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Title 7Subtitle BChapter VISubchapter FPart 652 → Subpart A


Title 7: Agriculture
PART 652—TECHNICAL SERVICE PROVIDER ASSISTANCE


Subpart A—General Provisions


Contents
§652.1   Applicability.
§652.2   Definitions.
§652.3   Administration.
§652.4   Technical service standards.
§652.5   Participant acquisition of technical services.
§652.6   Department delivery of technical services.
§652.7   Quality assurance.

Source: 75 FR 6845, Feb. 12, 2010, unless otherwise noted.

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§652.1   Applicability.

(a) The regulations in this part set forth the policies, procedures, and requirements related to delivery of technical assistance by individuals and entities other than the Department, hereinafter referred to as technical service providers (TSPs). The Food Security Act of 1985, requires the Secretary to deliver technical assistance to eligible participants for implementation of its Title XII Programs and the conservation activities in the Agricultural Management Assistance Program, 7 U.S.C. 1524, directly, through an agreement with a third party provider, or at the option of the producer through payment to the producer for an approved third party provider. This regulation defines how a participant acquires technical service from a third party TSP, sets forth a certification and decertification process, and establishes a method to make payments for technical services.

(b) TSPs may provide technical services to eligible participants in conservation planning, education and outreach, and assistance with design and implementation of conservation practices applied on private land, Indian land, or where allowed by conservation program rules on public land.

(c) The Chief may implement this part in any of the 50 States, District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianna Islands.

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§652.2   Definitions.

The following definitions apply to this part and all documents issued in accordance with this part, unless specified otherwise:

Approved list means the list of individuals, private sector entities, or public agencies certified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide technical services to a participant.

Certification means the action taken by NRCS to approve:

(1) An individual as meeting the minimum NRCS criteria for providing technical service for conservation planning or a specific conservation practice or system.

(2) An entity or public agency having an employee or employees that meet the minimum NRCS criteria for providing technical service for conservation planning or a specific conservation practice or system.

Chief means the Chief of NRCS or designee.

Conservation activity plan means the conservation practices associated with plan development as authorized under the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Act).

Conservation plan means a record of the client's decisions and supporting information for treatment of a land unit or water as a result of the planning process that meets the Field Office Technical Guide quality criteria for each natural resource (soil, water, air, plants, and animals), and takes into account economic and social considerations. The plan describes the schedule of operations and activities needed to solve identified natural resource problems and takes advantage of opportunities at a conservation management system level. The needs of the client, the resources, and Federal, State, and local requirements will be met.

Conservation practice means a specified treatment, such as a structural or vegetative practice, or a land management practice that is planned and applied according to NRCS standards and specifications.

Contribution agreement means the instrument used to acquire technical services under the authority of 7 U.S.C. 6962a.

Cooperative agreement means the same as defined in the Federal Grants and Cooperative Agreement Act, 31 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.

Department means the NRCS, the Farm Service Agency, or any other agency or instrumentality of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) that is assigned responsibility for all or a part of a conservation program subject to this part.

Eligible participant means a producer, landowner, or entity that is participating in, or seeking to participate in, a conservation program covered by this rule in which the producer, landowner, or entity is otherwise eligible to participate.

Entity means a corporation, joint stock company, association, cooperative, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, limited liability company, nonprofit organization, a member of a joint venture, or a member of a similar organization.

Indian land means all lands held in trust by the United States for individual Indians or tribes, or all lands, titles to which are held by individual Indians or tribes, subject to Federal restrictions against alienation or encumbrance, or all lands which are subject to the rights of use, occupancy, and benefit of certain tribes. The term Indian land also includes land for which the title is held in fee status by Indian tribes and the United States Government-owned land under the Bureau of Indian Affairs jurisdiction.

Procurement contract means the same as the term “contract” means under the Federal Grants and Cooperative Agreement Act, 31 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.

Program contract means the document that specifies the rights and obligations of any individual or entity that has been accepted for participation in a program authorized under Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985, or the Agricultural Management Assistance Program, authorized under 7 U.S.C. 1524.

Public agency means a unit or subdivision of Federal, State, local, or tribal government other than the Department.

Recommending organization means a professional organization, association, licensing board, or similar organization with which NRCS has entered into an agreement to recommend qualified individuals for NRCS certification as TSPs for specific technical services.

Secretary means the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

State Conservationist means the NRCS employee authorized to direct and supervise NRCS activities in a State, Caribbean Area, or Pacific Basin Area.

Technical service means the technical assistance provided by TSPs, including conservation planning; education and outreach; and the design, installation, and check-out of approved conservation practices.

Technical service contract means a document that specifies the rights and obligations of an eligible participant to obtain technical services from a TSP where the eligible participant will not receive financial assistance for the implementation of the practice paid for in the technical service contract through participation in a Title XII conservation program or the Agricultural Management Assistance Program, 7 U.S.C. 1524.

Technical service provider means an individual, entity, Indian Tribe, or public agency either:

(1) Certified by NRCS and placed on the approved list to provide technical services to participants; or

(2) Selected by the Department to assist the Department in the implementation of conservation programs covered by this part through a procurement contract, contribution agreement, or cooperative agreement with the Department.

Written agreement means the document that specifies the rights and obligations of any individual or entity that has been authorized by NRCS to receive conservation planning assistance without having a program contract.

[75 FR 6845, Feb. 12, 2010, as amended at 75 FR 48273, Aug. 10, 2010]

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§652.3   Administration.

(a) As provided in this part, the Department will provide technical assistance to participants directly, or at the option of the participant, through a TSP in accordance with the requirements of this part.

(b) The Chief of NRCS will direct and supervise the administration of the regulations in this part.

(c) NRCS will:

(1) Provide overall leadership and management for the development and administration of a TSP process;

(2) Consult with the Farm Service Agency and other appropriate agencies and entities concerning the availability and utilization of TSPs and the implementation of technical service;

(3) Establish policies, procedures, guidance, and criteria for certification, recertification, decertification, certification renewal, and implementation of the use of TSPs;

(4) Provide training to ensure that persons meet the certification criteria for certain technical expertise when there is a lack of training resources or market outside the agency for such technical expertise. However, any training provided by the Department will be limited to training about Department regulations, policies, procedures, processes, and business and technical tools unique to NRCS; and

(5) Establish a process for verifying information provided to NRCS under this part.

(d) The Department will not make payments under a program contract or written agreement with a participant for technical services provided by a TSP unless the TSP is certified by NRCS for the services provided and is identified on the approved list.

(e) The Department may enter into procurement contracts, contribution agreements, cooperative agreements, or other appropriate instruments to assist the Department in providing technical assistance when implementing conservation programs covered by this part. The Department will ensure that such instruments contain the qualification and performance criteria necessary to ensure quality implementation of the goals and objectives of these conservation programs; therefore, when the Department obtains assistance from a TSP in this manner, the TSP is authorized to provide technical services and receive payment even if such TSP is not certified in accordance with subpart B, nor identified on the approved list.

(f) When a participant acquires technical services from a TSP, the Department is not a party to the agreement between the participant and the TSP. To ensure that quality implementation of the goals and objectives of the conservation programs are met, the TSP must be certified by NRCS in accordance with subpart B of this part and identified on the approved list. Upon request of NRCS, TSPs are required to submit copies of all transcripts, licensing, and certification documentation.

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§652.4   Technical service standards.

(a) All technical services provided by TSPs must meet USDA standards and specifications as set forth in Departmental manuals, handbooks, guides, and other references for soils mapping and natural resources information, conservation planning, conservation practice application, and other areas of technical assistance.

(b) The Department will only pay a participant for technical services provided in accordance with established NRCS standards, specifications, and requirements. The Department must approve all new technologies and innovative practices, including interim standards and specifications, prior to a TSP initiating technical services for those technologies and practices.

(c) A TSP must assume responsibility in writing for the particular technical services provided. Technical services provided by the TSP must:

(1) Comply with all applicable Federal, State, tribal, and local laws and requirements;

(2) Meet applicable Department standards, specifications, and program requirements;

(3) Be consistent with the particular conservation program goals and objectives for which the program contract was entered into by the Department and the participant; and

(4) Incorporate alternatives that are both cost effective and appropriate to address the resource issues. Conservation alternatives will meet the objectives for the program and participant to whom assistance is provided.

(d) TSPs are responsible for the technical services provided, including any costs, damages, claims, liabilities, and judgments arising from past, present, and future negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of the TSP in connection with the technical service provided.

(e) The Department will not be in breach of any program contract or written agreement if it fails to implement conservation plans or practices or make payment for conservation plans or practices resulting from technical services that do not meet USDA standards and specifications or are not consistent with program requirements.

(f) The participant is responsible for complying with the terms and conditions of the program contract or written agreement, which includes meeting USDA technical standards and specifications for any technical services provided by a TSP.

(g) The TSP will report conservation accomplishments associated with the technical services provided to the Department and the participant.

(h) To the extent allowed under State or tribal law, TSPs may utilize the services of subcontractors to provide specific technical services or expertise needed by the TSP, provided that the subcontractors are certified by NRCS in accordance with this part for the particular technical services to be provided and the technical services are provided in terms of their Certification Agreement. Payments will not be made for any technical services provided by uncertified subcontractors, except when such technical services are provided under the provisions of a procurement contract, cooperative agreement, or contribution agreement with the NRCS.

[75 FR 6845, Feb. 12, 2010, as amended at 79 FR 44640, Aug. 1, 2014]

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§652.5   Participant acquisition of technical services.

(a) Participants may obtain technical assistance directly from the Department or, when available, from a TSP.

(b) To acquire technical assistance directly from the Department, participants should contact their local USDA Service Center.

(c) To acquire technical services from a TSP, participants must:

(1) Enter into and comply with a program contract or a written agreement prior to acquiring technical services; and

(2) Select a certified TSP from the approved list of TSPs.

(d) The Department may approve written agreements for technical assistance prior to program participation based on available funding and natural resource priorities as identified by the State Conservationist.

(e) The technical assistance indicated in paragraph (d) may include the development of conservation plans or activity plans suitable for subsequent incorporation into a program contract.

(f) The Department may make payment to eligible participants who have a technical service contract and utilize it for technical assistance from a TSP.

(g) The Department will identify in the particular program contract or written agreement the payment provisions for TSPs hired directly by the participant.

(h) To obtain payment for technical services, participants must submit to the Department valid invoices, supporting documentation, and requests for payment. The Department will issue payment within 30 days of receiving these items. The Department may pay a participant for some or all of the costs associated with the technical services provided by a TSP hired by the participant, or upon receipt of an assignment of payment from the participant, make payment directly to the TSP.

(i) Participants must authorize in writing to the Department the disclosure of their records on file with the Department that they wish to make available to specific TSPs.

(j) Payments for technical services will be made only one time for the same technical service provided unless, as determined by the Department, the emergence of new technologies or major changes in the participant's farming or ranching operations necessitate the need for additional technical services.

(k) The Department will not make payment for activities or services that are customarily provided at no cost by a TSP to a participant as determined by the State Conservationist.

(l) Payment rates for technical services acquired by participants.

(1) NRCS will calculate TSP payment rates for technical services using national, regional, and locally determined price data.

(2) Establishing TSP payment rates.

(i) NRCS will establish guidelines to analyze the local pricing information using a standardized method.

(ii) NRCS will establish TSP payment rates for the various categories of technical services. NRCS will determine the rates according to NRCS regional and local cost data, procurement data, and market data.

(iii) National Headquarters will review and approve State payment rates to ensure consistency where similar resource conditions and agricultural operations exist. Payment rates may vary to some degree between or within States due to differences in State laws, the cost of doing business, competition, and other variables.

(iv) National Headquarters and State levels will review payment rates annually or more frequently, as needed, and adjust the rates based upon data from existing procurement contracts, Federal cost rates, and other appropriate sources.

(v) NRCS may adjust payment rates, as needed, on a case-by-case basis in response to unusual conditions or unforeseen circumstances in delivering technical services such as highly complex technical situations, emergency conditions, serious threats to human health or the environment, or major resource limitations. In these cases, NRCS will set a case-specific TSP payment rate based on the Department's determination of the scope, magnitude, and timeliness of the technical services needed.

[75 FR 6845, Feb. 12, 2010, as amended at 79 FR 44640, Aug. 1, 2014]

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§652.6   Department delivery of technical services.

(a) The Department may enter into a procurement contract, contribution agreement, cooperative agreement, or other appropriate instrument to assist the Department in providing technical assistance when implementing the conservation programs covered by this part.

(b) The Department may enter into a procurement contract, contribution agreement, cooperative agreement, or other appropriate instrument with TSPs to provide related technical assistance services that accelerate conservation program delivery. Related technical assistance services may include activities or services that facilitate the development, processing, or implementation of a program contract, such as recording conservation planning decisions and specifications.

(c) NRCS may enter into agreements with other agencies or with a non-Federal entity to provide technical services to eligible participants.

(d) The Department will ensure that such legal instruments contain qualification and performance criteria necessary to ensure quality implementation of these conservation programs. When the Department obtains assistance from a TSP through a procurement contract, contribution agreement, cooperative agreement, or other similar instrument, the TSP is authorized to provide technical services and receive payment even if such TSP is not certified in accordance with subpart B of this part nor identified on the approved list.

(e) The Department will implement procurement contracts, contribution agreements, cooperative agreements, and other appropriate instruments in accordance with applicable Federal acquisition or USDA Federal assistance rules and requirements for competency, quality, and selection, as appropriate. Any contract, contribution agreement, cooperative agreement, or other appropriate instrument entered into under this section will be for a minimum of one year, will not exceed 3 years in duration, and may be renewed upon mutual agreement of the parties.

(f) A TSP may not receive payment twice for the same technical service, such as once from a participant through a program contract or written agreement and then again through a separate contract or agreement made directly with the Department.

(g) The Department will, to the extent practicable, ensure that the amounts paid for technical service under this part are consistent across conservation program areas, unless specific conservation program requirements include additional tasks.

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§652.7   Quality assurance.

(a) NRCS will review, in consultation with the Farm Service Agency, as appropriate, the quality of the technical services provided by TSPs. As a requirement of certification, TSPs must develop and maintain documentation in accordance with Departmental manuals, handbooks, and technical guidance for the technical services provided, and provide this documentation to NRCS and the participant when the particular technical service is completed. NRCS may utilize information obtained through its quality assurance process, documentation submitted by the TSP, and other relevant information in determining how to improve the quality of technical service, as well as determining whether to decertify a TSP under subpart C of this part.

(b) Upon discovery of a deficiency in the provision of technical service through its quality assurance process or other means, NRCS will, to the greatest extent practicable, send a notice to the TSP detailing the deficiency and requesting remedial action by the TSP. Failure by the TSP to promptly remedy the deficiency, or the occurrence of repeated deficiencies in providing technical services, may trigger the decertification process set forth in subpart C of this part. A failure by NRCS to identify a deficiency does not affect any action under the decertification process. TSPs are solely responsible for providing technical services that meet all NRCS standards and specifications.

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