Agencies Merge, Field Offices Close Under Proposal
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Agriculture Department would reduce its number of agencies by a fourth and merge or close more than 1,200 field offices under a draft of the Clinton administration plan to reorganize the government.
An Aug. 23 draft of the plan, which is to be released Tuesday, also calls for removing meat and poultry inspection from the department and putting it under control of the Food and Drug Administration.
Also, families could no longer collect more farm program payments by splitting up their farms.
And the plan revives administration efforts to limit payments for people with high off-farm incomes, and to end the honeybee and wool and mohair subsidy programs.
Congress would have to approve almost all the proposed changes.
The Agriculture Department, under pressure from critics in Congress and elsewhere, had developed a blueprint for closing or merging field offices before Mike Espy took over as agriculture secretary.
Former Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan, in his final week in office, also handed over a rough plan to reorganize the department in Washington. The agency reductions and field office closings and consolidations in Vice President Al Gore’s plan resemble in numbers those offered by Madigan.
The draft plan would slim the department from 42 to 30 agencies.
Espy has said he wants to create a single Farmer Service Agency, combining functions of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, Soil Conservation Service and Farmers Home Administration.
Those agencies have the most direct contact with farmers, helping them with loans, farm programs and conservation. The agencies and the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. have a network of 7,407 offices in 3,700 locations, many where little or no farming takes place.
The reorganization of the Agriculture Department headquarters will cut administrative costs alone by more than $200 million a year, the draft said. Restructuring field offices will end about 10,400 full-time jobs over five years, the draft plan says.
The plan would limit deficiency payments for growers of corn, other feed grains, cotton, rice and wheat to $50,000 per farm family and eliminate all payments to partnerships and corporations. That would end the so-called ″three entity rule″ under which members of the same farm family could split up farms three ways so each could collect a $50,000 maximum payment.
The plan would reduce payments to farm operators who earn more than $100,000 a year from off-the-farm sources. President Clinton early this year had proposed the reduction, originally proposed under the Bush administration, but later dropped it.
Clinton had proposed ending the honey and wool and mohair subsidy programs, but the deficit-reduction bill that Congress passed last month would limit payments instead. Both World War II-era programs have been frequently criticized for being outdated and benefiting just a few rich producers.