The Office of External Affairs (OEA) manages these functions within USDA's Farm Service Agency:
- - Executive Secretariat (Correspondence)
- - Communications Services
- - Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Services
OEA helps the agency deliver information to key audiences about programs, loans and commodity support among other mission-critical duties. In doing its tasks, OEA creates internal partnerships with FSA divisions and offices, other governmental entities, state and local governments. Likewise, OEA helps the agency build working relationships with Congress, farm and agri-business constituencies, the news media and with international organizations and leaders. OEA provides continuous support for the Office of the Administrator, state and county offices, the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) mission area, the FFAS deputy secretary and the secretary. In addition, the Field Services Section of OEA employs 10 specialists in 10 geographic regions to directly support the mission of the state offices and state executive directors (SED). This staff links Washington office expertise, technology and other resources with the needs of SEDs, district directors, farm loan chiefs and others. The field staff serves as an important grassroots feedback mechanism for FSA management.
The Office of External Affairs works closely with each division under the Farm Service Agency. Public affairs specialists attend division meetings so they can counsel leaders on communication issues and initiate proactive distribution of news and program announcements as well as identify key spokespersons in reaction to media and public inquiries. OEA supports division management by implementing proactive public relations plans and actions.
Customer needs from FSA are abundant. OEA facilitates the communication to FSA customers, including farmers, ranchers and other industry participants, so that FSA programs, policies and mandates are delivered with the proper emphasis to initiate appropriate actions. OEA delivery systems include news releases, program announcements, FOIA responses, radio and television broadcasts, speeches, letters, emails, Web pages, brochures, flyers, catalogues, convention and conference meeting participation, and Congressional testimony.
The Legislative Liaison branch serves as FSA's point of contact for legislators, their staffs and historic research. Congressional affairs ensures that current and historical legislative information concerning or affecting FSA programs is available to agency personnel. The staff prepares testimony for Congressional hearings and meetings and responds on behalf of FSA to Congressional questions regarding program areas during legislative decision making. The branch serves as the principal pipeline between FSA and the Congress to answer questions and concerns about policy and provides timely responses to inquiries. The staff also monitors Congressional activities and participates in the development of FSA's legislative program.
The Executive Secretariat services (ESS) reviews and responds to correspondence addressed to the secretary of agriculture, the under secretary of Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and the administrator of FSA. Staff members identify sources of information and decision makers who can initiate necessary agency actions that are consistent with established policies. They then secure clearance from appropriate officials before obtaining the administrator's signature on responding letters. Responsibilities also include reviewing responses for content, format, grammar and punctuation. Likewise, the staff makes certain that responses are delivered in a timely manner.
The Public Affairs branch initiates and maintains communication for the purpose of strengthening public understanding and support of the agency's services and programs. The public affairs staff handles a wide array of duties, including: media relations, serving as a clearinghouse for questions from the public, responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, disseminating data about all aspects of the agency, producing agency-wide marketing materials, and organizing special events designed to promote the agency to various audiences. The Office of Public Affairs is responsible for communicating the agency's objectives while creating a broad base of public and professional support for FSA. Among other duties, the branch chief oversees four distinct sections: Communications Services, Field Services, Web Services and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Services.
The Communications Services section is the agency's principal liaison with the news media and communicates agricultural policy positions that inform the public, shape public opinion, and gather support for FSA activities. It serves as a source of accurate agricultural information on issues that affect landowners, farmers and ranchers.
The Web Services section is responsible for distributing the agency's vital information to all constituents via the Internet. Web services maintains a comprehensive Web portal that enables users to find information easily. It is a onestop shop for FSA information and provides two-way communication feedback to agency personnel.
FOIA Services provides public access to reams of data and information created by FSA. FOIA is supervised by paralegals who review public and media requests to resolve issues such as personal privacy versus the public's right to know.