Groups Press Lawmakers to Oppose USDA Rural Development Change

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By Casey Wooten

More than a dozen groups are calling on Congress to prevent the Agriculture Department from eliminating the undersecretary of rural development position.

Oversight of agencies such as the Rural Housing Service and the Rural Utilities Service is slated to be transferred to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s office as part of an administrative shakeup Perdue announced May 11.

But the groups, which include the National Farmers Union, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Center for Rural Affairs, sent a May 15 letter to agriculture committee leaders saying the move would increase the chance of waste and mismanagement.

“With approximately 5,000 employees and 400 offices, and funding streams and subsidy rates more complicated than any other area of USDA, the RD mission area requires a dedicated leadership cadre focused exclusively on ensuring the programs are delivered and serviced most effectively,” the letter said.

Congressional Skepticism

In his May 11 announcement, Perdue said that he would reorganize top undersecretary positions at the USDA, creating an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs while eliminating the rural development undersecretary position.

Perdue characterized the movement of rural development oversight to the secretary’s office as a promotion, but some farm-state lawmakers, such as Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), have expressed caution toward the change.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies said in a May 11 statement that he wanted to ensure the USDA development programs continued to benefit rural America.

Hoeven’s influence on the appropriations process could have an impact on whether Congress opposes eliminating the rural development undersecretary. Hoeven’s subcommittee would ultimately fund the reorganization.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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