A plan announced today by the Trump administration would shift Department of Agriculture programs to different government agencies, dramatically shrinking the size and scope of the department.
The plan, detailed in a 132-page document released by the White House on Thursday, would move nutrition programs to the Department of Health and Human Services, shift some USDA housing programs to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and consolidate the government’s food safety oversight into a new Federal Food Safety Agency.
Many of the proposals included in the plan – such as a merger of the Education and Labor departments – are likely to face stiff opposition in Congress and in the public square. Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, acknowledged in a call with reporters that the changes “will not happen overnight,” but hopes some of the language can serve as the “beginning of a national dialogue on government reform.”
“Shining a light on those examples should cause the well-intentioned civil servants who administer these programs to look for ways to better integrate and better provide service with greater efficiency,” she said.
Many of the proposed changes would have direct impacts on USDA operations. Perhaps chief among them could be a shift of government nutrition programs to HHS (which also would be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare). Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program would shift away from USDA; “commodity-based” programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, Emergency Food Assistance Program, and others would stay.
Weichert defended the proposed changes, saying many states already have different departmental organizations than the federal government for their public assistance programs. That difference, she said, “actually creates burden for the states and frankly takes away resources that should be going to needy families.”
A separate proposal would combine food safety oversight currently done though separate programs at USDA, HHS, and the Food and Drug Administration into one agency under the USDA umbrella.
The shift would leave FDA to focus on “drugs, devices, biologics, tobacco, dietary supplements, and cosmetics” after shifting about 5,000 FDA employees and $1.3 billion from FDA to the new USDA agency. This new agency would “cover virtually all the foods Americans eat,” the administration’s document said.
The proposal includes some other changes impacting farm, food, and rural policy:
- USDA’s rural housing loan guarantee and rental assistance programs would be moved to HUD;
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be merged with the National Marine Fisheries Service and brought under the Department of Interior;
- USDA’s Hazardous Materials Management Program and DOI’s Central Hazardous Materials Program would be moved into EPA’s Superfund program;
- USDA’s small business programs – as well as similar programs in other departments – would be moved into the Small Business Administration.
In a statement, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue welcomed the conversation about government reorganization, but said USDA’s workforce is the best in the federal government.
“We will advocate for those changes that make sense, and we will have a dialogue about areas where we feel USDA has the core competencies to most effectively deliver services,” Perdue said, without expanding on which services should remain at the department.
Press officials from HHS and FDA did not respond to requests for comment.
Administrative reorganization efforts are nothing new and have typically been undertaken with little success. Many of the proposals included in this particular plan would require legislative action. Weichert said announcements “in the coming weeks” will detail some steps that will be taken administratively to pursue the reorganization.
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