Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced USDA's plans to overhaul the USDA agency’s operations. The “Blueprint for Stronger Service” is the result of a department-wide review of operations conducted as part of the administration's "Campaign to Cut Waste." Under the plan, 259 USDA domestic offices, facilities, labs and seven foreign offices will be closed. USDA estimates $140 million will be saved annually. Secretary Vilsack said, "The USDA, like families and businesses across the country, cannot continue to operate like we did 50 years ago. We must innovate, modernize and be better stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. We must build on the accomplishments of farm communities in 2011 with a stronger, more effective USDA in 2012 and beyond." The office closings include:
• Farm Service Agency (FSA): Consolidate 131 county offices in 32 states; more than 2,100 FSA offices remain throughout the United States.
• Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS): Close two country offices; more than 95 FAS offices remain throughout the world.
• Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): Close 15 APHIS offices in 11 states and five APHIS offices in five foreign countries; more than 560 APHIS offices remain throughout the United States and 55 remain throughout the world.
• Rural Development (RD): Close 43 area and sub offices in 17 states and U.S. territories; approximately 450 RD offices remain throughout the United States.
• Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): Close 24 soil survey offices in 21 states; more than 2,800 NRCS offices remain throughout the United States.
• Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): Close five district offices in five states; 10 district offices remain throughout the United States.
• Agricultural Research Service (ARS): Close 12 programs at 10 locations; more than 240 programs remain throughout the United States.
• Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (FNCS): Close 31 field offices in 28 states; 32 FNCS offices will remain throughout the United States.
Congress has cut USDA’s discretionary operating budget by more than $3 billion, approximately 12%, since 2010.
Ban on Brazilian Pork Lifted – USDA has lifted the ban on Brazilian pork imports. Six processing plants in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina have been authorized by USDA to export their pork to the United States. This is the result of an agreement in 2010 between the United States and Brazil to settle the Brazilian cotton case against the U.S. cotton program. Part of the agreement was to begin the process to approve pork imports from Brazil. Santa Catarina was recognized by USDA in late 2010 as free of foot-and-mouth disease.
Obama Proposes New Export Agency – President Obama is asking Congress for the authority to create a new export agency by consolidating six agencies into one to “promote competitiveness, exports and American business.” The six agencies are: U.S. Department of Commerce’s core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. The president said, “We live in a 21st century economy, but we’ve still got a government organized for the 20th century. Our economy has fundamentally changed — as has the world — but our government, our agencies have not. The needs of our citizens have fundamentally changed, but their government has not.” It estimated the merger would save $3 billion over 10 years and 1,000 to 2,000 federal jobs would be cut. The administration will face strong congressional opposition to including USTR in this proposal.
P. Scott Shearer