Washington, Sept. 7, 2017 – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today announced the realignment of a number of offices within USDA to improve customer service and maximize efficiency. The department says the changes build on the reorganization Perdue announced in May and comes with the intention of handling any staffing changes through attrition or reassignment.
“On my first day as secretary, I told our employees that I wanted USDA to be the most effective, most efficient, and best managed department in the federal government,” Perdue said in a release. "These changes will move us further toward that goal."
The realignments (and USDA’s explanations) follow:
In keeping with Congress’ directive in the 2014 farm bill and to advance agricultural trade, USDA in May created an Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs (TFAA). The importance of this addition is underscored by recent U.S. advances in international trade. USDA anticipates that U.S. farm exports will total $139.8 billion this fiscal year, the third-highest tally in history. While reviewing options for improving coordination on trade and international activities, USDA determined that the Codex Alimentarius program (U.S. Codex Office), currently housed in the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), will be moved to the newly created TFAA mission area. The U.S. Codex Office is an interagency partnership which engages stakeholders in the development of international governmental and non-governmental food standards. The focus of the Codex Office aligns better with the mission of TFAA.
The USDA reorganization announced in May created a new position of Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development (RD) and situated it to report directly to the secretary. Since then, RD has been leading efforts to promote economic development and revitalization, job growth, infrastructure, innovation, and quality of life issues for rural America. In order to develop fresh, creative solutions to reinvigorate rural America, the new structures announced today establish an Innovation Center within RD. The Center will be tasked with evaluating the impacts of the business, housing, and utilities programs provided by the Department. Through such evaluation, USDA will be better informed as to where additional investments will be most effective when it comes to RD program delivery.
The realignment announced in May reconstituted and renamed a mission area headed by the Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC). Under the newly-organized FPAC mission area, the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service were realigned to report to the renamed undersecretary. The changes announced today are designed to fit them into more logical places to help better coordinate service to USDA customers.
Rather than have commodity procurement in multiple agencies of the USDA, the International Food Commodity Procurement program currently in the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will merge into the domestic Commodity Food Procurement program in the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This action will consolidate commodity procurement activities across the USDA and allow for greater efficiencies in the acquisition of commodities.
Also, instead of having commodity grading and inspection in multiple USDA agencies, the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) will be merged into AMS. Currently, GIPSA and AMS both carry out grading activities and work to ensure fair trade practices. 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. In addition, this new program area will have the responsibility to carry out Warehouse Act functions currently being provided by FSA. The grain inspection activities will become a separate program area in AMS. These changes will provide a unified USDA presence focused not on programs, but on customers and the services they are provided.
In addition, FPAC is currently undertaking a customer engagement review to better understand what is working and what needs improvement so that USDA can best support farmers and producers today and in the future.
While creating the Farm Production and Conservation mission area, it became apparent that across USDA there are redundancies and inefficiencies in the mission support activities. Presently some agencies maintain redundant administrative support functions, including human resources, information technology (IT), finance, procurement, and property management. For example, there are 22 employees in the department that are identified as Chief Information Officers (CIOs). Having such a large number of CIOs creates redundancies throughout the Department when it comes to leadership on IT activities and services and results in unnecessary layering of leadership and direction. Therefore, mission support activities will be merged at the mission area level across USDA. Through these mergers, the mission areas will not only increase operational efficiencies, but also maximize collaboration between agencies that serve similar customers. This has happened in many of the support activities in mission areas already and is working well.
In order to better serve the nutritional needs of USDA customers, the new blueprint calls for merging the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) into the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). This makes sense because the two are closely intertwined and serve a similar mission. CNPP works to improve the health and well-being of Americans by developing and promoting dietary guidance that links scientific research to the nutrition needs of consumers. FNS seeks to end hunger and obesity through the administration of 15 Federal nutrition assistance programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Instead of having a politically-appointed administrator of CNPP, the agency will be headed by a career associate administrator. Incorporating CNPP into FNS will improve administrative efficiencies and allow closer integration of the work of these two agencies.
In an effort to create a consistent customer-focused outreach effort, the USDA will create an Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement by grouping the following offices together: the Office of Advocacy and Outreach; the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships staff; the Office of Tribal Relations; and the Military Veterans Liaison. Each office will retain its own character and identity, and continue to communicate with its core constituency, but this realignment will ensure a more coordinated and consistent approach. This will result in improved service and enhanced engagement with USDA’s customers.
Realigning Pest Management
The new alignment moves the Office of Pest Management Policy (OPMP) from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to the Office of the Chief Economist. OPMP coordinates the USDA role in the pesticide regulatory process and related interagency affairs. Its focus does not coincide with the mission of ARS and can be better situated in the Office of the Chief Economist.