Action is needed

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue went to an urban city (Cincinnati) to tell rural citizens and communities he was upgrading the department’s rural development agency. His spin was the program would report directly to him. Who is he kidding?

Best guess is Perdue will create a “special assistant” position of which there are hundreds in Washington to oversee the programs of rural business, housing and utilities. Prior to Perdue’s action there was an Undersecretary for Rural Development to promote the cause of non-farm rural America inside the department and on Capitol Hill. He eliminated the undersecretary position yesterday.

Even with an undersecretary for Rural Development it was hard to get a few minutes of the secretary’s time. Rural Development has always been the “red-headed stepchild” at USDA. Now what?

Why is it important to have an undersecretary for Rural Development? First, it requires Senate confirmation and without it there is far less accountability to Congress. Also, the position of an undersecretary has much more clout to make the case for non-farm rural America inside the department and on Capitol Hill. Besides the title, undersecretary commands much more media and attention.

By the way, Congress passed the Rural Development Act in 1972. Basically, this legislation gave the responsibility to the Department of Agriculture to coordinate rural development throughout the Federal government. Now what?

Rural community leaders, economic development organizers, national, state and local organizations and advocates of rural lifestyle need to get involved. The only hope to turn back this effort is for Congress to say no.

Social media gives rural advocates an opportunity to organize. Tweet your concern using the hashtag #saveruraldevelopment. Post on Facebook your story about how your community has benefited from the rural development programs. Email or write your member of Congress to #saveruraldevelopment.

Bill Phillips is an Elkins resident, former consultant at Phillips Strategy and a horse racing enthusiast. He is a frequent blogger at phillipsbillboard.com.

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