7 CFR 632.42 - Violation procedures.
(a) Scope. This section prescribes the regulations dealing with contract violations. The Chief reserves the right to revise or supplement any of the provisions of this section at any time if the action does not adversely affect the land user, or if the land user has been officially notified before this action is taken. No cost-share payment shall be made pending the decision on whether a contract violation has occurred.
(1) Determine, with the approval of the State conservationist, that a violation did not occur or that the violation was of such a nature that no penalty of forfeiture, refund, or payment adjustment is necessary. No notice is issued to the land user, and no further action is to be taken; or
(2) Determine that a violation did occur, but the land user agrees to accept the penalty. If the land user agrees in writing to accept a penalty of forfeiture, refund, payment adjustment or termination, no further action is to be taken. The land user's agreement to accept the penalty must be approved by the contracting officer and State conservationist.
(c) Notice of possible violation.
(1) When the State conservationist is notified that a contract violation may have occurred that may warrant a penalty of forfeiture, refund, payment adjustment, or termination, he is to notify, in writing, each land user who signed the agreement of the alleged violation. This notice may be personally delivered or sent by certified or registered mail. A land user is considered to have received the notice at the time of personal receipt acknowledged in writing, at the time of the delivery of a certified or registered letter, or at the time of the return of a certified or registered letter where delivery was refused.
(2) The notice setting forth the nature of the alleged violation is to give the land user an opportunity to appear at a hearing before a hearing officer designated by the State conservationist. The land user's request for a hearing is to be submitted in writing and must be received in the NRCS field office within 30 days after receipt of the notice. The land user is to be notified in writing by the hearing officer of the time, date, and place for the hearing. The land user is to have no right to a hearing if he does not file a written request for a hearing, or if he or his representative does not appear at the appointed time, unless the hearing officer, at his discretion, permits an appearance. A request for a hearing filed by a land user is considered to be a request by all land users who signed the contract.
(d) Hearing. A public hearing is to be conducted to obtain the facts about the alleged violation. The hearing officer is to limit the hearing to relevant facts and evidence and is not to be bound by the strict rules of evidence as required in courts of law. Witnesses may be sworn in at the discretion of the hearing officer.
(1) The land user or his representative is to be given full opportunity to present oral or documentary evidence about the alleged violation. Likewise, the United States may submit statements and evidence. Individuals not otherwise represented at the hearing may be permitted, at the discretion of the hearing officer, to give information of evidence. The hearing officer, at his discretion, may permit witnesses to be cross-examined.
(2) The hearing officer is to make a record of the hearing so that the testimony can be summarized. A summary of the testimony may be made if both the land user and the State conservationist agree. A transcript of the hearing is to be made if requested by either the State conservationist or the land user within 10 days of the hearing. If a transcript is requested by the land user, the land user may be assessed the cost of a copy of the transcript.
(3) The hearing officer is to close the hearing after a reasonable period of time if the land user or his representative is not present at the scheduled time. The hearing officer may, at his discretion, accept information and evidence submitted by others present for the hearing.
(4) The hearing officer is to furnish the State conservationist with a written report setting forth his findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The report is to include the summary of testimony or transcript made of the hearing and any other information that would aid the State conservationist in reaching his decision.
(e) Decision by State conservationist. The State conservationist is to make a decision after considering the hearing officer's report, including recommendations of the conservation district board if any, and any other information available to him, including, if applicable, the amount of the forfeiture, refund, or payment adjustment. The decision is to state whether the violation is of such a nature as to warrant termination of the contract. The State conservationist is to notify, in writing, each land user who signed the contract of his decision. The State conservationist may authorize or require the reopening of any hearing before a hearing officer for any reason at any time before his decision.
(f) Appeal to Chief. Any land user affected by a decision of the State conservationist has the right of appeal to the Chief. The appeal and any briefs or statements must be received in the Office of the Chief within 30 days after the land user has received notice of the State conservationist's decision. The State conservationist is to file a brief or statement in the Office of the Chief within 20 days after the land user's brief or statement is received there. The appeal is to be limited to the records and the issues made before the State conservationist. The Chief's decision is final. The decision is to be determined by the record before him and the issues presented in the appeal, and the land user is to be notified in writing.
(1) If the decision provides for termination of the contract, it is to state that the contract is terminated, that all rights to further cost-share payments under the contract are forfeited, and that cost-share payments received under the contract are to be refunded, but the refund is not to exceed the difference between the estimated value of the land at time of entering into the contract and the value at time of termination. The decision is to state the amount of refund and method of payment.
(2) If the decision does not provide for termination of the contract, the land user may be required to make a refund of cost-share payments or to accept payment adjustments. The decision is to state the amount of refunds of cost-share payments or payment adjustments. In determining amounts of refund or payment adjustments, the following are to be considered:
(i) The extent of the violation.
(ii) Whether the violation was deliberate or the result of negligence or was caused by circumstances beyond the control of the land user.
(iii) The effect on the program if no refund or payment adjustment is required.
(iv) The extent to which the land user benefited by the violation.
(v) The effect of the violation on the contract as a whole.
(vi) Other considerations including the appropriateness and reasonableness of the refund or payment adjustment.