The Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services (ACES) Program
The Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services Program, authorized by the Farm Bill, and implemented in USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices throughout the country, is a legislative older worker program for those 55 and older. ACES is a grants-based program administrated through an umbrella agreement and certified by the Department of Labor. This helps address the issue of “brain-drain” as experienced workers retire, and provides opportunities for newer, less experienced civil servants to learn from more experienced workers. ACES enrollees are generally part-time and supply technical assistance to the NRCS in their conservation operations. Enrollees receive a modest hourly wage and most are eligible for a benefits package that includes paid holidays, vacation, sick leave.
History of the The Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services Program
In 2008, with the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill (Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; PL 110-234), Congress authorized the creation of the Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services (ACES) Program for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) of the US Department of Agriculture. The Farm Bill established an older worker employment program (ages 55+) to provide technical assistance for USDA-NRCS conservation operations around the country. This program is based on a three year ACES pilot project that NOWCC managed for NRCS.
The NOWCC ACES Program is currently filling over 280 positions in 27 states and is expected to grow in the years ahead. (The pilot started in 2005 with 30 positions in eight states and grew to over 200 positions in 34 states during the three years.) Though NOWCC managed the earlier pilot, it has been joined by two other national organizations authorized to manage the program with NRCS’ states operations. These organizations receive grants from the state offices and recruit, enroll and support qualified older workers for technical or scientific responsibilities, many part-time, specified by the states.
Three years of valuable work by enrollees in diverse conservation projects during the pilot demonstrated to NRCS the value of experienced workers and paved the way for the successful launch of a permanent ACES Program. With roughly 2500 conservation districts across the country, the potential is virtually limitless for connecting interested and experienced workers with challenging and rewarding opportunities to help NRCS achieve its conservation goals.