Page 53 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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A P R I L 2 0 1 2 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L
53
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he Foreign Agricultural Service is not unique in facing the
growing challenge of operating in an increasingly diffi-
cult budget environment, but it has the added challenge
of struggling to define, or redefine, its role and mission. For
most of our existence, FAS’s fairly straightforwardmission was
to “expand exports.” However, over the last decade we great-
ly increased our efforts in international agricultural develop-
ment and adopted a broader vision statement: “FAS links U.S.
agriculture to the world.”
Traditionally, the agency has had responsibilities that gowell
beyond solely promoting exports, particularly since the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’sOffice of International Cooperation
and Development was merged into FAS in 1994. FAS, which
typically focusedon agriculturalmarket development, then added
international agricultural development to its portfolio. Although
agricultural development work is important, a relatively lowpro-
file was maintained until USDA became heavily involved in
reconstruction work in Afghanistan and Iraq. To many, it
appeared that FAS was competing to become a mini-USAID.
The Foreign Agricultural Service of the near future will con-
tinue to serve anagricultural development
role. But the central questionmany of us
ask (andhope) is this: Arewe truly return-
ing to our roots as an agricultural trade agency? The appoint-
ment of a career Foreign Service officer as acting administrator
withamandate fromthe SecretaryofAgriculture to focus on trade
is a good sign, but there is still a lot of work to do. Clearly, our
industry partners are looking to us to focus on expanding agri-
cultural exports.
In themeantime, the lack of a clear mission has made it hard
to focus on theworkneeded topromote the interests ofU.S. agri-
culture, particularly in a time of limited budgets. Agency reor-
ganizations only added to the uncertainty. Many of us think that
the lack of focus is a primary reason why FAS leadership ranked
217 out of 218 agencies in the latest Best Places toWork survey.
If ourmission is to linkU.S. agriculture to theworld, thenpro-
moting community gardens is just as laudable as growing U.S.
exports. However, if our mission is to promote exports, then it
ismuch clearerwhere the priority lies. Here’s hopingwe get back
on track!
V.P. VOICE:
FAS
BY DAVID MERGEN
Linking U.S. Agriculture to the World
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FAS VP.