To continue the good work of RC&D council volunteers to serve our communities and to assist in increasing economic development and conservation in communities, the National Association of RC&D councils requests the following changes to the law authorizing the RC&D program:
Acknowledge the role of the federal coordinator in the law
This recommendation is a technical change to the law. The law authorizes USDA to provide technical assistance to RC&D councils to carry out area plans and annual plans of work. A core component of the RC&D program has been the federal employees, RC&D coordinators, who provide technical assistance to assist an individual council. To date the role of the coordinator is not included in the authorizing statute. We believe it is time to acknowledge the role of the coordinator in the law and to make clear that every designated council is provided one coordinator and the support necessary for the coordinator to carry out their technical assistance role.
Define the role of the federal coordinator
The coordinators role needs to be defined in the law. RC&D coordinators assist in the implementation of area plans and annual plans of work. RC&D coordinators provide technical assistance to councils and assist councils in acquiring financial support for projects. Coordinators also serve as a liaison between the USDA and the RC&D council. Coordinators provide leadership leading to the establishment of partnerships and networks for identification and coordination of technical and financial assistance from private as well as government sources.
Reemphasize that RC&D is a locally led USDA program
For many years, RC&D councils have brought to bear the resources of USDA in communities with assistance from a federal coordinator. They do this through the area planning process and with annual plans of work. In recent years, OMB and NRCS have made changes to the program have created a top down approach in which goals are imposed which may be in conflict with the area planning process. We ask that Congress acknowledge that RC&D is both a conservation and community development program and that priorities should be determined at the local level.
Make RC&D funding mandatory
We believe that the recent growth in the RC&D program from 277 councils in 1996 to 375 councils in 2003 covering 85% of the nation and 180 million people is a testament to our success. Congress has recognized the valuable services RC&D councils provide to local communities and has helped to grow this program. In addition, we have successfully leveraged the RC&D appropriation 8 to 1 to directly support conservation and economic development, making a continued investment in RC&D a good investment for taxpayer’s funds.
Current USDA and OMB policy is to focus programs on agency mission areas. The Secretary of Agriculture currently delegates the authority to administer the RC&D program to NRCS. We would like the Secretary to establish a pilot program in other USDA agencies such as Rural Development, so that RC&D areas with community development priorities and focus can continue to provide service to their communities.