Posted May 21, 2017
Update on United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Reorganization of Rural Development
On May 11th, CARH sent a broadcast email that discussed USDA’s reorganization of Rural Development (RD). The announcement would eliminate the position of Under Secretary of Rural Development’s (RD). At the time of the announcement, there were very few details about the reorganization other than the Department said that the rural development functions would elevate the mission of RD and individuals would report directly to the Secretary.
Late yesterday afternoon, CARH, together with other industries involved in rural development issues, met with key staff from the Senate. The staff had been briefed by officials from USDA on details of the reorganization. From information received, the reorganization would demote and not elevate RD’s mission areas. RD would, in fact, become an office within USDA with the Administrators becoming “Assistants” to the Secretary. There would be no Presidential nominee with Senate confirmation in the RD mission area.
All under secretaries, including the Under Secretary of Rural Development, already report directly to the Secretary. In its current position as a core USDA mission area overseen by an Under Secretary, RD holds a prominent position as part of the USDA Cabinet. By demoting RD to simply an “office” under the Secretary, it will lose its sub-Cabinet-level status and administrative authority if this reorganization takes place. There is concern that this could be quite problematic for programs as the federal budget process progresses both in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 as well as FY 2019.
USDA is characterizing this as part of a larger reorganization called for in the 2014 Agriculture Act. That Act required the creation of a new Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. It in no way called for this creation of a new Under Secretary to impact RD. The Act required consultation with stakeholders and a report, which was prepared and issued by the National Academy of Public Administration for USDA in October 2015, which again did not call for any changes to RD. While the new Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs was statutorily mandated, these other changes are part of something entirely unrelated and the trade issue is being used at the expense of RD. We believe that, at a minimum, this change is procedurally defective and USDA is simply trying to conflate an appropriate, statutory process, with an inappropriate ad hoc action.
While learning more yesterday afternoon regarding details of the reorganization, there are still several unanswered questions, such who would state directors report to, if in fact, there will be state directors. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees and House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees will be holding hearings during the next few weeks on a variety of policy issues. Rural housing is not particularly involved in international trade but we are proud to see USDA continue the ongoing work of the Foreign Agricultural Service and other international trade efforts already underway. But there is no reason why that should ever have impacted RD or its mission. We ask you to contact your members of Congress right away and tell them that international trade should not be linked to RD and should not be promoted at the expense of rural housing, the residents of rural housing, as well as other mission areas currently under RD. There should be an Under Secretary for Rural Development as well as one for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.
To see if your members of Congress are on one of the committees mentioned above, use the following links: