Statement of Regulatory Priorities

USDA's focus in 2012 will be on programs that create/save jobs, particularly in rural America, while identifying and taking action on those programs that could be modified, streamlined, and simplified, or reporting burdens reduced, particularly with the public's access to USDA programs. In addition, 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.

  • 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 with good jobs 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 2012 will include the following:

  • Rural Development and Renewable Energy. USDA priority regulatory actions for the Rural Development mission will be to revise regulations for the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, Rural Development's flagship job creation and capital expansion business program, and finalize regulations for the bioenergy programs.

  • USDA will continue to promote sustainable economic opportunities to create jobs in rural communities through the purchase and use of biobased products through the BioPreferred® program. USDA will continue to designate groups of biobased products to receive procurement preference from Federal agencies and contractors. BioPreferred has made serious efforts to minimize burdens on small business by providing a standard mechanism for product testing, an online application process, and individual assistance for small manufacturers when needed. Both the Federal preferred procurement and the certified label parts of the program are voluntary, and both are designed to assist biobased businesses in securing additional sales.

  • Nutrition Assistance. As changes are made to the nutrition assistance programs, USDA will work to foster actions that ensure 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 2012, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) plans to publish the final rule regarding 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. 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. In 2012, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) plans to propose regulations to establish new systems for poultry slaughter inspection, requirements for federally inspected egg product plants to develop and implement hazard analysis and critical control point systems and sanitation standard operating procedures, and finalize regulations on catfish inspection. To assist small entities to comply with food safety requirements, the FSIS will continue to collaborate with other USDA agencies and State partners in the enhanced small business outreach program.

  • Farm Loans, Disaster Designation, and Environmental Compliance. USDA will work to ensure a strong U.S. agricultural system through farm income support and farm loan programs. In addition, USDA will streamline the disaster designation process and update and consolidate the environmental compliance regulations.

  • Forestry and Conservation. In the conservation area, USDA plans to finalize regulations that would provide financial assistance grants to local governments, tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations to establish community forests by acquiring and protecting private forestlands.

  • 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 plans to finalize acceptable animal disease traceability standards. Regarding plant health, USDA anticipates revising the permitting of movement of plant pests and biological control organisms. For the Animal Welfare Act, USDA will propose specific standards for the humane care of birds and finalize specific standards for the humane care of dogs imported for resale.

    Retrospective Review and Executive Order 13563

    In January 2011, President Obama issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13563 on Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review. As part of this E.O., agencies were asked to review existing rules that may be outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome, and to modify, streamline, expand, or repeal them accordingly. Reducing the regulatory burden on the American people and our trading partners is a priority for USDA, and we will continually work to improve the effectiveness of our existing regulations. As a result of our regulatory review efforts in 2011, USDA will make regulatory changes in 2012, including the following:

    Labeling - Generic Approval and Regulations Consolidation. FSIS is developing a rule that will expand the circumstances in which the labels of meat and poultry products will be deemed to be generically approved by FSIS. The rule will reduce duplication and streamline the regulations on this subject by combining them into a single part of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR);

    Electronic Export Application and Certification Fee. FSIS is planning a rule to provide for the electronic transmittal of foreign establishment certifications between FSIS and foreign governments. The rule will consolidate four inspection certificates (meat, meat by-products, poultry, and egg products) into one certificate. The rulemaking is intended, in part, to accommodate the Agency's electronic Public Health Information System.

    Environmental Compliance. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) will consolidate and update the environmental compliance regulations to ensure regulations are consistent and current for all FSA programs and remove obsolete regulations;

    National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Streamlining. The Natural Resources and Environment mission area and the Forest Service (FS), in cooperation with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), is considering a series of initiatives to improve and streamline the NEPA process as it applies to FS projects;

    Rural Energy for America Program. This new program will modify the existing grant and guaranteed loan program for renewable energy system (RES) and energy efficiency improvement (EEI) projects. In addition, it would add a grant program for RES feasibility studies and a grant program for energy audits and renewable energy development assistance. This rulemaking will streamline the process for smaller grants, lessening the burden to the customer. It will also make the guaranteed portion of the rule consistent with other programs Rural Development (RD) manages and allow applications to be accepted year around;

    Business and Industry Loan Guaranteed Program. RD plans to rewrite the regulations, which will result in improved efficiency and effectiveness of the program, fewer errors because the guidelines and requirements will be clearer, and items will be more easily found in a better organized volume of regulations; and

    Water and Waste Loans and Grants. RD will update the operations aspects of the loan and grant program to reduce the burden on the borrower.

    Reducing the Paperwork Burden on Customers and Executive Order 13563

    USDA has continued to make substantial progress in realizing the goal of the Paperwork Reduction Act. For example, the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) mission area will reduce the paperwork burden on program participants by consolidating the information collections required to participate in farm programs administered by FSA and the Federal crop insurance program administered by the Risk Management Agency (RMA).

    FFAS will evaluate methods to simplify and standardize, to the extent practical, acreage reporting processes, program dates, and data definitions across the various USDA programs and agencies. FFAS expects to allow producers to use information from their farm-management and precision agriculture systems for reporting production, planted and harvested acreage, and other key information needed to participate in USDA programs. FFAS will also streamline the collection of producer information by FSA and RMA with the agricultural production information collected by National Agricultural Statistics Service.

    These process changes will allow for program data that is common across agencies to be collected once and utilized or redistributed to Agency programs in which the producer chooses to participate. FFAS plans to implement the Acreage and Crop Reporting Streamlining Initiative (ACRSI) in an incremental approach starting in late 2012 with a pilot in Kansas for growers of winter wheat when OMB approves the information collection. Full implementation is planned for 2013. When specific changes are identified, FSA and RMA will make any required conforming changes in their respective regulations.

    Increasingly, USDA is providing electronic alternatives to its traditionally paper-based customer transactions. As a result, customers increasingly have the option to electronically file forms and other documentation online, allowing them to choose when and where to conduct business with USDA.

    For example, Rural Development continues to review its regulations to determine which application procedures for Business Programs, Community Facilities Programs, Energy Programs, and Water and Environmental Programs can be streamlined and its requirements synchronized. RD is approaching the exercise from the perspective of the people it serves, by communicating with stakeholders on two common areas of regulation that can provide the basis of reform.

    The first area provides support for entrepreneurship and business innovation. This initiative would provide for the streamlining and reformulating of the Business & Industry Loan Guarantee Program and the Intermediary Relending Program-the first such overhauls in over 20 years. The second area would provide for streamlining programs being made available to municipalities, tribes, and non-profit organizations; specifically Water and Waste Disposal, Community Facilities, and Rural Business Enterprise Grants, plus programs such as Electric and Telecommunications loans that provide basic community needs. This regulatory reform initiative has the potential to significantly reduce the burden to respondents (lenders and borrowers).

    To the extent practicable, each reform initiative will consist of a common application and uniform documentation requirements making it easier for constituency groups to apply for multiple programs. In addition, there will be associated regulations for each program that will contain program specific information.

    Natural Resources Conservation Service will also improve the delivery of technical and financial assistance by simplifying customer access to NRCS' technical and financial assistance programs, streamlining the delivery and timeliness of conservation assistance to clients, and enhancing the technical quality of its conservation planning and services. The streamlining initiatives will allow NRCS field staff to spend more time on conservation planning in the field with customers, reduce the time needed to implement cost-share contracts, and provide more flexibility for customers to work with NRCS in different ways. NRCS estimates that this initiative has the potential to reduce the amount of time required for producers to participate in USDA's conservation programs by almost 800,000 hours annually. This includes efficiencies from reduced paperwork, data entry by the client, and reduced travel time to and from the local office to complete forms and other administrative tasks. Improvements being considered include the following:

  • Providing an online portal that will allow customers to apply for programs or services, review their plans and contracts, view and assess natural resource information specifically about their farm, evaluate the costs and benefits for various conservation treatment alternatives, notify NRCS of installed practices, and check on contract payments at their convenience;

  • Creating an e-customer profile that will improve customer service by allowing the client to view, finalize, and electronically sign documents using remote electronic signature, on-site rather than at a local office;

  • Providing clients with more timely and specific information on alternative conservation treatments, including the environmental benefits of their planned and applied practices;

  • Accelerating payments to clients; and

  • Simplifying conservation plan documents to more specifically address client needs and goals.

    Major Regulatory Priorities

    This document represents summary information on prospective significant regulations as called for in E.O.s 12866 and 13563. The following USDA agencies are represented in this regulatory plan, along with a summary of their mission and key regulatory priorities in 2012:

    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' 2012 regulatory plan supports USDA's Strategic Goal "Ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals," and its two related objectives:

    Access to Nutritious Food. This objective represents FNS's 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 final rule of the 2008 Farm Bill that ensures access to SNAP benefits and addresses 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 publish the final rule regarding 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: 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:

    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 final 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 implementing 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. PHIS also will improve FSIS' ability to systematically verify the effectiveness of foreign food safety systems and enable greater exchange of information between FSIS and other Federal agencies (such as U. S. Customs and Border Protection) involved in tracking cross-border movement of import and export shipments of meat, poultry, and processed egg products. 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. 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 conducts programs to prevent the introduction of exotic pests and diseases into the U.S. 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 continuing work to revise its regulations concerning bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to provide a more comprehensive and universally applicable framework for the importation of certain animals and products. In the area of plant health, APHIS is in the midst of a revision to its regulations for the importation and interstate movement of plant pests and biological control organisms to clarify the factors that would be considered when assessing the risks associated with the movement of certain organisms, facilitate the movement of regulated organisms and articles in a manner that also protects U.S. agriculture, and address gaps in the current regulations. APHIS also plans to propose standards for the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of birds covered under the Animal Welfare Act.

    Additional information about APHIS and its programs is available on the Internet at

    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.

    Priorities: AMS' priority items for the next year include rulemaking that impact the organic industry, as well as the wholesale pork industry. Rulemakings the Agency intends to initiate within the next 12 months include:

    Sunset Review (2012)-Nutrient Vitamins and Minerals. On March 26, 2010, the National Organic Program (NOP) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) announcing the National Organic Standards Board's (NOSB) sunset review of exempted and prohibited substances codified at the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances of the NOP regulations. This review included a listing for "Nutrient vitamins and minerals" scheduled to sunset on October 21, 2012. AMS intends to publish a proposed rule to address a recommendation submitted by the NOSB for this listing. This proposed rule would continue the exemption (use) for nutrient vitamins and minerals for 5 years after the October 21, 2012, sunset date. This proposed rule would amend the annotation for nutrient vitamins and minerals to correct an inaccurate cross reference to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations as AMS determined that the current exemption for the use of nutrient vitamins and minerals in organic products in the NOP regulations is inaccurate. In effect, the proposed amendment would clarify what synthetic substances are allowed as nutrient vitamins and minerals in organic products. Further, the NOP regulations do not correctly provide for the fortification of infant formula that would meet FDA requirements. This proposed rule would incorporate the correct FDA citation with respect to the addition of required vitamins and minerals to organic infant formula.

    Livestock Mandatory Reporting; Establishing Regulations for Wholesale Pork. As directed by the 2008 Farm Bill, the Secretary conducted a study to determine advantages, drawbacks, and potential implementation issues associated with adopting mandatory wholesale pork reporting. The report from this study concluded that negotiated wholesale pork price reporting is thin and becoming thinner and found some degree of support for moving to mandatory price reporting exists at every segment of the industry interviewed. That study also concluded that the benefits likely would exceed the cost of moving from a voluntary to a mandatory reporting program for wholesale pork.

    Subsequently, the Mandatory Price Reporting Act of 2010 (2010 Reauthorization Act) (Pub. L. 111-239), was signed into law on September 28, 2010, and reauthorized Livestock Mandatory Reporting for 5 years and added a provision for mandatory reporting of wholesale pork cuts. The 2010 Reauthorization Act directed the Secretary to engage in negotiated rulemaking to make required regulatory changes for mandatory wholesale pork reporting.

    Further, the 2010 Reauthorization Act directed the Secretary to establish a Committee that represented the spectrum of interests within the pork industry, as well as related stakeholders, to ensure all parties had input into the regulatory framework. Specifically, the statute required that the Committee include representatives from (i) organizations representing swine producers; (ii) organizations representing packers of pork, processors of pork, retailers of pork, and buyers of wholesale pork; (iii) Department of Agriculture; and (iv) interested parties that participate in swine or pork production.

    The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) convened the Wholesale Pork Reporting Negotiated Rulemaking Committee (Committee) through notice in the Federal Register on January 26, 2011. The Committee met three times over the period February through May of 2011 to develop the regulatory framework necessary to implement a mandatory program of wholesale pork reporting.

    The regulatory text developed by the Committee will serve as the primary basis for the proposed rule, consistent with both the intent of Congress and the Negotiated Rulemaking Act. It is important to note that the Committee reached consensus on all items included in the proposed rule-where consensus was defined by the Committee bylaws as being unanimous agreement. Therefore, AMS is confident the proposed rule to implement wholesale pork reporting will be met with little or no resistance from the industry members who will be required to report under the mandatory system.

    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 USDA'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: FSA's 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: Assist rural communities in creating prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving; and 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. FSA 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.


    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, FSA will further streamline normal loan servicing activities and reduce burden on borrowers while still protecting the loan security.

    Disaster Designation. FSA will revise the disaster designation process to streamline it and reduce the burden on States and tribes requesting disaster designations. One result may be fewer delays in delivering disaster assistance to help farm operations recover from the effects of disaster.

    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. FS' regulatory priorities support the accomplishment of USDA's goal to ensure our national forests are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources.


    Special Areas; State-Specific Inventoried Roadless Area Management: Colorado. FS planned final rulemaking would establish a State-specific rule to provide management direction for conserving and managing inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands in the State of Colorado.

    Land Management Planning Rule. FS 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. FS 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 FS' 2008 Planning Rule published at 36 CFR 219 based on violations of NEPA and the Endangered Species Act in the rulemaking process. The District Court vacated the 2008 rule, enjoined USDA from further implementing it, and remanded it to 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. FS is now in the 2000 planning rule transition period. FS published a proposed planning rule on February 14, 2011 (76 FR 8480). The final rule is expected to be published December 2011. In so doing, FS 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.

    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 USDA'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' 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 (RUS) 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, non-profit, limited-dividend, or mutual associations. The public-private partnership, which is forged between 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 significantly changed the statutory requirements of the Broadband Loan Program. As such, RUS issued an interim rule to implement the statutory changes and requested comments on the section of the rule that was not part of the proposed rule published in May 2007. Comments were received and the agency will analyze the comments and finalize the rule.

    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 to revise the BioPreferred program guidelines to continue adding designated product categories to the preferred procurement program, including intermediates and feedstocks and finished products made of intermediates and feedstocks.

    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. Some benefits and costs associated with rules listed in the regulatory plan cannot currently be quantified as the rules are still being formulated. For 2012, USDA'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.