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
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 with the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill (Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008; PL 110-234). The Farm Bill established an experienced 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 currently supports over 500 positions in over 40 states and is expected to grow in the years ahead. NRCS uses ACES in myriad ways: specific projects, workload surges, filling the need for technical assistance, succession planning, mentoring, workforce planning, etc. Illustrative position titles include: Soil Conservation Specialist, Archaeologist, Engineer, Forester, Cultural Resources Specialist, etc.
NOWCC and NRCS Roles: NOWCC is responsible for recruiting, enrolling, administering payroll and benefits, and handling any performance-related issues. NRCS is responsible for interviewing and selecting a preferred applicant, overseeing the day-to-day work of the enrollees, providing a safe work environment and any tools, equipment, or supplies, and working with NOWCC in resolving any issues.
What NRCS staff are saying about the ACES Enrollees:
- “Enrollees know what needs to be done, they don’t need to be trained and closely monitored”
- “They are work ready”
- “They know the ropes and can mentor new hires”
- “They can be brought on for as long as they are needed”
- “They help with the workload that federal staff are not always able to accomplish, for example following up with a farmer, writing conservation plans, etc.”
- “They can work without concerns about reductions in their retirement benefits,” i.e. there is no dual compensation off-set from a federal annuity.