In the first year of the Trump Administration, the USDA has made breakthroughs in agricultural trade, moved to reduce burdensome regulations, responded to natural disasters, and battled through the worst fire season on record, among other notable achievements.
“As 2017 comes to an end, the hard-working civil servants who make up USDA have a great deal to be proud of,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “Unlike any other federal department, USDA touches the lives of each individual in this country every day. In the wake of hurricanes, forest fires, and everything in between, the dedicated professionals at USDA worked tirelessly to serve the American people. As we look ahead to 2018, USDA will continue our efforts to be the most effective, efficient, and customer focused department in the entire federal government.”
Since being sworn in on April 25th, Secretary Perdue has visited 30 states and six foreign countries, conducting outreach to rural and agricultural stakeholders promoting President Donald Trump’s agenda. During his travels – and through two RV Tours covering over 2,200 miles in the Midwest and Northeast – Perdue met with farmers, ranchers, foresters, and many other stakeholders to seek input to help Congress craft the 2018 Farm Bill and solicit feedback for USDA to increase rural prosperity.
Additionally, USDA increased its efforts to attract youth to agriculture, including signing a memoranda of understanding with National FFA and separately with SCORE, an organization of business-oriented mentors. At many of his stops across America, Secretary Perdue interacted with National FFA and 4-H students to encourage the next generation to enter fields of agriculture.
Secretary Perdue undertook a significant reorganization of USDA, including the creation of the first-ever Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, as directed by the 2014 Farm Bill. As part of the reorganization, Perdue implemented a strategic vision focused on modernizing Information Technology, facilities, and support services; streamlining processes; engaging stakeholders; and improving stewardship of resources. Additionally, Perdue established an Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, solidifying his commitment to improving USDA customer service by bringing together three of the Department’s most customer-facing agencies: Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency.
USDA scored significant trade victories during 2017, including the reentry of U.S. beef to China after a 13-year hiatus; Chinese market access for U.S. rice for the first time ever; easing of regulations on U.S. citrus into the European Union; gaining approval for new biotech varieties in China; resumption of U.S. distillers dried grains into Vietnam and China; reentry of U.S. chipping potatoes into Japan; and lifting of South Korea’s ban on imports of U.S. poultry.
School Meals and Reduced Regulations
Responding to the concerns of local school nutrition workers and students, USDA moved to restore flexibility in order to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation. The new School Meal Flexibility Rule makes targeted changes to standards for meals provided under USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and asks customers to share their thoughts on those changes with the Department.
Overall, USDA worked to reduce regulatory burdens on Americans and identified 27 final rules across the Department that will be completed in 2018 which will save an estimated $56.15 million.
USDA’s Forest Service responded to the worst fire season on record, deploying over 25,000 personnel and spending $2.9 billion fighting fires across the nation. Through the leadership of the Trump Administration, there is now bipartisan, bicameral support to invest in forest management and address inadequate fire funding after decades of inaction.
USDA helped feed people and assist producers who experienced devastating losses across five states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Assistance included direct delivery of food packages, waivers and flexibilities in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, approval of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, waivers for free school meals, and supplies of infant formula and baby food. USDA staff were deployed across hurricane-stricken regions to provide timely assistance through various emergency conservation, clean-up, and indemnity programs while authorizing additional time flexibilities for reporting losses and completing requests for assistance. Secretary Perdue provided Puerto Rico with a one-of-a-kind program that covered dairy cattle feed costs to prevent herd losses following virtually complete destruction of feed across the island.
Secretary Perdue chaired the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, created by President Trump’s executive order, to seek ways to improve quality of life and increase prosperity across rural America. The Task Force, made up of 22 cabinet departments and federal agencies, has submitted its final report to the White House with concrete recommendations for improving the economic situation across America’s heartland.
Secretary Perdue launched a USDA initiative to provide comprehensive and timely support to veterans interested in opportunities in agriculture, agribusiness, and in rural America. USDA wants to ensure veterans looking to return home, or start a new career on a farm or in a rural community have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. The resources include a website and a USDA-wide AgLearn curriculum to allow all employees to understand the unique opportunities offered to our nation’s veterans.
USDA unveiled a new mobile application for Apple and Android devices to provide Executive Branch employees answers to questions about government ethics issues. The USDA Ethics App is the first of its kind in the federal government and reaffirms Perdue’s commitment to applying President Trump’s government-wide ethics standards to the department. The Ethics App brings to users’ fingertips short, easy-to-read summaries of federal ethics rules and Hatch Act limitations on political activity. It includes a comprehensive video library so that officials can quickly become familiar with these important rules at any time, whether in the office, off-site, or on official travel. It also contains a resources section so USDA employees can readily contact an ethics advisor at USDA. The groundbreaking application was designed to make compliance with the federal ethics rules a one-stop-shop for USDA employees, but the app is available to anyone with Android devices or Apple devices .