5 U.S.C. 301 and 574; 7 U.S.C. 6995; 15 U.S.C. 714b and 714c; 16 U.S.C. 590h.
70 FR 43266, July 27, 2005, unless otherwise noted.
This part sets forth rules applicable to appealability reviews, reconsiderations, appeals and alternative dispute resolution procedures comprising in aggregate the informal appeals process of FSA. FSA will apply these rules to facilitate and expedite participants' submissions and FSA reviews of documentary and other evidence material to resolution of disputes arising under agency program regulations.
For purposes of this part:
1994 Act means the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 (Pub. L. 103–354).
Adverse decision means a program decision by an employee, officer, or committee of FSA that is adverse to the participant. The term includes any denial of program participation, benefits, written agreements, eligibility, etc., that results in a participant receiving less funds than the participant believes should have been paid or not receiving a program benefit to which the participant believes the participant was entitled.
Agency means FSA and its county and State committees and their personnel, CCC, NRCS, and any other agency or office of the Department which the Secretary may designate, or any successor agency.
Agency record means all documents and materials maintained by FSA that are related to the adverse decision under review that are compiled and reviewed by the decision-maker or that are compiled in the record provided to the next level reviewing authority.
Appeal means a written request by a participant asking the next level reviewing authority within FSA to review a decision. However, depending on the context, the term may also refer to a request for review by NAD.
Appealability review means review of a decision-maker's determination that a decision is not appealable under this part. That decision is, however, subject to review according to §780.5 or 7 CFR part 11 to determine whether the decision involves a factual dispute that is appealable or is, instead, an attempt to challenge generally applicable program policies, provisions, regulations, or statutes that were not appealable.
Appellant means any participant who appeals or requests reconsideration or mediation of an adverse decision in accordance with this part or 7 CFR part 11.
Authorized representative means a person who has obtained a Privacy Act waiver and is authorized in writing by a participant to act for the participant in a reconsideration, mediation, or appeal.
CCC means the Commodity Credit Corporation, a wholly owned Government corporation within USDA.
Certified State means, in connection with mediation, a State with a mediation program, approved by the Secretary, that meets the requirements of 7 CFR part 785.
Confidential mediation means a mediation process in which neither the mediator nor parties participating in mediation will disclose to any person oral or written communications provided to the mediator in confidence, except as allowed by 5 U.S.C. 574 or 7 CFR part 785.
County committee means an FSA county or area committee established in accordance with section 8(b) of the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act (16 U.S.C. 590h(b)).
Determination of NRCS means a decision by NRCS made pursuant to Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985 (16 U.S.C. 3801 et seq. ), as amended.
FSA means the Farm Service Agency, an agency within USDA.
Final decision means a program decision rendered by an employee or officer of FSA pursuant to delegated authority, or by the county or State committee upon written request of a participant. A decision that is otherwise final shall remain final unless the decision is timely appealed to the State committee or NAD. A decision of FSA made by personnel subordinate to the county committee is considered “final” for the purpose of appeal to NAD only after that decision has been appealed to the county committee under the provisions of this part.
Hearing means an informal proceeding on an appeal to afford a participant opportunity to present testimony, documentary evidence, or both to show why an adverse decision is in error and why the adverse decision should be reversed or modified.
Implement means the taking of action by FSA, NRCS, or CCC that is necessary to effectuate fully and promptly a final decision.
Mediation means a technique for resolution of disputes in which a mediator assists disputing parties in voluntarily reaching mutually agreeable settlement of issues within the laws, regulations, and the agency's generally applicable program policies and procedures, but in which the mediator has no authoritative decision making power.
Mediator means a neutral individual who functions specifically to aid the parties in a dispute during a mediation process.
NAD means the USDA National Appeals Division established pursuant to the 1994 Act.
NAD rules means the NAD rules of procedure published at 7 CFR part 11, implementing title II, subtitle H of the 1994 Act.
Non-certified State means a State that is not approved to participate in the certified mediation program under 7 CFR part 785, or any successor regulation.
NRCS means the Natural Resources Conservation Service of USDA.
Participant means any individual or entity who has applied for, or whose right to participate in or receive, a payment, loan, loan guarantee, or other benefit in accordance with any program of FSA to which the regulations in this part apply is affected by a decision of FSA. The term includes anyone meeting this definition regardless of whether, in the particular proceeding, the participant is an appellant or a third party respondent. The term does not include individuals or entities whose claim(s) arise under the programs excluded in the definition of “participant” published at 7 CFR 11.1.
Qualified mediator means a mediator who meets the training requirements established by State law in the State in which mediation services will be provided or, where a State has no law prescribing mediator qualifications, an individual who has attended a minimum of 40 hours of core mediator knowledge and skills training and, to remain in a qualified mediator status, completes a minimum of 20 hours of additional training or education during each 2-year period. Such training or education must be approved by USDA, by an accredited college or university, or by one of the following organizations: State Bar of a qualifying State, a State mediation association, a State approved mediation program, or a society of dispute resolution professionals.
Reconsideration means a subsequent consideration of a program decision by the same level of decision-maker or reviewing authority.
Reviewing authority means a person or committee assigned the responsibility of making a decision on reconsideration or an appeal filed by a participant in accordance with this part.
State committee means an FSA State committee established in accordance with Section 8(b) of the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act (16 U.S.C. 590h(b)) including, where appropriate, the Director of the Caribbean Area FSA office for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
State Conservationist means the NRCS official in charge of NRCS operations within a State, as set forth in part 600 of this title.
State Executive Director means the executive director of an FSA State office with administrative responsibility for a FSA State office as established under the Reorganization Act.
USDA means the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Verbatim transcript means an official, written record of proceedings in an appeal hearing or reconsideration of an adverse decision appealable under this part.
§ 780.3 Reservations of authority.
(a) Representatives of FSA and CCC may correct all errors in data entered on program contracts, loan agreements, and other program documents and the results of the computations or calculations made pursuant to the contract or agreement. FSA and CCC will furnish appropriate notice of such corrections when corrections are deemed necessary.
(b) Nothing contained in this part shall preclude the Secretary, or the Administrator of FSA, Executive Vice President of CCC, the Chief of NRCS, if applicable, or a designee, from determining at any time any question arising under the programs within their respective authority or from reversing or modifying any decision made by a subordinate employee of FSA or its county and State committees, or CCC.
(a)(1) Except as provided in other regulations, this part applies to decisions made under programs and by agencies, as set forth herein:
(i) Decisions in programs administered by FSA to make, guarantee or service farm loans set forth in chapters VII and XVIII of this title relating to farm loan programs;
(ii) Decisions in those domestic programs administered by FSA on behalf of CCC through State and county committees, or itself, which are generally set forth in chapters VII and XIV of this title, or in part VII relating to conservation or commodities;
(iii) Appeals from adverse decisions, including technical determinations, made by NRCS under title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended;
(iv) Penalties assessed by FSA under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978, 5 U.S.C. 501 et seq. ;
(v) Decisions on equitable relief made by a State Executive Director or State Conservationist pursuant to section 1613 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, Pub. L. 107–171; and
(vi) Other programs to which this part is made applicable by specific program regulations or notices in the   Federal Register .
(2) The procedures contained in this part may not be used to seek review of statutes or regulations issued under Federal law or review of FSA's generally applicable interpretations of such laws and regulations.
(3) For covered programs, this part is applicable to any decision made by an employee of FSA or of its State and county committees, CCC, the personnel of FSA, or CCC, and by the officials of NRCS to the extent otherwise provided in this part, and as otherwise may be provided in individual program requirements or by the Secretary.
(b) With respect to matters identified in paragraph (a) of this section, participants may request appealability review, reconsideration, mediation, or appeal under the provisions of this part, of decisions made with respect to:
(1) Denial of participation in a program;
(2) Compliance with program requirements;
(3) Issuance of payments or other program benefits to a participant in a program; and
(4) Determinations under Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended, made by NRCS.
(c) Only a participant directly affected by a decision may seek administrative review under §780.5(c).
§ 780.5 Decisions that are not appealable.
(a) Decisions that are not appealable under this part shall include the following:
(1) Any general program provision or program policy or any statutory or regulatory requirement that is applicable to similarly situated participants;
(2) Mathematical formulas established under a statute or program regulation and decisions based solely on the application of those formulas;
(3) Decisions made pursuant to statutory provisions that expressly make agency decisions final or their implementing regulations;
(4) Decisions on equitable relief made by a State Executive Director or State Conservationist pursuant to Section 1613 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, Pub. L. 107–171;
(5) Decisions of other Federal or State agencies;
(6) Requirements and conditions designated by law to be developed by agencies other than FSA.
(7) Disapprovals or denials because of a lack of funding.
(8) Decisions made by the Administrator or a Deputy Administrator.
(b) A participant directly affected by an adverse decision that is determined not to be subject to appeal under this part may request an appealability review of the determination by the State Executive Director of the State from which the underlying decision arose in accordance with §780.15.
(c) Decisions that FSA renders under this part may be reviewed by NAD under part 11 of this title to the extent otherwise allowed by NAD under its rules and procedures. An appealability determination of the State Executive Director in an administrative review is considered by FSA to be a new decision.
§ 780.6 Appeal procedures available when a decision is appealable.
(a) For covered programs administered by FSA for CCC, the following procedures are available:
(1) Appeal to the county committee of decisions of county committee subordinates;
(2) Reconsideration by the county committee;
(3) Appeal to the State committee;
(4) Reconsideration by the State committee;
(5) Appeal to NAD;
(6) Mediation under guidelines specified in §780.9.
(b) For decisions in agricultural credit programs administered by FSA, the following procedures are available:
(1) Reconsideration under §780.7;
(2) Mediation under §780.9;
(3) Appeal to NAD.
(c) For programs and regulatory requirements under Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended, to the extent not covered by paragraph (a) of this section, the following procedures are available:
(1) Appeal to the county committee;
(2) Appeal to the State committee;
(3) Mediation under §780.9;
(4) Appeal to NAD.
(a) A request for reconsideration must be submitted in writing by a participant or by a participant's authorized representative and addressed to the FSA decision maker as will be instructed in the adverse decision notification.
(b) A participant's right to request reconsideration is waived if, before requesting reconsideration, a participant:
(1) Has requested and begun mediation of the adverse decision;
(2) Has appealed the adverse decision to a higher reviewing authority in FSA; or
(3) Has appealed to NAD.
(c) Provided a participant has not waived the right to request reconsideration, FSA will consider a request for reconsideration of an adverse decision under these rules except when a request concerns a determination of NRCS appealable under the procedures in §780.11, the decision has been mediated, the decision has previously been reconsidered, or the decision-maker is the Administrator, Deputy Administrator, or other FSA official outside FSA's informal appeals process.
(d) A request for reconsideration will be deemed withdrawn if a participant requests mediation or appeals to a higher reviewing authority within FSA or requests an appeal by NAD before a request for reconsideration has been acted upon.
(e) The Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply to reconsiderations. Proceedings may be confined to presentations of evidence to material facts, and evidence or questions that are irrelevant, unduly repetitious, or otherwise inappropriate may be excluded.
(f) The official decision on reconsideration will be the decision letter that is issued following disposition of the reconsideration request.
(g) A decision on reconsideration is a new decision that restarts applicable time limitations periods under §780.15 and part 11 of this title.
[70 FR 43266, July 27, 2005, as amended at 71 FR 30573, May 30, 2006]
§ 780.8 County committee appeals.
(a) A request for appeal to a county committee concerning a decision of a subordinate of the county committee must be submitted by a participant or by a participant's authorized representative in writing and must be addressed to the office in which the subordinate is employed.
(b) The Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply to appeals to a county committee. However, a county committee may confine presentations of evidence to material facts and may exclude evidence or questions that are irrelevant, unduly repetitious, or otherwise inappropriate.
(c) The official county committee decision on an appeal will be the decision letter that is issued following disposition of the appeal.
(d) Deliberations shall be in confidence except to the extent that a county committee may request the assistance of county committee or FSA employees during deliberations.
(a) Any request for mediation must be submitted after issuance of an adverse decision but before any hearing in an appeal of the adverse decision to NAD.
(b) An adverse decision and any particular issues of fact material to an adverse decision may be mediated only once:
(1) If resolution of an adverse decision is not achieved in mediation, a participant may exercise any remaining appeal rights under this part or appeal to NAD in accordance with part 11 of this title and NAD procedures.
(2) If an adverse decision is modified as a result of mediation, a participant may exercise any remaining appeal rights as to the modified decision under this part or appeal to NAD, unless such appeal rights have been waived pursuant to agreement in the mediation.
(c) Any agreement reached during, or as a result of, the mediation process shall conform to the statutory and regulatory provisions governing the program and FSA's generally applicable interpretation of those statutes and regulatory provisions.
(d) FSA will participate in mediation in good faith and to do so will take steps that include the following:
(1) Designating a representative in the mediation;
(2) Instructing the representative that any agreement reached during, or as a result of, the mediation process must conform to the statutes, regulations, and FSA's generally applicable interpretations of statutes and regulations governing the program;
(3) Assisting as necessary in making pertinent records available for review and discussion during the mediation; and
(4) Directing the representative to forward any written agreement proposed in mediation to the appropriate FSA official for approval.
(e) Mediations will be treated in a confidential manner consistent with the purposes of the mediation.
(f) For requests for mediation in a Certified State, if the factual issues implicated in an adverse decision have not previously been mediated, notice to a participant of an adverse decision will include notice of the opportunity for mediation, including a mailing address and facsimile number, if available, that the participant may use to submit a written request for mediation.
(1) If the participant desires mediation, the participant must request mediation in writing by contacting the certified mediation program or such other contact as may be designated by FSA in an adverse decision letter. The request for mediation must include a copy of the adverse decision to be mediated.
(2) Participants in mediation may be required to pay fees established by the mediation program.
(3) A listing of certified State mediation programs and means for contact may be found on the FSA Web site at http://www.usda.gov/fsa/disputemediation.htm.
(g) For requests for mediation in a Non-certified State, if the factual issues implicated in an adverse decision have not previously been mediated, notice to a participant of an adverse decision will, as appropriate, include notice of the opportunity for mediation, including the mailing address of the State Executive Director and a facsimile number, if available, that the participant may use to submit a written request for mediation.
(1) It is the duty of the participant to contact the State Executive Director in writing to request mediation. The request for mediation must include a copy of the adverse decision to be mediated.
(2) If resources are available for mediation, the State Executive Director will select a qualified mediator and provide written notice to the participant that mediation is available and the fees that the participant will incur for mediation.
(3) If the participant accepts such mediation, FSA may give notice of the mediation to interested parties and third parties whose interests are known to FSA.
(h) Mediation will be considered to be at an end on that date set out in writing by the mediator or mediation program, as applicable, or when the participant receives written notice from the State Executive Director that the State Executive Director believes the mediation is at an impasse, whichever is earlier.
(i) To provide for mediator impartiality:
(1) No person shall be designated as mediator in an adverse program dispute who has previously served as an advocate or representative for any party in the mediation.
(2) As a condition of retention to mediate in an adverse program dispute under this part, the mediator shall agree not to serve thereafter as an advocate or representative for a participant or party in any other proceeding arising from or related to the mediated dispute, including, without limitation, representation of a mediation participant before an administrative appeals entity of USDA, or any other Federal Government department.
[70 FR 43266, July 27, 2005, as amended at 71 FR 30573, May 30, 2006]
§ 780.10 State committee appeals.
(a) A request for appeal to the State committee from a decision of a county committee must be submitted by a participant or by a participant's authorized representative in writing and addressed to the State Executive Director.
(b) A participant's right to appeal a decision to a State committee is waived if a participant has appealed the adverse decision to NAD before requesting an appeal to the State Committee.
(c) If a participant requests mediation or requests an appeal to NAD before a request for an appeal to the State Committee has been acted upon, the appeal to the State Committee will be deemed withdrawn. The deemed withdrawal of a participant's appeal to the State Committee will not preclude a subsequent request for a State Committee hearing on appealable matters not resolved in mediation.
(d) The Federal Rules of Evidence do not apply in appeals to a State committee. Notwithstanding, a State committee may confine presentations of evidence to material facts and exclude evidence or questions as irrelevant, unduly repetitious, or otherwise inappropriate.
(e) The official record of a State committee decision on an appeal will be the decision letter that is issued following disposition of the appeal.
(f) Deliberations shall be in confidence except to the extent that a State committee may request the assistance of FSA employees during deliberations.
[70 FR 43266, July 27, 2005, as amended at 71 FR 30573, May 30, 2006]
§ 780.11 Appeals of NRCS determinations.
(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this part, a determination of NRCS issued to a participant pursuant to Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended, including a wetland determination, may be appealed to the county committee in accordance with the procedures in this part.
(b) If the county committee hears the appeal and believes that the challenge to the NRCS determination is not frivolous, the county committee shall refer the case with its findings on other issues to the NRCS State Conservationist to review the determination, or may make such a referral in advance of resolving other issues.
(c) A decision of the county committee not to refer the case with its findings to the NRCS State Conservationist may be appealed to the State Committee.
(d) The county or State committee decision must incorporate, and be based upon, the results of the NRCS State Conservationist's review and subsequent determination.
§ 780.12 Appeals of penalties assessed under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978.
(a) Requests for appeals of penalties assessed under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act of 1978 must be addressed to: Administrator, Farm Service Agency, Stop 0572, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20250–0572.
(b) Decisions in appeals under this section are not subject to reconsideration and are administratively final.
§ 780.13 Verbatim transcripts.
(a) Appellants and their representatives are precluded from making any electronic recording of any portion of a hearing or other proceeding conducted in accordance with this part. Appellants interested in obtaining an official recording of a hearing or other proceeding may request a verbatim transcript in accordance with paragraph (b) of this section.
(b) Any party to an appeal or request for reconsideration under this part may request that a verbatim transcript be made of the hearing proceedings and that such transcript be made the official record of the hearing. The party requesting a verbatim transcript shall pay for the transcription service, provide a copy of the transcript to FSA free of charge, and allow any other party in the proceeding desiring to purchase a copy of the transcript to order it from the transcription service.