Secretary Perdue Announces USDA Improvements For Customer Service And Efficiency
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the realignment of a number of offices within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order to improve customer service and maximize efficiency. The actions involve innovation, consolidation, and the rearrangement of certain offices into more logical organizational reporting structures. The changes build on the reorganization Perdue announced in May. As with the previous realignment, today’s announced restructuring 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. These changes will move us further toward that goal,” Perdue said. “We are already providing our customers with great service, and our career professionals are among the best in the federal government, but we can be even better. This realignment represents further progress on the improvements to USDA we made earlier this year, and will help us better meet the needs of farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers, while providing increased accountability to American taxpayers.”
The realignments include:
In keeping with Congress’ directive in the 2014 Farm Bill and to advance agricultural trade, the Department in May created an Under Secretary 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. We have also seen the return of U.S. beef to China after a 13-year hiatus, while significantly, an agreement was reached to allow the U.S. to export rice to that market for the first time ever. In addition, South Korea has lifted its ban on imports of U.S. poultry and poultry products, including fresh eggs, and an agreement was reached with Colombia to allow for expanded market access for U.S. exports of paddy rice. Just this week, Vietnam announced that it will resume importing American distiller’s dried grains (DDGS).
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.
Driving Rural Development
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.
RD has spearheaded efforts to improve the rural economy through the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. There have been meetings in which participants held a wide-ranging dialogue, discussing – among other issues – access to broadband, community infrastructure, community mental and physical health, workforce training and veterans’ employment, agricultural research, regulatory reform, improved access to capital, and increased local control of decision-making. Four working groups have been established to gather recommendations on issues regarding the quality of life in rural America; the rural workforce; innovation, technology, and data; and economic development. These working groups have met at least 10 times. In addition, Secretary Perdue has hosted five Task Force meetings – either with Cabinet members or in listening sessions with the people of American agriculture during his “Back to Our Roots” RV Tours. By doing this he has heard the opinions of many hundreds of citizens. A report with concrete actions on statutes to be enacted or repealed; regulations to be promulgated, amended, or eliminated; and programs and policies to be implemented, streamlined, or discarded will be provided to President Trump in late October.
In order to develop fresh, creative solutions to reinvigorate rural America, the new structures announced today establish an Innovation Center within RD. The RD Innovation 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 impactful when it comes to RD program delivery. RD will be continuously identifying best practices in economic development, measuring performance of programs, and promoting collaboration across agencies.
Concentrating Industry Engagement
The realignment announced in May reconstituted and renamed a mission area headed by the Under Secretary 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 Under Secretary. The improvements announced today make changes to some programs 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 improvements 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.
Focusing Nutrition Efforts
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.