At Senate Agriculture Hearing, Brown Grills USDA, Emphasizes Accountability, Efficiency, and Improving Management Practices

As Chair of Subcommittee on Rural Development, Brown Presses USDA on Duplicative Programs and Need for Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today attended a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry which examined the efficiency and performance of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. At a hearing entitled, “Farm Bill Accountability:  The Importance of Measuring Performance, While Eliminating Duplication and Waste,” Brown highlighted improvements in accountability and successful reductions of fraud in USDA programs while emphasizing a commitment to improve program efficiency and management practices. 

“USDA’s Rural Development programs are vital to ensuring that small towns and rural communities receive the resources and support to promote economic development, create jobs, and strengthen local economies,” Brown said. “As I travel across Ohio on my ‘Grown in Ohio’ Tour, I hear and see this first-hand. What I also hear from Ohio’s farmers is that some programs are duplicative or so cumbersome that they fail to serve their intended purpose: helping local communities grow economically. In considering the 2012 Farm Bill, we must ensure efficiency and accountability while maintaining efforts that strengthen our communities and Ohio’s agriculture sector.”

Witnesses at today’s hearing include: Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary, Rural Development, USDA; Michael Scuse, Acting Under Secretary, Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service, USDA; Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA; Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, USDA; Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, USDA; Phyllis Fong, Inspector General, US Department of Agriculture; Brent Blankenship, Blankenship Brothers; and Masouda Omar, Manager of Business Finance Loan Production, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.

Brown, Chair of the Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth, and Energy Innovation, pressed the witnesses for concrete steps USDA would take to end duplicative or inefficient programs and to modernize USDA-Rural Development.

In advance of the 2012 Farm Bill, Brown launched his ‘Grown in Ohio’ listening tour in Chesterland at the Patterson Fruit Farm last month. At a similar listening session during consideration for the 2008 Farm Bill, the idea for the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program was born and eventually adopted in the final bill. The ACRE provision allows farmers to choose a new safety net program that protects against drops in yield or prices, which is critical for farmers given the uncertain and volatile agriculture markets.

In March, Brown addressed the Ohio Farm Bureau in Washington, D.C, where he announced his plans for the ‘Grown in Ohio’ tour. At that speech, Brown outlined priorities for economic development and job growth in Ohio’s agricultural industry. Brown has held more 170 roundtables throughout the state, and he is the first Ohioan to serve on both the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. Agriculture is still Ohio’s largest industry.

Sen. Brown’s testimony, as prepared for delivery, is below.

Ohio’s prosperity – as does our nation’s – depends on the strength of its agriculture sector.  It’s been the case since Ohio earliest days as the first state west of the Alleghenies and gateway of western expansion through the Northwest Territories. And it’s the case today.

Ohio’s small towns and rural communities are harnessing our natural resources and fueling our national economic growth.  Ohio’s farmers provide food on tables across the world – and fuel and energy for vehicles and industries.

As we prepare for the next Farm Bill and its role in shaping our nation’s agriculture policy, we can see there is much work ahead.  Half of Ohio’s counties are rural, stretching from southern communities on the Ohio River through central Ohio flatland, into western Ohio hilltops, and to farms along Lake Erie in the North.

USDA programs play a critical role and support to the success of these small towns and rural communities.  The programs range from rural development – broadband and water infrastructure to nutrition assistance. Ohioans across the state utilize these programs to ensure not only the prosperity of Ohio and its agriculture sector but also the health of all Ohioans.

In light of current budget and deficit reduction talks it’s clear we need to examine the efficiency and accountability of USDA’s efforts. But it’s also essential that we take note of progress we’ve made in the last few decades because of Farm Bills.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps 2 million Ohioans – especially children – make ends meet.  In addition to the lives it has saved and improved, SNAP is a bipartisan success story.  And despite more and more Americans relying upon it for access to healthy and nutritious food, SNAP has dramatically lowered error rates. 

Similarly, USDA’s Rural Development programs are vital to ensuring that small towns and rural communities receive the resources and support to promote economic development, create jobs, and strengthen local economies.  It means investments – from the Farm Bill and the Recovery Act – bringing broadband to Southeast and Western Ohio. It means Ashtabula farmers growing new biomass crops in Ashtabula, or workers modernizing Ohio’s wastewater infrastructure. Simply put, USDA’s Rural Development programs bolster the vitality of Ohio’s rural economies.

As the first Ohio Senator in forty years to serve on this Committee, I look forward to examine the effectiveness of USDA programs and to ensure the next Farm Bill invests in Ohio’s rural communities and strengthens Ohio’s agriculture sector.

 

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