, by thanking all of you for the job you do, day in and day out. You ARE making a difference. It is being seen and felt across the country.

I can stand here and give testimonials all day, but you don’t have to take my word for it. If you’ve listened to Secretary Johanns over the last two years, you’ve heard this before but it’s worth repeating:

In the Farm Bill Listening Forums that USDA held around the country in 2005, one of the strongest takeaway messages … strong enough that the Secretary has mentioned it time and again … is that there were two and only two areas where USDA’s current programs received virtually unanimous support everywhere in the country.
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Those two areas were conservation and rural development.

That is a tribute to you from the highest authority of all … the people we serve. We have the privilege of working for an agency that touches people’s lives, that strengthens communities … that builds hope one business, one job, one home at a time.

It’s an important job and you do it superbly. So again, thank you.

[PAUSE]

Today, we face two sets of related challenges. One is external. The other is internal … the reorganization and realignment of the Rural Development mission area. I’d like to very briefly address them in turn.

Externally, the challenge is simple enough to describe. Rural America is changing. Our mission has to change with it.

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Once upon a time you could say “rural” and mean “farm” or “ranch.” Those days are long gone. 60 million people, 20% of the nation’s population, live in rural America. 58 million of them don’t farm.

Upwards of 95% of rural income is derived from non-farm sources. Virtually all the new jobs are non-farm. The more dependent a county is on agriculture nowadays, the likelier it is to be losing population.

At the same time, however, new opportunities are opening up. Broadband … distributed computing … economic diversification … renewable energy … quality of life … adding it all up, rural communities probably have more arrows in the quiver today than ever before in history.

It’s really not complicated. Today, more and more jobs can be done just about anywhere. Both individuals and businesses have unprecedented freedom of movement and location. Technology has eroded the old barriers of time and distance. When information and capital move with the click of a mouse, no one with a modem is isolated any more.

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At the same time that rural communities are becoming more competitive, land costs, housing costs, taxes, and congestion continue to rise in urban areas. The balance is shifting. Bottom line: rural communities are a great place to live and work, IF we can put the pieces together.

That’s our job. But to get it done, we have to be willing to adapt … and that means realigning staff and resources to new opportunities and missions.

And so thaat brings me to the second challenge, the internal one. I’d like to spend a little more time with this because it affects all of us personally. I know change can be unsettling … even threatening.

My first point of emphasis, therefore, is that the internal realignment in which we are now engaged is a good news, not a bad news story.

Let me repeat that: it’s a good news, not a bad news, story.

Our mission is growing. Looking back, our overall Program Level has roughly doubled in the past decade. The trend line is UP. It’s linear.

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Looking ahead, you can check out the President’s proposals for the 2007 Farm Bill. The President proposed a major expansion of our programs in the areas of renewable energy, Critical Access Hospitals, and infrastructure.

The Farm Bill is still a work in progress. We’re frankly not satisfied with the House version and we’re still working with Congress to incorporate more of the President’s priorities in the final product.

But still, the mission is growing.

But now we move into the tricky part. We are in a tight budget environment. That’s not news to you. What ISN’T likely to grow significantly, therefore, is FTE’s and the S&E account.

Now, I could be wrong. I don’t have a crystal ball and Congress could surprise me tomorrow.

But looking at the long term trends … the simple fact is, we’ve operated well below our FTE ceiling for many years. We’ve grown our Program

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Level with progressively fewer people. In a stringent budget environment, that’s not likely to change significantly.

The challenge for us, therefore, is to work smarter … to realign … to move our people to the growth areas of the future.

This isn’t unique to us at Rural Development. It’s true of most effective, growing organizations today. I’m sure I’m not the only one here old enough to remember when Jaws came out. Back then there was a lot of talk about sharks.

One of the things that was commonly said about sharks was that if they stopped moving, they died. I don’t know if that’s true of sharks, but it is true by and large about organizations … and, frankly, individual job descriptions within organizations. But that’s good news, not bad news.

When I got out of college, for example, corporate executives above the very junior grades wouldn’t be caught dead typing. They didn’t know how. It was also a status thing.

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Now executives all have desktops, laptops, and Blackberries … and millions of clerks, typists, and secretaries have moved to higher value added jobs … thanks to word processing, Excell spreadsheets, and email.

Bottom line, in today’s world, an organization that doesn’t change with technology and in response to new markets probably won’t be around long. And we’re no exception.

Yes, this will mean new jobs for some of us. It will mean cross training. It will involve some relocation. It won’t always be easy.

But the fact remains: if your job changes as part of the realignment in which we are now engaged, you are probably moving from a low-growth to a high growth area. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing … for both your professional development and your personal satisfaction in the long run. So these changes are not to be feared.

Yes, some things will be different. This is an easier talk to give in New York than in some other States because the changes here are less

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sweeping. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. I recognize that some of you and your families have hard choices to make about your futures.

• You are consolidating and moving offices. I know that’s a disruption.

• Several of your colleagues have elected to retire or pursue other opportunities.

• Patrick tells me that a few of you will have to move your families. Some of you have new commutes. I know these things can be hardships.

• But these disruptions are temporary. With planned retirement, in the near future you will actually be adding staff. Some States are downsizing much more dramatically than New York … through attrition and early outs, I hasten to add, NOT RIFs.

But bottom line, these are the things we have to work through to remain relevant in a rapidly changing marketplace. From the national office

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perspective, we’re committed to making this work … and we’re excited … we’re relieved … and we’re proud of a number of things:

• First and foremost, with regard to staff, we’re relieved that we are able to get where we need to go without RIFs. It’s tougher in some states than others, but in every conversation on this subject I’ve shared with the Administrators, the State Directors, and other senior staff, protecting our employees has been a top priority.

We’re getting that done. We are committed to working with you … to providing the training you need to succeed … to ensuring that change, to the maximum extent we can manage, is an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

I know that these are easy words to say. They can be harder to work through in practice. But that’s the goal, and we are committed to working with you to get it done.

• Secondly, we’re proud that we’re evolving better tools to help us work smarter, faster, and more transparently. I’m sure that most

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of you by now know about SEBAS, the Socio Economic Benefits Assessment System … or the Guaranteed Underwriting System, or GUS … or the Delivery Enhancement Task Force. These are the nuts and bolts of what we call RD 2010 … a vision of where we need to be to deliver our services effectively in the years ahead.

• Finally, we’re excited by the feedback we are beginning to receive from employees in the States that are out in front on this.

When word of the reorganization first spread, the initial reaction was shock. I’m aware of that. The rumor mill is a fact of life. But eventually it sunk in that nobody was getting RIFFED and people began to breathe a little easier. I hope we’ve put the fears to rest.

Then it turned out that some jobs were getting better … that people were being challenged to get out from behind a desk and get out in the field … and this turned out to be enjoyable. This is by design. We’re encouraged by the early results, and we look forward to moving ahead on a basis that works for you as well as for the mission.

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In closing, let me say simply that you haven’t heard the last of this by any means. Change is an ongoing process. Training is an ongoing obligation. Adaptation comes with the job and flexibility is key.

But we will rise to the challenge, and we will do it together. You ARE doing a terrific job, and I know that WON’T change. There will be issues along the way. We will work them out.

A year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, I am confident that most of you will be glad you came along for the ride.

Thank you, and now I’d be happy to take any questions you might have.

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