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Slimming Down the USDA

In his second month in office, President Trump said he wanted a top-to-bottom reorganization of the the federal government to streamline operations and to eliminate unneeded programs. The administration delivered in late June with a proposal that would turn USDA into a much smaller but more focused operation.

It would become the home of the new agency in charge of all federal food safety work, now split between meat inspection at USDA and FDA oversight of fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods. 

The big-ticket public nutrition programs that comprise the bulk of USDA’s budget, food stamps, and the Women, Infants and Children food program, would move to the new Department of Health and Public Welfare, now known as Health and Human Services. Public nutrition programs, including school lunch, account for 70% of USDA spending.

House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway expressed reservations and said he expects to retain control of food stamps wherever it is lodged. “That’s a House decision,” said Conaway. 

The idea behind federal reorganization is attractive: It replaces a snarl of overlapping programs and agencies. The good-government impetus often flounders in political turf battles and the inertia of large bureaucracies. 

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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