Massive Reorganization of USDA Proposed

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has submitted a plan for the first reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 1994. The proposal aims to reconfigure three of the USDA’s seven wings, which account for two-thirds of the USDA staff, though the initial report to Congress states that this will be done without a reduction in the department’s workforce.

Included in the just-released plan is the creation of the new position of undersecretary for trade that was called for in the 2014 Farm Bill. The creation of the new role would abolish the undersecretary for rural development and will oversee the Foreign Agriculture Service, which is currently overseen by the agriculture undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services.

The new undersecretary of trade will need to be confirmed by the Senate and would chair a committee of agencies responsible for the export and import of agricultural goods such as the Food Safety and Inspection Service, according to Agriculture.com.

“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 in a USDA statement.

Moving forward, the Foreign Agriculture Service would be tasked with focusing on marketing U.S. agricultural products rather than a dual purpose of marketing and food aid. This is something that the Progressive Farmer states would view as a positive move by development specialists who see the role of the U.S. government as training foreign farmers how to raise productivity rather than shipping U.S. products to distressed regions.

Other agencies to come under the umbrella of the new undersecretary include the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Risk Management Agency (RMA), which navigates crop insurance issues and policy.  

The USDA states that the elimination of the undersecretary for rural development “will elevate rural development agencies to report directly to the secretary of agriculture to ensure that rural America always has a seat at the table.”

The plan also calls for the elimination of the undersecretary for natural resources and environment, according to the The Progressive Farmer, resulting in moving the Natural Resources and Conservation Service under control of the undersecretary for farm services. Additionally, the plan calls for making the U.S. Forest Service a stand-alone agency.

Additional shifts call for the reclassification of functions such as rural electricity, broadband, and energy development as offices, losing their undersecretary. However, USDA divisions in charge of public nutrition, food safety; research, education, and economics; agricultural marketing, and regulatory programs will remain as they are.

“The men and women of American agriculture are hardy people, many of whom were born into the calling of feeding America and the world,” said Perdue. “Their efforts are appreciated, and this adjustment to the USDA structure will help us help them in even better ways than before.”

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