The Agriculture Department on Thursday became the first part of the executive branch to announce initial plans to restructure itself as part of a key initiative from the Trump administration, but in breaking with the president said workforce reductions would not be a part of its proposal.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called the plan a “down payment” on Trump's executive order and corresponding implementation guidance from the Office of Management and Budget that called on agencies to submit reorganization proposals and plans to cut civilian employees. The changes would move USDA components around and create new offices, but the department emphasized the reforms would not cut staffing.
“A reduction in the USDA workforce is not a part of the reorganization plan,” said the department, which has more than 87,000 employees.
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Instead, the department will seek to “place agencies in a more logical order.” It will create an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, an idea first pitched in the 2014 farm bill. Perdue said that the new undersecretary will “wake up each and every day with one thought in mind: ‘How can I sell more American agricultural products to foreign markets today?’ ”
Another new undersecretary will focus on farm production and conservation. USDA’s domestically focused components -- the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service -- will be housed under that new undersecretary’s authority. The new structure will create a “simplified, one-stop shop for our primary customers,” Perdue said. The undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, who currently oversees the Forest Service and NRCS, would be left with just the Forest Service in his or her purview.
The department’s Rural Development agencies -- the Rural Housing Service, Rural Utilities Service and Rural Business-Cooperative Service -- would lose their undersecretary. Perdue said they will instead report to him directly, ensuring rural America “always has a seat at the table.”
USDA was last reorganized under President Clinton via the 1994 Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act. President Obama had, through his budget proposals, suggested merging the food inspection functions of USDA and the Food and Drug Administration.
Perdue noted the new plan was structural in nature and not likely to upend anyone’s core function at the department.
“Individual offices and missions will not be altered, just the lines of reporting,” the secretary said. “Change can be difficult, but if we work together and embrace it, it can work for the betterment of our entire department and all the people we serve.”
A USDA spokesperson declined to say whether USDA will issue job cuts in the future, explaining that will be determined by OMB and Congress through the budgeting process. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget called for the department’s budget to be cut by 21 percent and for staffing reductions at FSA, NRCS and Rural Development agencies.
Agencies across government have until June 30 to submit their initial restructuring plans to OMB, as well as to report on near-term progress cutting their workforces.