Deputy secretary asserts control over Agriculture budget

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is planning to continue running the USDA budget, despite an organizational revamp that has placed the budget office under Assistant Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed. Click here to view a chart of the reorganization.

"I will be running the budget process at USDA," Merrigan told CongressDaily on Friday, adding that she had presented USDA's fiscal 2011 budget to the Office of Management and Budget and will make the presentations of future budgets.

The deputy Agriculture secretary has traditionally been in charge of developing the budget and received reports from the budget officer. But since the reorganization, which went into effect Oct. 1, farm lobbyists have worried that if an official below the level of deputy secretary made the presentations, USDA would be at a disadvantage.

Merrigan said she has received calls from congressional offices also expressing concern, but added she is meeting with USDA budget analysts weekly. The meetings also include USDA Chief Financial Officer Evan Segal, a Senate-confirmed appointee.

The departmental management reorganization shows that the Office of Budget and Program Analysis will report to Segal, who reports to Reed. But USDA budget officer Scott Steele said Monday he is expecting to maintain "traditional communications channels and working relationships important to carry out budget processes and policy."

The reorganization also shows that USDA Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Joe Leonard will report to Reed rather than to the secretary. A spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday the Office of Civil Rights was placed under Reed so that civil rights could be better integrated with other human resources and employment offices, which have also been placed under Reed.

Vilsack said in February that he wanted to upgrade the position of assistant secretary for administration to the level of undersecretary, in part to give the administration's initiative to resolve USDA's long-standing civil rights problems more stature. But the spokeswoman said Monday that no action has been taken.

A USDA source said Monday Vilsack's decision to move more offices under the assistant secretary for administration came from his organizational experience as governor of Iowa.

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