USDA closing offices nationwide

More than 250 U.S. Department of Agriculture domestic offices, facilities, and labs will be closing nationwide, two of them in the Panhandle.

Some of the officers will have no staff, others, one or two people.

At a news conference Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed the cuts the U.S.D.A. has had to make over the last two years.

He says the operating budget has been cut by more than $3 billion, forcing a closer look at salaries and personnel expenses.

It's at that point Vilsack says they could do one of two things, furlough and lay people off, or take a comprehensive approach instead.

"While looking at efficiencies, looking at travel, looking at conferences, looking at supply purchase, looking at personnel and retirement opportunities, looking at process improvement and looking at our footprint around the country and around the world."

That's just the operating budget; the U.S.D.A. is facing program cuts as well.

"We reduced crop insurance premiums or reduce the amount we were paying to the insurance companies and saved $4 billion that went to deficit reduction, we've also seen conservation reductions in terms of how much congress allocated to our conservation programs, and we would certainly anticipate further program cents as congress basically debates and discusses the farm bill."

Vilsack says they were doing a record amount of work, clearly showing the farmers, ranchers, and producers who live in rural areas need their services.

"We basically worked to reduce travel, conference and supply budget by $90 million, basically allowing us to free up those resources within the budget to maintain staff."

Much like those in education, many of the employees were offered early retirement.

Those workers, plus those who were already planning to retire, total more than 7,000 already.

Some, but not all, of the open positions will be filled, so current employees will get the freedom to relocate.

Vilsack also said all the work being done by the U.S.D.A. will continue to be done, but it will be transferred to different locations.