USDA’s regulatory reform officer told lawmakers Tuesday that the department has identified about 140 regulations as “possible options” for revision or repeal. Although she did not identify them, she said a “significant number” will be published in the fall Unified Regulatory Agenda that should appear any day now.

Rebeckah Adcock (pictured above) also told two subcommittees of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the department’s 42-member regulatory reform task force is mostly made up of career USDA officials. USDA released a list list of task force members on Tuesday, after the hearing, after being criticized for failing to identify members.  

Five of the task force members are political appointees: Campbell Shuford, an adviser in the Office of the Secretary (OSEC); Diane Cullo, an OSEC outreach adviser; Adcock, an OSEC senior adviser; Stephen Vaden, USDA's acting general counsel (nominated to be general counsel); and Cameron Quinn, a former adviser in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights who is now at the White House.

Adcock spoke in general terms about the task force’s efforts, noting that it held a listening session with stakeholders early last month and is looking seriously at the costs and benefits of current regulations, as well as barriers to – and opportunities for – businesses. Recent deregulatory actions include the delay of animal welfare standards for organic livestock and poultry, and the planned withdrawal of an interim final rule from the Obama administration that would have set proof-of-harm standards under the Packers and Stockyards Act.

In her written testimony, she said the task force “made over 275 recommendations about how we can decrease duplication of efforts and work more efficiently and effectively. Many of the administrative actions recommended are already underway.”

In addition, the task force is examining public comments it has received. Adcock mentioned 145 comments, but the number is growing by the day: The online docket now includes 161 comments, 25 of which have been posted this month. The next comment deadlines are in February and July 2018.

“We are taking actions to revise and revisit regulations and, where appropriate, deregulate,” Adcock told the House panel. The department is not committed solely to scrapping regulations, but to “modernizing” them, she said.

“The work you are doing with these task forces represents an important first step in a necessary culture change with respect to how our government works with – not at – states, local governments, and the American public,” Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., chairman of the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs, told the witnesses, who included representatives other task forces reviewing regulations in the departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light at the hearing, however. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., became frustrated when Adcock said she was not aware of a National Chicken Council petition to allow increased line speeds at some poultry plants. Asked whether USDA would grant the petition’s request, Adcock said would check on it for Norton.

Pressed by an exasperated Norton, Adcock said, “I simply don’t have the expertise to answer that question.”

“I just want to protest that the department would send us people who would say ‘I don’t know anything, I’ll get back to you,’” Norton said. Palmer came to Adcock’s defense, agreeing that “some of the questions” asked of the witnesses had been “outside their area of expertise.”


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