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Published November 30, 2010, 10:50 AM

USAID adopts food safety bureau

WASHINGTON — Agriculture seems to be gaining prestige at the U.S. Agency for International Development while losing some of its prominence at the State Department.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — Agriculture seems to be gaining prestige at the U.S. Agency for International Development while losing some of its prominence at the State Department.

U. S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah said Nov. 22 USAID formally has created a Bureau for Food Security to manage the Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to turn over to the agency.

“This bureau will lead a whole-of-government effort to implement President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative, a multibillion-dollar international effort led by USAID to develop the agricultural sectors of a number of countries throughout the developing world,” Shah said at a news conference sponsored by Bread for the World to release its report on global hunger and responses to it. Shah, a physician who formerly headed agricultural development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, also called global food security “my top priority.”

The creation of the bureau and statements by Clinton and Shah at recent Capitol Hill briefings that USAID would be in charge of Feed the Future appear to put USAID rather than the State Department in charge of the initiative.

Clinton started Feed the Future at the State Department with Cheryl Mills, her chief of staff and counselor in charge of it, but development advocates and defender’s of USAID’s traditional role as the lead agency in development assistance have wondered whether the State Department would continue to be in charge since the department does not have the personnel to run development programs. A USAID source said the agency did not need congressional approval to create the bureau.

Taking shape

Shah did not provide details of the new bureau’s organization, but a USAID spokeswoman said the agency eventually will be composed of 80 to 90 personnel, including employees who are moved from the agency’s Economic, Growth, Agriculture and Trade Bureau and from the agency’s regional bureaus and new hires. The new bureau will handle USAID’s traditional agricultural development programs and Feed the Future, but not USAID’s food aid distribution programs, which will continue to be in the Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Bureau.

USAID’s major organizational units are called bureaus, which means that food security will have the same status as the agency’s regional and functional bureaus.

The bureau will be headed William Garvelink, who will have the title of assistant to the administrator and report directly to Shah. Garvelink, a onetime House Foreign Affairs Committee staffer who has had a 31-year career with USAID and served as ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, already holds the title of USAID Feed the Future deputy coordinator for development.

In a reflection of State’s role in the initiative, Garvelink has been paired with Patricia Haslach, a State Department officer who holds the title of Feed the Future’s deputy coordinator for diplomacy. The Obama administration has been planning to appoint a global hunger and food security coordinator over Garvelink and Haslach, but USAID sources said it now is unclear whether that position will be filled.

Clinton and Shah informed lawmakers of the plans to put USAID in charge of Feed the Future at a briefing on State’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, according to published reports.

Clinton also announced plans to change the title for Undersecretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Bob Hormats to Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environmental Affairs. According to the plan, Hormats would have assistant secretaries under him for economic growth and business affairs, international energy affairs and oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs.

Agriculture never has been a major focus of the undersecretary at the State Department, but the department sometimes becomes involved in trade issues and negotiations with other countries over matters such as genetically modified seed and foods.

Though the word agriculture is being removed from the undersecretary title, Hormats and his staff will continue to handle agricultural issues at the State Department, according to a department official.