Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative

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Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative ( CDSI )
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Presented May 2010

Providing science-based technical assistance to clients is the foundation for successfully carrying out NRCS’ mission of helping people help the land. NRCS’ on-site assistance to help clients identify conservation objectives, inventory resource concerns and opportunities, analyze alternatives, and formulate treatments through conservation planning is unique. This technical assistance is documented in 1.6 million conservation plans and 30 million planned practices in NRCS’ National Conservation Plan Database. It is this planning process, the supporting technologies and data, and the technical expertise of its employees that define the Agency to its clients, partners, and others.
NRCS’ success in applying conservation through recent Farm Bills demonstrates that conservation planning is a sound approach for the consistent and effective delivery of financial assistance programs, helping to ensure that the public’s investment in private lands conservation achieves desired environmental outcomes. In 2002, the Farm Bill expanded NRCS’ historical field operations to include the development and administration of contracts and easements for financial assistance programs. In addition to providing technical assistance, NRCS field staffs now manage about 400,000 Farm Bill program contracts in NRCS’ national Protracts database.
Delivering technical and financial assistance programs through a single agency (NRCS) simplified program participation for customers and centralized the delivery of most USDA cost-share, easement, and stewardship conservation programs. But even though program efficiencies were gained through the development of tools such as Protracts, there are still concerns that NRCS’ current business model and processes overburden the field technical staff, and often leave inadequate time for on-site planning and technical assistance. In addition, field planners report that NRCS’ information technology tools are often unnecessarily complex, time-consuming, and not integrated in a manner that helps planners to be efficient. Citing the combined effects of these and other issues, conservationists often report spending as little as 20 to 35 percent of their time in the field working with customers.

In addition to these concerns, a number of converging factors reinforce the need to redefine the model for delivering conservation assistance in the future. Business drivers include:
(1) the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill,
(2) the need to strengthen financial systems accountability,
(3) the upcoming revision to NRCS’ strategic plan,
(4) on-going human capital management initiatives,
(5) the need to more clearly define NRCS’ assistance for emerging issues, such as energy, air quality, greenhouse gases, and market-based initiatives,
(6) the growing need for nimble business processes that can rapidly respond to program changes, and (7) the need for increased transparency and accountability for outcomes from NRCS conservation assistance.
Similarly, a number of technology drivers exist:
(1) the migration toward a more efficient, service-oriented architecture,
(2) advancements in mobile computing technologies,
(3) the expanded availability of geospatial data and natural resource models, and
(4) the growing availability and capacity of wireless communications.

In January 2009, NRCS leadership responded to these concerns and opportunities by formally initiating the Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative, with the purpose to define and implement a more effective, efficient, and sustainable business model for delivering conservation assistance.
Three overarching objectives were identified for this effort:
1. Simplify Conservation Delivery – The new business model must make the delivery of conservation programs easier for both customers and employees.
2. Streamline Business Processes – The new business model and processes must increase efficiency through streamlined processes, and be integrated across Agency business lines.
3. Ensure Science-based Assistance – The new business model must reinforce the continued delivery of technically-sound products and services.

A formal staff has been established in the Office of the Chief to lead and coordinate the implementation of this national Initiative. Because of the cross-cutting nature of the streamlining objectives, NRCS leadership team (Associate Chief, Deputy Chiefs, and Regional Conservationists) provide formal direction and guidance as an Executive Board of Directors.

As NRCS fully implements key parts of the Streamlining Initiative, it anticipates a future where:
• NRCS customers, employees, and partners view the Agency’s programs, policies, and processes as natural resource centric, as opposed to programs-driven. Technical field staffs can spend as much as 75% of their “conservation assistance” time in the field with customers (if needed) to deliver planning, application, and financial assistance.
• NRCS’ mission, strategic and business plans, and business model are aligned and consistent. Clearly defined business processes are used in decision-making at all levels to reduce stove-piping of policies, processes, data, and tools along organizational lines.
• NRCS information technology/tools share data and services to minimize duplicate data entry, facilitate automated workflow, reduce training needs and costs, and eliminate duplicate functionality. The Agency’s conservation planning tools will be accessible to technical staff in the field, and guide planners through the conservation assistance business process.
• Over 80 percent of the time/tasks currently spent by technical staff on administrative or clerical financial assistance tasks are eliminated, automated, or reassigned to other staff.

• Financial assistance business processes are standardized nationwide to ensure adequate financial management control. Alternative financial assistance approaches and business processes streamline the “administrative” time between a program application and funding decision to two weeks or less.
• Financial assistance contract modifications are reduced by 30% through more comprehensive, resource-centric planning and shorter contracts.

The following five cross-cutting initiatives provide an overview of the Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative strategies to achieve these success criteria.

INITIATIVE 1. Define, streamline, and integrate formalized conservation assistance processes across business lines.


To ensure field staff can focus their time on the Agency’s core activities (conservation planning and applying practices), this Initiative involves formally defining and streamlining NRCS’ conservation assistance business processes, institutionalizing the use of business process models in all levels of decision and policy making, and integrating business activity monitoring into NRCS’ business and information technology systems.

INITIATIVE 2. Prioritize and deploy information technology that effectively supports and aligns with the delivery of conservation assistance.

NRCS will develop a single portal (Conservation Desktop) for access to the tools and data needed by NRCS field staff. This integrated environment, built around shared IT services and data, will facilitate automated workflow, and provide full access and integration of planning, natural resource, and financial data.
NRCS will fully integrate geospatial data and services into its business processes and tools. Mobile computing technologies will be institutionalized for conducting resource inventory, analysis, and decision support steps in planning. The Agency’s resource inventory and decision support tools will be restructured, in order to align with conservation assistance processes, eliminate duplicate data entry, present a more consistent user interface to field staff, be scalable in complexity, and streamline plan documentation.

INITIATIVE 3. Provide field technical staff with natural resource science and technology focused to support conservation planning and application.
The foundation data and technology for assessing on-site resource concerns are being redesigned to simplify planning and client decision-making, and ensure NRCS plans are documented using a science-based approach.
This Initiative also involves integrating area-wide assessment approaches into the Agency’s conservation delivery processes, and integrating conservation effects into NRCS’ planning tools to improve client decision-making, better describe outcomes, streamline financial assistance program ranking, and more efficiently support environmental market programs.

INITIATIVE 4. To implement programs through staffing and delivery approaches designed around more efficient business processes.

Alternative financial assistance staffing strategies and supporting information systems will be implemented to minimize administrative workload on technical staff.
Emerging technologies such as electronic signatures and alternative approaches for screening, ranking and funding program applications are tested and implemented to streamline program delivery and simplify program participation for clients.

INITIATIVE 5. Establish tools and processes for interacting with clients that are resource-centric, enhance customer service, and increase NRCS’ efficiency.

A variety of new approaches for interacting with clients will be implemented to enhance and customize the Agency’s services to its growingly-diverse clientele. The first will be a web-based Client Gateway that will allow USDA program participants to apply for assistance; view plans, contracts, payments, and other information; digitally sign documents; review upcoming work, and more at their convenience.

NRCS also plans to redesign its Conservation Assistance product line to more effectively communicate the information needed by clients.

It should be clear from these five Initiatives that meeting the Streamlining Initiative objectives requires much more than building a new set of information technology applications. The Initiative includes specific strategies that will address organizational design and staffing, redesigned business processes and policies, addressing gaps in science and technology delivered to the field, accelerating training in some areas, and even modifying how NRCS decision-making processes operate at all levels.
But aligning NRCS’ business systems with its mission, strategic plan, and business model is critical. Presented on this page is an overview of the identified business systems components for a streamlined conservation assistance business model.

NRCS and its partners should be energized by this vision. While much has changed since the establishment of the Soil Conservation Service in the 1930s, the vision presented by the Streamlining Initiative recognizes that the need to deliver conservation assistance through a natural resource centric, customer-focused approach has not. And while the vision reinforces NRCS’ unique niche of providing science-based technical assistance, it also recognizes the Agency’s future success depends upon its ability to deliver efficient and timely financial assistance; to deploy emerging information technologies in an efficient and effective manner; to successfully engage and cooperate with partners and external entities; and to effectively meet the conservation needs of a diverse clientele.
The five initiatives outlined provide a strategic roadmap that simplifies conservation delivery for NRCS employees and customers, streamlines business processes across agency business lines, and ensures NRCS continues to provide science-based conservation assistance. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or a part of an individual's income is derived from any public assistance program.