U.S. Department of Agriculture building in Washington, D.C. Getty Images/Mark Wilson

USDA continues reorganization for better customer service

Legislative Watch: USDA reorganizes for better service; USDA sued for organic rule delay; food security improves; confirmation hearing scheduled.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently announced further reorganization of USDA to continue to improve customer service and maximize efficiency. This is to build on the reorganization announcement in May.

Perdue says, “We are already providing our customers with great service, and our career professionals are among the best in the federal government, but we can be even better. This realignment represents further progress on the improvements to USDA we made earlier this year, and will help us better meet the needs of farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers, while providing increased accountability to American taxpayers.” The reorganization includes:
Trade and Codex: The U.S. Codex Office, which currently reports to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, will now be housed at the Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. The Codex Office is an interagency partnership which engages stakeholders in the development of international governmental and non-governmental food standards.
GIPSA moved to AMS: Currently there are multiple USDA agencies involved in commodity grading and inspection. The Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration and the Agricultural Marketing Service both carry out grading and work to ensure fair trade practices. GIPSA will be moved to AMS. Specific to fair trade practice work, the new structure will contain a program area composed of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Program and the Packers and Stockyards Program, as well as some other regulatory activities AMS is currently directed to carry out.
Rural Development: An Innovation Center will be established within Rural Development with the responsibility of evaluating the impacts of USDA’s business, housing and utilities programs.
Commodity Procurement: The commodity procurement activities of USDA will be consolidated. The International Food Commodity Procurement program, currently in the Farm Service Agency will be merged into the domestic Commodity Food Procurement program in the AMS.
Pest Management: The Office of Pest Management Policy will be moved from the Agricultural Research Service to the Office of the Chief Economist. OPMP coordinates the USDA role in the pesticide regulatory process and related interagency affairs.

The public comment period regarding the organization is open until Oct. 7.

USDA sued for delay of organic animal welfare rule
The Organic Trade Association has filed a lawsuit against the USDA for delaying the implementation of the organic animal welfare standards rule. The OTA says, “The government’s failure to move ahead with this fully vetted regulation calls into question the entire process by which organic regulations are set — a process that Congress created, the industry has worked within, and consumers trust.”

The rule was one of the very last rules finalized in the closing days of the Obama administration and was to go into effect in March. The rule along with many other rules finalized in the last days of the Obama administration were put on hold by the Trump administration for further review. The rule is currently to go into effect on Nov. 14.

Food security in U.S. households improves
USDA’s food security survey, “Household Food Security in the United States,” found that 87.7% of American households were food secure in 2016, meaning they had enough food throughout the year. The remaining 12.3% of American households were food insecure sometime during the year. This is an improvement from a high of 14.9% in 2011. Additional highlights from the survey include:
• Children were food insecure at times during 2016 in 8.0% of the U.S. households with children (3.1 million households).
• Food insecurity varied considerably by state ranking from 8.7% in Hawaii to 18.7% in Mississippi.
• Food-secure household spent 29% more for food than the typical food-insecure household.
• Nearly 59% of food-insecure households reported than in the previous month they had participated in one or more federal nutrition assistance programs — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and National School Lunch Program.

USDA confirmation hearing scheduled
The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on Sept. 19 on the nominations of Steve Censky to be USDA Deputy Secretary and Ted McKinney to be undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Relations.

TAGS: Regulatory
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