Opinion by Dave Hovland
NRCS Quality Assurance, and How it Affects What We Do
By Dave Hovland, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Quality Assurance and Evaluation
As an agency of the USDA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has the privilege of working with private landowners to, as we like to call it, “get conservation on the ground.” This comes through our employees working with agricultural producers, providing them technical assistance in the conservation planning process and then utilizing Farm Bill conservation programs to help facilitate the instillation of conservation practices that meet both the producer objectives and provide benefits to our natural resources.
NRCS conservation practices are designed and installed according to standards and specifications that the agency maintains in our Field Office Technical Guide. To assure our technical assistance and conservation practices meet the expectations of the agricultural producer, NRCS implements a process of quality assurance that includes the inspection of the planning, design and the actual installed practices to assure they meet the requirements of the Field Office Technical Guide. Our goal is to do the right thing right the first time. Having quality expectations ensures agricultural producers and NRCS that the final product is what was expected and wanted.
When considering quality, William A. Foster said, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” In an ongoing effort to assure quality, NRCS conducts what we call quality assurance reviews on a selected number of NRCS field offices. These reviews or inspections are done annually and designed to evaluate the overall operational procedures of our field office structure. Included in each of these reviews is an assessment of four primary management functions that include technology, programs, operations and administrative functions, including civil rights. All of these functions are a normal part of the day-to-day operating procedures of an NRCS field office.
Quality assurance reviews were completed in six field offices in fiscal year 2011, and nine offices are slated for review in fiscal year 2012. At our current rate of review, each field office receives a review at least once every five years. This schedule also allows us to keep quality at the forefront of what we do as an agency and gives us a much higher probability for consistently producing high quality conservation practice implementations for our customers.
Findings documented during these reviews are compiled and actions are recommended that should address areas of risk that have the potential for improvements on a statewide basis. Identifying risks and recommending solutions that address concerns allow us to keep quality at the forefront of what we do as an agency. High quality product delivery results in more satisfied customers and doing the right thing toward conservation of our natural resources.
Miles Maguire said, “Quality is such an attractive banner that sometimes we think we can get away with just waving it, without doing the hard work necessary to achieve it.” At NRCS we are committed to doing the hard work necessary to deliver the products our customers are looking for.
For more information about the NRCS quality assurance process, contact Dave Hovland, Assistant State Conservationist for Quality Assurance and Evaluation, at 307-233-6749.