A single federal food safety agency, long sought by many advocates, will happen if Congress grants the Obama Administration authority to reorganize the government, according to the subscription news service The Hagstrom Report.
In its Friday edition, The Hagstrom Report said Office of Management and Budget Director for Management, Jeff Zients, said that if Congress grants Obama the power to consolidate federal agencies, the first proposal will be to merge the six business-oriented agencies, folding together the Commerce Department’s core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
Zients added that a follow-up proposal would be to consolidate USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) with the food safety unit at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
A consumer advocate tipped off Hagstrom that Obama Administration officials want to merge FSIS with the food regulatory function of FDA, which is part of Health and Human Service Department (HHS).
Obama administration officials are said to favor the merger because it would make food safety independent of USDA, which primarily exists to market and promote American farm products.
Presidents from Herbert Hoover through Ronald Reagan had the power to organize the executive branch of government, subject only to Congressional veto. However, Congress took those organizational powers away during the Reagan Administration. In his last State of the State address, Obama asked to have the authority restored to the Oval Office, and this week renewed that call.
He has cited the trade and business consolidations as needed jobs measures.
Jerry Hagstrom pointed out that more than two federal agencies are involved in food safety. “FSIS, whose inspectors must be present in every meat plant in the country, has a much bigger budget than FDA, which has responsibility for other foods. Twelve agencies are involved in food safety,” Hagstrom reported.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has called for consolidation of all food-safety functions into a single agency, an end to fragmented oversight supported by most, but not all, outside food-safety advocates.
In renewing his call for Presidential consolidation authority on Friday, Obama said his plan to merge six business and trade agencies is just the “first action” he has in mind.
It apparently includes moving the National Oceanic and Fisheries Administration (NOAA) from the Commerce Department to Interior. Obama said that would bring all salmon regulation into one agency.
Late Friday, Food & Water Watch came out against that move.
“We are deeply concerned about President Obama’s proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Department of the Interior, the same Department that brought us BP’s Deepwater Horizon,” said F&WW executive director Wenonah Hauter.
“While the mission of NOAA is not consistent with the mission of the Department of Commerce where it currently resides, moving it to the Department of Interior will fail to eliminate any conflicts arising from dueling mandates,” she said. “This plan to slash the government fails to eliminate these conflicts and will do nothing to promote a better functioning executive branch.”
She also said the Washington D.C.-based environmental group “strongly urges against consolidating food safety functions of different government departments until much more progress is made to improve basic food safety protections.”
Other food safety groups, however, may see “consolidation powers” for Obama as a rare opportunity to achieve a long elusive goal.