Advancing U.S. Agricultural Trade: Reorganizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture

October 2015 – The responsibilities of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have grown and evolved over time in response to changes in the agricultural sector. In order to respond to these changes, USDA has undergone periodic reorganizations throughout its history. Citing the growing importance and complexity of agricultural trade, as part of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Act), Congress mandated that the Secretary of Agriculture develop a plan to create a new Under Secretary position focused on trade-related issues.

The Act directed the department to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) to assist in developing a plan for reorganizing the department with the goal of enhancing the department’s leadership and coordination on trade-related issues.

To undertake this study the Academy convened an expert Panel of five Fellows to identify and evaluate reorganization options and provide guidance on how the Panel’s preferred reorganization option could be implemented. After careful consideration of external and some internal stakeholder views and the current state of agricultural trade, the Panel concluded that the changing nature of agricultural trade provided a compelling rationale for a reorganization of USDA’s trade-related functions and the creation of a new Under Secretary focused on trade. The Panel reviewed three possible reorganization options, in addition to the status quo. The Panel’s report identifies a preferred reorganization option that the Panel believes will enable a consistent, high-level focus and efficient interagency coordination on trade issues, while preserving the independence of health and safety regulatory processes and minimizing disruption to domestic programs and activities.

In addition to identifying and evaluating reorganization options, the Panel’s report provided 18 recommendations intended to enhance the success of the department as it addresses current and evolving issues related to agriculture and agricultural trade in particular.

Key Findings and Recommendations

The Panel recommends that the new trade-focused Under Secretary portfolio include three parts: the Foreign Agricultural Service; all the components of the Agricultural Marketing Service that support trade through market development, including quality standards and product differentiation, in their entirety; and the Federal Grain Inspection Service. The Panel’s recommended option would also create a new Under Secretary portfolio that includes the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). The Panel believes that moving APHIS and FSIS into the same Under Secretary portfolio will strengthen the U.S.’s reputation for science-based regulation while enhancing mission-critical synergies between APHIS and FSIS.

 While the structural changes in the recommended option are important, the Panel believes that success also depends on the following: 1) ensuring a clear division of responsibilities between USDA and USTR; 2) defining the responsibilities of the new Under Secretary positions; 3) defining the qualifications for the new Under Secretary positions; 4) enhancing and institutionalizing non-structural mechanisms for interagency coordination on trade-related issues; and 5) employing sound change management practices. In addition, the Panel suggests that Congress consider specifying in legislation the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture to undertake the recommended restructuring.