DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (USDA)

Statement of Regulatory

Priorities

USDA's regulatory efforts in the coming year will be focused on achieving the Department's goals identified in the Department's Strategic Plan for 2010 to 2015. To assist the country in addressing today's challenges, USDA established the following goals:

  • Assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving. USDA is the leading advocate for rural America. The Department supports rural communities and enhances quality of life for rural residents by improving their economic opportunities, community infrastructure, environmental health, and the sustainability of agricultural production. The common goal is to help create thriving rural communities where people want to live and raise families, and where children have economic opportunities and a bright future.

  • Ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals. A plentiful supply of safe and nutritious food is essential to the well-being of every family and the healthy development of every child in America. USDA provides nutrition assistance to children and low-income people who need it and works to improve the healthy eating habits of all Americans, especially children. In addition, the Department safeguards the quality and wholesomeness of meat, poultry, and egg products and addresses and prevents loss and damage from pests and disease outbreaks.

  • Ensure our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources. America's prosperity is inextricably linked to the health of our lands and natural resources. Forests, farms, ranches, and grasslands offer enormous environmental benefits as a source of clean air, clean and abundant water, and wildlife habitat. These lands generate economic value by supporting the vital agriculture and forestry sectors, attracting tourism and recreation visitors, sustaining green jobs, and producing ecosystem services, food, fiber, timber and non-timber products, and energy. They are also of immense social importance, enhancing rural quality of life, sustaining scenic and culturally important landscapes, and providing opportunities to engage in outdoor activity and reconnect with the land.

  • Help America promote agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security. A productive agricultural sector is critical to increasing global food security. For many crops, a substantial portion of domestic production is bound for overseas markets. USDA helps American farmers and ranchers use efficient, sustainable production, biotechnology, and other emergent technologies to enhance food security around the world and find export markets for their products.

    Important regulatory activities supporting the accomplishment of these goals in 2011 will include the following:

  • Rural Development and Renewable Energy. USDA priority regulatory actions for the Rural Development mission will be to finalize regulations for bioenergy programs, including the Biorefinery Assistance Program. While USDA utilized notices of funding availability to implement many of these programs in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, regulations are required for permanent implementation. Access to affordable broadband to all rural Americans is another priority. USDA will finalize reform of its on-going broadband access program through an interim rule. Rural Development will utilize comments received from the proposed rule, address statutory changes required by the 2008 Farm Bill, and incorporate lessons learned from implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program to develop the interim rule.

    USDA will continue to promote sustainable economic opportunities to revitalize rural communities through the purchase and use of renewable, environmentally friendly biobased products through its BioPreferred Program. USDA will continue to designate groups of biobased products to receive procurement preference from Federal agencies and contractors. In addition, USDA will finalize a rule establishing the Voluntary Labeling Program for biobased products.

  • Nutrition Assistance. As changes are made to the nutrition assistance programs, USDA will work to foster actions that expand access to program benefits, improve program integrity, improve diets and healthy eating through nutrition education, and promote physical activity consistent with the national effort to reduce obesity. In support of these activities in 2011, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will propose a rule updating nutrition standards in the school meals program, finalize a rule updating the WIC food packages, and establish permanent rules for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. FNS will continue to work to implement rules that minimize participant and vendor fraud in its nutrition assistance programs.

  • Food Safety. In the area of food safety, USDA will continue to develop science-based regulations that improve the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products in the least burdensome and most cost-effective manner. Regulations will be revised to address emerging food safety challenges, streamlined to remove excessively prescriptive regulations, and updated to be made consistent with hazard analysis and critical control point principles. FSIS will propose regulations to establish new systems for poultry slaughter inspection, catfish inspection, as well as a new voluntary Federal-State cooperative inspection program. To assist small entities to comply with food safety requirements, the Food Safety and Inspection Service will continue to collaborate with other USDA agencies and State partners in the enhanced small business outreach program.

  • Farm Loans and Disaster Assistance. USDA will work to ensure a strong U.S. agricultural system through farm income support and farm loan programs. In addition, USDA will implement a new disaster assistance program authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, the Emergency Forest Restoration Program. Regulations are also being developed for conservation loan programs intended to help producers finance the construction of conservation measures.

  • Forestry and Conservation. USDA has completed all rulemaking for the new and reauthorized 2008 Farm Bill conservation programs and will focus on their continued implementation in 2011. In the forestry area, the Department will focus on developing a new planning rule that improves the National forests' planning process, decisionmaking, and the legal defensibility of land management plans. In 2011, the Department plans to complete the transition from the 2000 planning rule that is now in effect to the new planning rule that will update planning procedures to reflect contemporary collaborative planning practices.

  • Marketing and Regulatory Programs. USDA will work to support the organic sector and continue regulatory work to protect the health and value of U.S. agricultural and natural resources. USDA will also implement regulations to enhance enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. In addition, USDA is working with stakeholders to develop acceptable animal disease traceability standards. Regarding plant health, USDA anticipates revising the permitting of plant pests and biological control organisms. USDA will also amend regulations for importing nursery stock to better address plant health risks associated with propagative material. For the Animal Welfare Act, USDA will propose specific standards for the humane care of birds and dogs imported for resale. USDA will also implement regulations to implement dairy promotion and research provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill.

    Reducing Paperwork Burden on Customers

    USDA continues to make substantial progress in implementing the goal of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 to reduce the burden of information collection on the public. To meet the requirements of the E-Government Act, agencies across USDA are providing electronic alternatives to their traditionally paper-based customer transactions. As a result, producers increasingly have the option to electronically file forms and all other documentation online. To facilitate the expansion of electronic government, USDA implemented an electronic authentication capability that allows customers to "sign-on" once and conduct business with all USDA agencies. Supporting these efforts are ongoing analyses to identify and eliminate redundant data collections and streamline collection instructions. The end result of implementing these initiatives is better service to our customers, enabling them to choose when and where to conduct business with USDA.

    Major Regulatory Priorities

    This document represents summary information on prospective significant regulations as called for in Executive Order 12866. The following USDA agencies are represented in this regulatory plan, along with a summary of their mission and key regulatory priorities in 2011:

    Food and Nutrition Service

    Mission: FNS increases food security and reduces hunger in partnership with cooperating organizations by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education in a manner that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence.

    Priorities: In addition to responding to provisions of legislation authorizing and modifying Federal nutrition assistance programs, FNS' 2011 regulatory plan supports USDA's goal to ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals:

  • Increase Access to Nutritious Food. This objective represents FNS' efforts to improve nutrition by providing access to program benefits (food consumed at home, school meals, commodities) and distributing State administrative funds to support program operations. To advance this objective, FNS plans to publish a proposed rule to codify provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill that expand access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and address other eligibility, certification, employment, and training issues. An interim rule implementing provisions of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 to establish automatic eligibility for homeless children for school meals further supports this objective.

  • Promote Healthy Diet and Physical Activity Behaviors. This objective represents FNS' efforts to improve the diets of its clients through nutrition education, support the national effort to reduce obesity by promoting healthy eating and physical activity, and to ensure that program benefits meet appropriate standards to effectively improve nutrition for program participants. In support of this objective, FNS plans to propose a rule updating the nutrition standards in the school meals programs, finalize a rule updating the WIC food packages, and establish permanent rules for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which currently operates in a select number of schools in each State, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

    Food Safety and Inspection Service

    Mission: The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, egg, and catfish products in interstate and foreign commerce are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged.

    Priorities: FSIS is committed to developing and issuing science-based regulations intended to ensure that meat, poultry, egg, and catfish products are wholesome and not adulterated or misbranded. FSIS regulatory actions support the objective to protect public health by ensuring that food is safe under USDA's goal to ensure access to safe food. To reduce the number of foodborne illnesses and increase program efficiencies, FSIS will continue to review its existing authorities and regulations to ensure that it can address emerging food safety challenges, to streamline excessively prescriptive regulations, and to revise or remove regulations that are inconsistent with the FSIS' hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) regulations. FSIS is also working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to improve coordination and increase the effectiveness of inspection activities. FSIS' priority initiatives are as follows:

  • Rulemakings that support initiatives of the President's Food Safety Working Group:

        -  Poultry Slaughter Inspection. FSIS plans to amend poultry products inspection regulations to put in place a system in which the establishment sorts the carcasses for defects and FSIS verifies that the system is under control and producing safe and wholesome product. FSIS will propose to adopt performance standards designed to ensure that the establishments are carrying out slaughter, dressing, and chilling operations in a manner that ensures no significant growth of pathogens.

        -  Revision of Egg Products Inspection Regulations. FSIS is planning to propose requirements for federally inspected egg product plants to develop and implement HACCP systems and sanitation standard operating procedures. FSIS will be proposing pathogen reduction performance standards for egg products and will remove prescriptive requirements for egg product plants.

  • Initiatives that provide for disclosure or that enable economic growth. FSIS plans to issue two final rules to promote disclosure of information to the public or that provide flexibility for the adoption of new technologies and that promote economic growth:

        -  Nutrition Labeling of Single-Ingredient Products and Ground or Chopped Meat and Poultry Products. Regulations have been proposed to require nutrition information on the major cuts of single-ingredient, raw meat and poultry products to appear on the product label or at the point of purchase, unless an exemption applies. These regulations would also require nutrition labeling on all ground or chopped meat or poultry products unless an exemption applies.

        -  Permission to Use Air Inflation of Meat Carcasses and Parts. FSIS has proposed to revise the Federal meat inspection regulations to permit establishments that slaughter livestock or prepare livestock carcasses and parts to inflate carcasses and parts with air if they develop, implement, and maintain written controls to ensure that the procedure does not cause insanitary conditions or adulterate product. In addition, FSIS has proposed to amend its regulations to remove the approved methods for inflating livestock carcasses and parts by air and the requirement that establishments seek approval from FSIS for inflation procedures not listed in the regulations.

  • Interstate Shipment of State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Products. As authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, FSIS will issue final regulations to implement a new voluntary Federal-State cooperative inspection program under which State-inspected establishments with 25 or fewer employees would be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce.

  • Notification, Documentation, and Recordkeeping Requirements for Inspected Establishments. As authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, FSIS will issue final regulations that will require establishments that are subject to inspection to promptly notify FSIS when an adulterated or misbranded product received by or originating from the establishment has entered into commerce. The regulations also will require the establishments to prepare and maintain current procedures for the recall of all products produced and shipped by the establishments and to document each reassessment of the establishments' process control plans.

  • Catfish Inspection. FSIS is developing regulations to implement provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill provisions that make catfish an amenable species under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA).

  • Public Health Information System. To support its food safety inspection activities, FSIS is developing the Public Health Information System (PHIS). PHIS, which is user-friendly and Web-based, will replace many of FSIS' current systems and automate many business processes. To facilitate the implementation of some PHIS components, FSIS is proposing to provide for electronic export and import application and certification processes as alternatives to the current paper-based systems for these certifications.

  • Other planned initiatives. FSIS plans to finalize a February 2001 proposed rule to establish food safety performance standards for all processed ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry products and for partially heat-treated meat and poultry products that are not ready-to-eat. Some provisions of the proposal addressed post-lethality contamination of RTE products with Listeria monocytogenes. In June 2003, FSIS published an interim final rule requiring establishments to prevent L. monocytogenes contamination of RTE products. FSIS has carefully reviewed its economic analysis of the interim final rule and is planning to affirm the interim rule as a final rule with changes.

  • FSIS small business implications. The great majority of businesses regulated by FSIS are small businesses. Some of the regulations listed above substantially affect small businesses. Some rulemakings can benefit small businesses. For example, the rule on interstate shipment of State-inspected products will open interstate markets to some small State-inspected establishments that previously could only sell their products within State boundaries.

    FSIS conducts a small business outreach program that provides critical training, access to food safety experts, and information resources (such as compliance guidance and questions and answers on various topics) in forms that are uniform, easily comprehended, and consistent. FSIS collaborates in this effort with other USDA agencies and cooperating State partners. For example, FSIS makes plant owners and operators aware of loan programs, available through USDA's Rural Business and Cooperative programs, to help them in upgrading their facilities. FSIS employees meet with small and very small plant operators to learn more about their specific needs and provide joint training sessions for small and very small plants and FSIS employees.

    Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

    Mission: A major part of the mission of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is to protect the health and value of American agricultural and natural resources. APHIS regulatory actions support USDA's goal of ensuring access to safe, plentiful, and nutritious food by minimizing major diseases and pests that have the potential for reducing agricultural productivity. In support of this goal, APHIS conducts programs to prevent the introduction of exotic pests and diseases into the United States and conducts surveillance, monitoring, control, and eradication programs for pests and diseases in this country. These activities enhance agricultural productivity and competitiveness and contribute to the national economy and the public health. APHIS also conducts programs to ensure the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals under the Animal Welfare Act.

    Priorities: With respect to animal health, APHIS is working with State and tribal representatives to identify a regulatory approach that will provide national traceability standards for livestock moved interstate while allowing each State and tribe the flexibility to work with their producers to develop standards that will work best for them. In the area of animal welfare, APHIS plans to propose standards for the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of birds covered under the Animal Welfare Act and to establish regulations to ensure the humane treatment of dogs imported into the United States for resale. Regarding plant health, APHIS anticipates publishing a proposed rule that would revise the current regulations governing the permitting of plant pests and biological control organisms. APHIS is also preparing a final rule that will conclude the first phase of its comprehensive revision to its regulations for importing nursery stock (plants for planting) to better address plant health risks associated with propagative material.

    Agricultural Marketing Service

    Mission: The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides marketing services to producers, manufacturers, distributors, importers, exporters, and consumers of food products. The AMS also manages the government's food purchases, supervises food quality grading, maintains food quality standards, and supervises the Federal research and promotion programs. AMS programs contribute to the achievement of a number of objectives under the Department's goal to assist rural communities to create prosperity and the goal to ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.

    Priorities:

  • National Organic Program (NOP). AMS' priority items for the next year include several rulemakings that impact the organic industry. Statistics indicating rapid growth in the organic sector have highlighted issues that need to be addressed, including:

        -  Origin of Livestock. On October 24, 2008, NOP published a proposed rule with request for comments on the access to pasture requirements for ruminants. This proposed rule included a change in the origin of livestock requirements for dairy animals under section 205.236 of the NOP regulations. Many of the comments received on the October 2008 proposed rule suggested that the origin of livestock issue should be pursued through a separate rulemaking from access to pasture. As a result, the proposed change to the origin of livestock requirements was not retained in the final rule on access to pasture published on February 17, 2010. AMS plans to develop a proposed rule specific to origin of livestock under the NOP during fiscal year (FY) 2011.

        -  Periodic Pesticide Residue Testing. The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 included language requiring certifying agents to conduct periodic residue testing of organic products produced or handled in accordance with the NOP. This requirement was meant to identify organic products that contained pesticides or other nonorganic residues in violation with the NOP or other applicable laws. In March 2010, an Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of the NOP suggested that a legal review by the Office of General Counsel (OGC) of the current NOP regulations was needed to assess whether the existing regulations are in compliance with the residue testing requirement under OFPA. As a result of the legal opinion received by the NOP on this issue, AMS will publish a proposed rule on new periodic pesticide residue testing requirements in 2011.

        -  Streamlining Enforcement Related Actions. The March 2010 Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of the NOP raised issues related to the program's process for imposing enforcement actions. One concern was that organic producers and handlers facing revocation or suspension of their certification are able to market their products as organic during what can be a lengthy appeals process. As a result, AMS will publish a proposed rule in 2011 to streamline the NOP appeals process such that appeals are reviewed and responded to in a timely manner.

  • Dairy Promotion and Research Program (Dairy Import Assessments). AMS has entered the final stage of establishing the National Dairy Promotion and Research Program. The Dairy Production Stabilization Act of 1983 (Dairy Act) authorized USDA to create a national producer program for dairy product promotion, research, and nutrition education as part of a comprehensive strategy to increase human consumption of milk and dairy products. Dairy farmers fund this self-help program through a mandatory assessment on all milk produced in the contiguous 48 States and marketed commercially. Dairy farmers administer the national program through the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (Dairy Board).

    The 2008 Farm Bill extended the program to include producers in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, who will pay an assessment of $0.15 per hundredweight of milk production. Imported dairy products will be assessed at $0.075 per hundredweight of fluid milk equivalent. AMS published proposed regulations establishing the program in the May 19, 2009, Federal Register. The proposal had a 30-day comment period. The final rule is expected to be published by the end of 2010.

    Grain, Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration

    Mission: The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) facilitates the marketing of livestock, poultry, meat, cereals, oilseeds, and related agricultural products and promotes fair and competitive trading practices for the overall benefit of consumers and American agriculture. GIPSA's activities contribute significantly to the Department's goal to increase prosperity in rural areas by supporting a competitive agricultural system.

    Priorities: GIPSA intends to issue a final rule that will define practices or conduct that are unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive, and/or that represent the making or giving of an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage, and ensure that producers and growers can fully participate in any arbitration process that may arise relating to livestock or poultry contracts. This regulation is being finalized in accordance with the authority granted to the Secretary by the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 and with the requirements of sections 11005 and 11006 of the 2008 Farm Bill.

    Farm Service Agency

    Mission: The Farm Service Agency's (FSA) mission is to equitably serve all farmers, ranchers, and agricultural partners through the delivery of effective, efficient agricultural programs, which contributes to two USDA goals. The goal of assisting rural communities in creating prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving; and the goal to enhance the Nation's natural resource base by assisting owners and operators of farms and ranches to conserve and enhance soil, water, and related natural resources. It supports the first goal by stabilizing farm income, providing credit to new or existing farmers and ranchers who are temporarily unable to obtain credit from commercial sources, and helping farm operations recover from the effects of disaster. FSA supports the second goal by administering several conservation programs directed toward agricultural producers. The largest program is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which protects nearly 32 million acres of environmentally sensitive land.

    Priorities:

  • Disaster Assistance. Regulations will be issued to establish a new disaster assistance program, the Emergency Forest Restoration Program. This program requires new regulations and minor revisions to the existing related Emergency Conservation Program regulations.

  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Final regulations were published to complete implementation of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. This program supports the Administration's energy initiative to accelerate the investment in and production of biofuels. The program will provide financial assistance to agricultural and forest land owners and operators to establish and produce eligible crops, including woody biomass, for conversion to bioenergy, and the collection, harvest, storage, and transportation of eligible material for use in a biomass conversion facility.

  • Farm Loan Programs. FSA will develop and issue regulations to amend programs for farm operating loans, down payment loans, and emergency loans to include socially disadvantaged farmers, increase loan limits, loan size, funding targets, interest rates, and graduating borrowers to commercial credit. In addition, the regulations will establish a new direct and guaranteed loan program to assist farmers in implementing conservation practices.

    Forest Service

    Mission: The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, productivity, and diversity of the Nation's forests and rangelands to meet the needs of present and future generations. This includes protecting and managing National Forest System lands, providing technical and financial assistance to States, communities, and private forest landowners, and developing and providing scientific and technical assistance and scientific exchanges in support of international forest and range conservation. Forest Service regulatory priorities support the accomplishment of the Department's goal to ensure our National forests are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources.

    Priorities:

  • Land Management Planning Rule. The Forest Service is required to issue rulemaking for National Forest System land management planning under 16 U.S.C. 1604. The first planning rule was adopted in 1979 and amended in 1982. The Forest Service published a new planning rule on April 21, 2008 (73 FR 21468). On June 30, 2009, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California invalidated the Forest Service's 2008 Planning Rule published at 36 CFR 219 based on violations of NEPA and ESA in the rulemaking process. The District Court vacated the 2008 rule, enjoined the USDA from further implementing it, and remanded it to the USDA for further proceedings. USDA has determined that the 2000 planning rule is now in effect, including its transition provisions as amended in 2002 and 2003, and as clarified by interpretative rules issued in 2001 and 2004, which allows the use of the provisions of the 1982 planning rule to amend or revise plans. The Forest Service is now in the 2000 planning rule transition period. The Forest Service is proposing a new planning rule. In so doing, the Forest Service plans to correct deficiencies that have been identified over two decades of forest planning and update planning procedures to reflect contemporary collaborative planning practices.

  • Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program. The purpose of the Community Forest Program is to achieve community benefits through financial assistance grants to local governments, tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations to establish community forests by acquiring and protecting private forestlands. Community forest benefits are specified in the authorizing statute and include economic benefits from sustainable forest management, natural resource conservation, forest-based educational programs, model forest stewardship activities, and recreational opportunities.

  • Closure of NFS Lands to Protect Privacy of Tribal Activities. There is currently no provision for a special closure of NFS lands to protect the privacy of tribal activities for traditional and cultural purposes. The Forest Service will amend its regulations to allow special closure of NFS land to protect the privacy of tribal activities for traditional and cultural purposes.

    Rural Business-Cooperative Service

    Mission: Promoting a dynamic business environment in rural America is the goal of the Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS). Business Programs works in partnership with the private sector and the community-based organizations to provide financial assistance and business planning, and helps fund projects that create or preserve quality jobs and/or promote a clean rural environment. The financial resources are often leveraged with those of other public and private credit source lenders to meet business and credit needs in under-served areas. Recipients of these programs may include individuals, corporations, partnerships, cooperatives, public bodies, nonprofit corporations, Indian tribes, and private companies. The mission of Cooperative Programs of RBS is to promote understanding and use of the cooperative form of business as a viable organizational option for marketing and distributing agricultural products.

    Priorities: In support of the Department's goal to increase the prosperity of rural communities, RBS regulatory priorities will facilitate sustainable renewable energy development and enhance the opportunities necessary for rural families to thrive economically. RBS's priority will be to publish regulations to fully implement the 2008 Farm Bill. This includes promulgating regulations for the Biorefinery Assistance Program (sec. 9003), the Repowering Assistance Program (sec. 9004), the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels (sec. 9005), and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP). RBS has been administering sections 9003, 9004, and 9005 through the use of Notices of Funds Availability and Notices of Contract Proposals. Revisions to the Rural Energy for America Program (sec. 9007) will be made to incorporate Energy Audits and Renewable Energy Development Assistance and Feasibility Studies for Rural Energy Systems as eligible grant purposes, as well as other Farm Bill initiatives and various technical changes throughout the rule. In addition, revisions to the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program will be made to implement 2008 Farm Bill provisions and other program initiatives. These rules will minimize program complexity and burden on the public while enhancing program delivery and RBS oversight.

    Rural Utilities Service

    Mission: The mission of the Rural Utilities Service is to improve the quality of life in rural America by providing investment capital for the deployment of critical rural utilities telecommunications, electric, and water and waste disposal infrastructure. Financial assistance is provided to rural utilities, municipalities, commercial corporations, limited liability companies, public utility districts, Indian tribes, and cooperative, nonprofit, limited-dividend, or mutual associations. The public-private partnership, which is forged between the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and these industries, results in billions of dollars in rural infrastructure development and creates thousands of jobs for the American economy.

    Priorities: RUS' regulatory priorities will be to achieve the President's goal to bring affordable broadband to all rural Americans. To accomplish this, RUS will continue to improve the Broadband Program established by the 2002 Farm Bill. The 2002 Farm Bill authorized RUS to approve loans and loan guarantees for the costs of construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in eligible rural communities. The 2008 Farm Bill is significantly changing the statutory requirements of the Broadband Loan Program. As such, RUS will be issuing an interim rule to implement the statutory changes and will request comments on the section of the rule that was not part of the proposed rule that was published in May 2007. In addition, the regulations will be issued to implement provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that expanded RUS's authority to make loans and provided new authority to make grants to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas.

    Departmental Management

    Mission: Departmental Management's mission is to provide management leadership to ensure that USDA administrative programs, policies, advice, and counsel meet the needs of USDA program organizations, consistent with laws and mandates, and provide safe and efficient facilities and services to customers.

    Priorities: In support of the Department's goal to increase rural prosperity, USDA's Departmental Management will finalize regulations establishing a program allowing manufacturers and vendors of eligible products made from biobased feedstocks to display the label on their packaging and marketing materials. Once completed, this regulation will implement a section of the 2008 Farm Bill and will promote alternative uses of agriculture and forest materials.

    Aggregate Costs and Benefits

    USDA will ensure that its regulations provide benefits that exceed costs, but is unable to provide an estimate of the aggregated impacts of its regulations. Problems with aggregation arise due to differing baselines, data gaps, and inconsistencies in methodology and the type of regulatory costs and benefits considered. In addition, aggregation omits benefits and costs that cannot be reliably quantified, such as improved health resulting from increased access to more nutritious foods, higher levels of food safety, and increased quality of life derived from investments in rural infrastructure. Some benefits and costs associated with rules listed in the regulatory plan cannot currently be quantified as the rules are still being formulated. For 2011, the Department's focus will be to implement the changes to programs in such a way as to provide benefits while minimizing program complexity and regulatory burden for program participants.