Dear Secretary Perdue:
NASDA appreciates the opportunity to submit comments regarding your proposal on September 7, 2017 to take actions to strengthen customer service and improve efficiencies at USDA.
NASDA represents the Commissioners, Secretaries, and Directors of the state departments of agriculture in all fifty states and four U.S. territories. State departments of agriculture are responsible for a wide range of programs including food safety, conservation, and fostering the economic vitality of our rural communities. Combating the spread of disease and environmental protection are also among our chief responsibilities.
NASDA notes the broad authority granted the Secretary to organize the department to achieve improved outcomes and efficiencies, and does not take a position on the majority of the specific changes being proposed. That said, NASDA wishes to emphasize the importance of many of the specific offices that our organization works closely with, especially the U.S. Codex Office, and suggest an alternative for your consideration to the proposal for the Office of Pest Management Policy (OPMP). In addition, while not specifically covered by this request for comments, we are pleased with the creation of the new Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. This position will bring increased focus on international trade and facilitating U.S. producers’ ability to access international markets.
I. Codex Alimentarius
In 1963, the Codex Alimentarius Commission was established to provide a forum to discuss international food standards and to develop guidelines and codes of practice to facilitate trade. Since that time, debates related to food safety practices and technologies in the international community have increasingly emphasized social policy rather than food safety. Codex, first established to resolve scientific issues that have interfered with trade is increasingly becoming a tool to erect the very barriers it was established to eliminate. It is, therefore, vital the U.S. Codex office be invested with the resources, stature, and scientific integrity to protecting consumer health and facilitating trade.
With the duty to expand trade in food and agricultural products being vested in a new Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, it is reasonable and prudent for this Under Secretary to have a role in coordinating the efforts of the U.S. Codex office. While the current location of the U.S. Codex office within the Food Safety and Inspection Service has worked well in many respects, we emphasize the need to ensure the Codex office is provided sufficient resources. We urge USDA, regardless of where the office is housed, to ensure that this recent emphasis of the significance of Codex will reinvigorate the office’s important functions. The U.S. must be prepared to strengthen our involvement in Codex at the political and career levels to ensure an emphasis on science to drive international food safety standards.
II. Office of Pest Management Policy
The Office of Pest Management Policy’s (OPMP) authorization1 establishes that in addition to its assigned responsibilities within USDA, OPMP shall provide leadership in coordinating interagency activities with the EPA, FDA, and other Federal and State agencies and coordinate agricultural policies within the Department related to pesticides. The law further requires the OPMP to consult with and provide services to producer groups and interested parties. As stated in the Conference Report accompanying the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (H. Rept. 105-492), it is NASDA’s interpretation that Congress believed the creation of OPMP was necessary to focus and coordinate the many pest management and pesticide-related activities carried out within the Department. It is indicated that Congress felt strongly that this was a necessary step if the Department was to be effective in carrying out its statutory responsibilities with respect to pesticide issues and pest management research. Further, we interpret that Congress expected the Director of the office to work with EPA, producers, and other appropriate groups to develop effective, efficient mechanisms for gathering data necessary for making regulatory decisions. Congress likewise expected the Director and the Administrators of the relevant Departmental agencies to work with producers in reorienting research priorities in pest management to facilitate development, evaluation and delivery of pest management tools. To achieve the many objectives that Congress envisioned in creating this office, as stated in the Conference report it was expected that the office would be created within and staffed by an official within the Office of the Secretary. Congress was particularly concerned that the Director of the OPMP be someone that the Secretary had trust and confidence in to ensure that the department would be an effective and forceful advocate within the administration on issues within the purview of this office. As such, the law requires that the Director of the OPMP report directly to the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.
Concern with Current relationship between OPMP and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
The initial construct of the OPMP saw the appointment of a senior advisor to Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Rominger to oversee the OPMP. This was particularly important since the department and the EPA were involved in the latter stages of implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act. Subsequent appointments have seen primarily career personnel serve as the Director of the OPMP with inconsistent oversight by political appointees from the offices of either the Secretary or Deputy Secretary. Historically, resources available to the OPMP have likewise been highly restricted, thereby limiting the issues in which the OPMP can effectively engage.
Although Congress intended for the OPMP to reside within the Office of the Secretary, lack of a dedicated funding source led to the relationship seen today in which OPMP is dependent on the ARS for funding. As noted in the announcement of this reorganization proposal, the duties and responsibilities of the OPMP are not properly aligned with those of ARS. While aspects of the OPMP are seemingly better aligned with those of the Office of the Chief Economist, NASDA cautions that the OPMP has a mission that is broad in nature. While assessment of the economic costs and benefits of pest management strategies is fundamental, so is the biological and chemical assessment of environmental and public health risks and benefits, and the prioritization of research to properly examine the full range of pest management issues. These latter responsibilities would seemingly fall outside the scope and mission of the office of the Office of the Chief Economist.
In summary, NASDA has concluded that the best location for the OPMP is that which was intended by Congress at its creation - within the Office of the Secretary. NASDA recognizes that the limitation with any organizational plan involving OPMP relates to budgetary pressures and as such, NASDA has proposed a plan to the Congressional Agriculture Committees that would provide full and permanent funding to the OPMP. We respectfully stand ready to work with you to discuss and implement this alternative proposal.
We appreciate your consideration of these comments and look forward to working closely with you to enhance customer service to farmers and ranchers, continuing the strong relationship established between USDA and its partners in the States and Territories. Please contact Britt Aasmundstad, manager, public policy, if there are questions (firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-296-9680).
Barbara P. Glenn, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
1:H.R. 2534 in the 105th Congress; enacted as part of the Conference Report for S. 1150, The Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (H. Rept. 105-492)