WASHINGTON, May 15, 2017 -  The National Association of Counties, National Farmers Union and 13 other organizations are asking Congress to block the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate USDA’s undersecretary for rural development. 

In a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, the groups say that the plan will downgrade rural development programs within USDA, not elevate their importance as the administration argues. 

“These programs provide critical resources and technical assistance for some of the most underserved communities in the country - a responsibility demanding the highest caliber of leadership and accountability,” the letter says. “Demoting RD and removing Congressional accountability will have a direct impact on our nation’s ability to care for the underserved and compete in a global market.”

The letter also argues that the advisers to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue charged with running the RD programs will likely be overburdened, and that in turn will increase the chances for mismanagement and waste. 

The elimination of the undersecretary position was part of a broader reorganization plan that included creating a new undersecretary for trade, a position mandated by the 2014 farm bill, and creation of a new Farm Production and Conservation mission area that will include the Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as the Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency. 

The rural organizations said there was no legal requirement for the administration to eliminate an undersecretary’s position. According to the letter, USDA’s Office of General Counsel concluded that the Secretary has authority to establish any number of Under Secretaries at will under a 1953 law, an authority that was explicitly retained by Congress in the 1994 Reorganization Act. 

The groups, which also include the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Association of Development Organizations, are part of a coalition known as the Campaign for a Renewed Rural Development.

The other groups that signed the letter are: Center for Rural Affairs,  Council for Affordable and Rural Housing, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Fair Food Network, Housing Assistance Council,  National Association of Towns and Townships National Cooperative, Business Association CLUSA, National Farmers Union, National Rural Water Association, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Rural Community Assistance Partnership Inc. and State Agriculture and Rural Leaders.

Meanwhile, the National Rural Housing Alliance also expressed opposition to the rural development reorganization in separate letter to the House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations committees. "While this is described as a way to elevate rural development, it is anything but that," the letter says. "The elimination of the Under Secretary for Rural Development indicates that rural development is no longer a core mission for USDA, and will reduce the necessary oversight and attention to the large and important federal investment in rural America."