Speak Your Piece: Perdue’s Reorganization Pushes Rural Development to the Sidelines
Sonny Perdue says he’s “elevating” Rural Development. Don’t believe it. The proposed changes will demote Rural Development to “office” status, pull rural development from USDA’s core mission area, and ensure that critical rural programs that support communities and families won’t have a voice in the Department.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced a major reorganization of the Department — the first time the Department has undergone a significant reshuffling since 1994. The reorganization has been framed as a move toward more efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. However, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is deeply troubled by the proposal to eliminate the Rural Development Mission Area and to demote Rural Development to “office” status.
In addition to creating a new Trade Undersecretary, the reorganization eliminates the Rural Development Mission Area and shifts the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Services Agency (FSA), and Risk Management Agency (RMA) under a single Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area.
While the Administration has attempted to spin the demotion of Rural Development as an “elevation” – arguing that because the office would report directly to the Secretary, rural development needs will receive greater attention – it is in fact a trading away of rural, domestic priorities in favor of boosting international trade.
All undersecretaries, including the Undersecretary of Rural Development, already report directly to the Secretary. In its current position as a core USDA Mission Area overseen by an undersecretary, Rural Development holds a prominent position as part of the USDA Cabinet. By demoting Rural Development to simply an “office” under the Secretary, it will lose its Cabinet-level status and the decision-making power that comes with being categorized as a USDA mission area. Moreover, the Rural Development Mission Area is huge with many decisions to make on a daily basis, and to assume that the limited number of overworked staff in the Secretary’s office will be better positioned to make and act on these decisions is questionable at best.
This demotion, taken together with the Administration’s recent attempt to wipe out rural business programs through the appropriations process, sends a clear signal that the President does not understand the critical nature of rural development to the American economy. NSAC is committed to working with our 118 member organizations, Senators and Representatives from across the country, and our allies in the rural and agricultural communities to reverse this misguided decision.
The reorganization also includes the shifting of NRCS, FSA, and RMA under a single Mission Area, Farm Production and Conservation. The success or failure of this shift will depend on the details. With no full proposal yet released that details this part of the reorganization, it is difficult to say whether or not it will result in more effective outcomes for farmers and the environment. While better coordination between FSA, RMA, and NRCS is certainly needed, each of these three agencies provides critical and unique services and programs, which should be retained and strengthened, not weakened or eliminated.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform to create long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.
Perdue announces his reorganization in this USDA-produced video.