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Agriculture Department

Rural Development, Marketing And Regulatory Programs, Food, Nutrition, And Consumer Services, Food Safety

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is an executive, cabinet-level department in the federal government. It is directed by the secretary of agriculture, who reports to the president of the United States. Its primary concern is the nation's agriculture industry, and it addresses this concern through numerous economic, regulatory, environmental, and scientific programs. The USDA provides financial aid to farmers through loans, grants, and a system of price supports that delicately balances the nation's agriculture markets, and its international efforts to promote domestically grown products abroad. It regulates the quality and output of the grain, meat, and poultry industries. Through various conservation programs, the department helps protect soil, water, forests, and other natural resources. The USDA also administers the federal Food Stamp Program, one of the WELFARE system's largest services.

The USDA has a long history. It was created by an act of May 15, 1862 (12 Stat. 387, now codified at 7 U.S.C.A. § 2201), and was administered by a commissioner of agriculture until 1889 (25 Stat. 659). In 1889, Congress enlarged the department's powers and duties (7 U.S.C.A. §§ 2202, 2208). It made the USDA the eighth executive department in the federal government, and the commissioner became the secretary of agriculture. Federal lawmakers have tinkered with the department ever since. Notably, programs providing economic aid to farmers were established during the Great Depression, and they have since become a firmly entrenched part of federal law. Important contemporary reforms have included federal welfare services such as the Food Stamp Program, administered through the Food and Nutrition Service since the 1970s, and the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C.A. § 1421 note et seq.), enacted to maintain the income of farmers. The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (Freedom to Farm Act) (Pub.L. 104–127, Apr. 4, 1996, 110 Stat. 888), and the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (Farm Bill 2002) (Pub.L. 107–171, May 13, 2002, 116 Stat. 134), while promising less reliance on farm subsidies, have continued the department's central role in administering subsidy programs.

The secretary of agriculture sits above an elaborate bureaucracy. The deputy secretary runs day-to-day operations, serving as the secretary's principal adviser. Reporting to the secretary and deputy secretary are six officers: chief financial officer, general counsel, inspector general, executive of operations, director of communications, and chief information officer.

These officers and their staffs coordinate the USDA's personnel management program; equal opportunity and CIVIL RIGHTS activities; safety and health activities; management improvement programs; media relations; accounting, fiscal, and financial activities; automated data processing administration; procurement and contracts; and management of real and PERSONAL PROPERTY.

Legal affairs are handled in various branches of the USDA. The judicial officer serves as the final deciding officer, in the place of the secretary, in regulatory proceedings and appeals of a QUASI-JUDICIAL nature where a hearing is required by law. Two quasi-judicial agencies, the Office of Administrative Law Judges and the Board of Contract Appeals, adjudicate cases and decide contract disputes. Additional input to the secretary comes from the general counsel, who is both the principal legal adviser and the chief law officer of the department. All audits and investigations are conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, established by the Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C.A. § 2 et seq.). The Office of Congressional Relations informs Congress of administrative policy.

Also reporting to the secretary and deputy secretary are seven under secretaries who over-see major divisions. These divisions include Rural Development; Marketing and Regulatory Programs; Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services; Food Safety; Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service; Natural Resources and Environment; and Research, Education, and Economics. The USDA also runs a graduate school.

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