The new U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced his plans to reorganize the USDA. This will include the creation of a new undersecretary position for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. There will also be the elimination of the undersecretary post for Rural Development.
Removal of RD Undersecretary Aims to Elevate the Office
USDA Secretary Perdue sees such motion for the USDA reorganization is to elevate functions the Rural Development (RD) agencies and not to demote it. “The economic health of small towns across America is crucial to the future of the agriculture economy. It is my commitment to always argue for the needs of rural America, which is why we are elevating Rural Development within USDA,” Perdue said.
Three Rural Development agencies report directly to the RD undersecretary. These agencies are the Rural Utilities, the Rural Housing, and the Rural Business-Cooperative Services. In the new USDA organization, all of the three will report directly to USDA Secretary Perdue.
Secretary Perdue Wants to be More Involved
The secretary expressed his strong desire to be more hands-on and involved with the RD. “I’m just curious enough and jealous enough I want to be involved (personally in the Rural Development office),” he said. Secretary Perdue wants the office to have a direct access to the head of the USDA.
Several Groups Express Concern
While they praised the secretary for recognizing the need to strengthen agricultural trade, several groups have identified that the removal of the RD undersecretary may pose dilemma than good.
The Center for Rural Affairs released a statement which opposes this proposed removal of the said position. “We are heartened that Sec. Perdue is making strong efforts during his early days in office to express support for rural communities. However, we are concerned about the path he has chosen,” said Policy Associate Anna Johnson. “… If he makes this change, Sec. Perdue will be removing the position of the most significant rural advocate within USDA,” she added
The National Rural Housing Alliance seemed to have the same concern. “While this is described as a way to elevate rural development, it is anything but that,” as said in the letter to the House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations committees. “The elimination of the Under Secretary for Rural Development indicates that rural development is no longer a core mission for USDA, and will reduce the necessary oversight and attention to the large and important federal investment in rural America.”