USDA undergoes agency overhaul
Washington, D.C. – On May 11, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced an overhaul in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organization structure, including the creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign affairs and consolidation of several agencies.
Perdue’s reorganization efforts recognize “the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture.”
Perdue issued a report to announce the changes, which address Congressional direction in the 2014 Farm Bill to create the new undersecretary for trade and also are a down payment on President Trump’s request of his cabinet to deliver plans to improve the accountability and customer service provided by departments.
“Food is a noble thing to trade. This nation has a great story to tell and we’ve got producers here that produce more than we can consume,” said Secretary Perdue. “And that’s good, because I’m a grow-it-and-sell-it kind of guy. Our people in American agriculture have shown they can grow it, and we’re here to sell it in markets all around the world.”
Among the changes made to USDA, Perdue created a new undersecretary position, the undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
“Agricultural trade is critical for the U.S. farm sector and the American economy as a whole,” says USDA, citing figures that U.S. agricultural and food exports account for 20 percent of the value of production.
Additionally, every dollar from exports creates another $1.27 in business activity, and every $1 billion in U.S. ag exports supports nearly 8,000 American jobs.
“Our plan to establish an undersecretary for trade fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world. By working side-by-side with our U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the USDA undersecretary for trade will ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world,” Perdue said.
“Under the existing structure, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), which deals with overseas markets, and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which handles domestic issues, were housed under one mission area, along with the Risk Management Agency (RMA). It makes much more sense to situate FAS under the new undersecretary for trade, where staff can sharpen their focus on foreign markets,” USDA explains.
In creating the new undersecretary position, Perdue also announced reorganization of agencies that creates a more logical order to workflows.
In addition to the undersecretary for trade, Perdue also created an undersecretary for the farm production and conservation mission area, which will house FSA, RMA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The move allows a “one-stop shop for USDA’s primary customers – the men and women of farming, ranching and foresting across America,” he said.
The undersecretary for natural resources and environment will retain supervision of the U.S. Forest Service.
“The economic health of small towns across America is crucial to the future of the agriculture economy. It is my commitment to always argue for the needs of rural America, which is why we are elevating Rural Development within USDA,” said Secretary Perdue. “No doubt, the opportunity we have here at the USDA in rural development is unmatched.”
Perdue will also elevate the importance of Rural Development.
Rural Development agencies will report directly to the secretary of agriculture, ensuring that rural America maintains a voice.
From the industry
Across agriculture and conservation groups, USDA’s reorganization has solicited positivity from many, with promise for cooperation in the process.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Craig Uden said, “We believe the restructuring of USDA makes sense for cattlemen and women, providing a one-stop shop for producers who utilize the many services of the FSA, RMA and NRCS. Additionally, having Rural Development directly reporting to the secretary shows the emphasis he is placing on helping rural America.”
He continued, “Furthermore, establishing this new undersecretary for trade position was one of our top priorities for 2017, so we are extremely pleased to see Secretary Perdue filling in the gaps left by the previous administration.”
Uden noted that the position will allow USDA to capitalize on markets for ag products and break down trade barriers.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s President Kenny Graner said, “USCA is looking forward to working with this undersecretary to secure U.S. beef access to China and to ensure that our global trading partners are held to the same high standards of production as U.S. cattle producers.”
In the conservation realm, the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) President Brent Van Dyke said, “As one of USDA’s core partners, NACD’s primary goal is to ensure that American landowners are given the tools and technical assistance they need to conserve and enhance our nation’s natural resources.”
“NACD looks forward to providing input to USDA throughout the reorganization process to ensure continued strong service delivery,” NACD CEO Jeremy Peters said. “Because many of the nation’s 3,000 conservation districts are co-located with USDA field offices, local input is critical as the reorganization progresses to prevent any loss of service.”
However, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition commented, “We are confused and concerned with the administration’s decisions.”
They view the changes in Rural Development as a demotion, calling it simply an “office” under the secretary, rather than as its own agency.
“By demoting Rural Development to simply an “office” under the Secretary, it will lose its Cabinet-level status and the decision-making power that comes with being categorized as a USDA mission area,” said NSAC’s Greg Fogel.
Graner comments, “USCA looks forward to continuing our work with Secretary Perdue and his staff as these changes are implemented.”
Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) said, “I commend Secretary Perdue and the administration for, after just two weeks in office, putting forward a thoughtful reorganization plan that seeks to ensure all the critical mission areas at USDA are operating efficiently and effectively.”
Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from a number of press releases and interview with Wyoming ag industry representatives. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.