WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2015 – A long-awaited set of recommendations, originally requested as part of the 2014 farm bill, outlines how USDA should restructure to create a new Under Secretary (U/S) position focused on trade-related issues, as well as two other new U/S positions.

The report was prepared by a five-person panel convened by the National Academy of Public Administration under a congressional mandate in the fiscal 2015 appropriations bill. The panel’s report, “Advancing U.S. Agricultural Trade: Reorganizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” identifies a preferred reorganization option for trade that includes three parts:

-The Foreign Agricultural Service, and

- All the components of the Agricultural Marketing Service that support trade through market development, including quality standards and product differentiation, in their entirety; and

- The Federal Grain Inspection Service.

The panel recommends a different title for the new U/S than that specified in the legislation to more accurately reflect the responsibilities of the position: “U/S for Trade and Market Development” instead of “U/S for Trade and Foreign Agricultural

Affairs.” In addition, the panel calls for two additional U/S portfolios.

-          Health and Safety would include the Food Safety Inspection Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The panel believes that moving APHIS and FSIS into the same U/S portfolio will strengthen the reputation of the U.S. for science-based regulation while enhancing mission-critical synergies between APHIS and FSIS

-          Farm Services and Risk Management would include the Farm Services Agency (FSA) and the Risk Management Agency, as well as the Packers and Stockyards Program and the purely domestic components of the Agricultural Marketing Service, both of which would be incorporated within the FSA.

Today, USDA is organized around seven Under Secretaries, each with a portfolio of one or more agencies (18 agencies in total). It also has three assistant secretaries (for Congressional Relations, Administration, and Civil Rights), and a number of other senior staff officers, including a Chief Economist, a Director of National Appeals, an Inspector General, a General Counsel, a Chief Financial Officer and an Office of Budget and Program Analysis, according to the panel’s report.

One of the seven Under Secretaries, the Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services (FFAS), a position currently held by Michael Scuse, plays the lead role on agricultural trade. The United States, the world’s largest agricultural exporter and the world’s third-largest importer, plays a significant role in global agricultural trade.

USDA was required to submit its reorganization plans within 180 days of the farm bill signing, on Feb. 7, 2014, but a few months later, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Agri-Pulse he was delaying the report because it’s a complicated issue that involves many different departments within USDA.

Panel members reviewed three possible reorganization options, in addition to the status quo. Members noted that USDA’s organizational structure has become obsolete and a U/S position focused on trade issues, by design, will help enable consistent high-level focus and enhanced interagency coordination on trade issues.

“However, the panel strongly opposes the industry’s preferred reorganization option of moving health and safety regulatory agencies, in whole or in part, to the U/S for trade and places a priority on maintaining the independence of these agencies for a variety of reasons,” the report notes.

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“Most importantly, putting these critical functions under the authority of trade promotion would threaten the protection of human, animal, and plant health. It would also violate principles of public administration and organizational design, and undermine the trust of importing countries in the quality and safety of United States agricultural products.”

The panel recommends that the reorganization be implemented after the next president takes office, but emphasizes the need to begin planning for the reorganization now to help ensure a smooth and timely implementation early in the next administration. In addition, the panel recommends formalizing important interagency coordination mechanisms before the transition to minimize disruption from the change in leadership.

While the structural changes in the recommended option are important, the panel also noted that success depends on the following:

1) Ensuring a clear division of responsibilities between USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

2) Defining the responsibilities of the new U/positions;

3) Defining the qualifications for the new U/S positions;

4) Enhancing and institutionalizing non-structural mechanisms for interagency coordination on trade-related issues; and

5) Employing sound change management practices.

In addition, the panel suggests that Congress consider specifying in legislation the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture to undertake the recommended restructuring.  


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