USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has issued an interim final rule for the TSP program. These proposed revisions were required in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 or more commonly referred to as the 2008 Farm Bill.
ARA worked closely with Congress and USDA officials to ensure the 2008 Farm Bill included a fair and reasonable payment rate for third party providers of technical assistance. Giving the authority to state NRCS offices allows the rate to account for local market cost, where a national rate would be unable to accomplish that.
Currently, NRCS payment rates are based on the cost to the agency to perform the technical service and are established by the NRCS National Office. The rates include costs associated with planning, design, installation, checkout of conservation practices, and overhead costs.
This rulemaking changes the existing policy by establishing that the NRCS State offices will determine fair and reasonable payment rates for TSP assistance using guidelines established by the National Office and local NRCS cost, market, and procurement data that are available. NRCS will emphasize using market rate data where available to determine TSP payment rates. The National Office will publish the State payment rates for each practice on the TechReg Web site.
NRCS will establish the following process to ensure rates are fair and reasonable:
- At the National level, NRCS will establish guidelines for State Conservationists to develop the payment rates to maintain consistency and quality control. Common guidelines will assist in ensuring consistency in factors and processes among States, while leaving flexibility for variation among States.
- The State Conservationists will determine fair and reasonable rates for the conservation practices in their respective States. The State Conservationists will establish applicable TSP payment rates based on local cost data, market data, and procurement data as appropriate for the practice.
- The NRCS National Office will review and approve State payment rates to ensure regional consistency and fairness, and provide a mechanism for review and quality control for the guidelines established in process Step 1. The review and quality control mechanism will include regular and systematic State submittal of payment data to the National office, contract sampling, and a risk assessment of complex, high-volume, and cost intensive technical services.
ARA encourages agricultural retailers and their TSPs to work closely with state NRCS offices in the implementation of these TSP program changes. ARA will continue to work with USDA and NRCS to ensure the local payment rate set for technical service providers is and remains fair and reasonable.