Help wanted sign out at USDA for advisory committees

03/14/2012 04:05:00 PM
Tom Karst

Obama administration limitations on lobbyist membership for U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory committees have created openings for industry volunteers.

The policy committee and technical advisory committees were established in 1974 as a formal way for the private sector to communicate with the U.S. Trade Representative and the Secretary of Agriculture about agricultural trade issues.

The advisory committees are jointly managed by the USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

On Sept. 8 last year Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and USTR Ron Kirk announced the appointment of 148 private-sector members to the policy committee and the six technical committees, including one committee focused on fruits and vegetables, said Julie Scott, spokeswoman for USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service

Scott said those appointees will serve until June 9 of 2015, but will be added to by additional appointments over the next four years. With room for more than 30 members, Scott said the Fruit and Vegetable Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee could use about 12 more members.

The technical committee aims to meet twice a year in person, along with several conference calls throughout the year, she said. Scott said the fruit and vegetable  technical committee last met in December 2011 and heard updates from the USDA and the USTR on the status with specific trading partners and technical barriers to specialty crop exports. The next meeting of the group is scheduled for April 4 this year, Scott said.

Bob Schramm, lobbyist with Schramm, Williams & Associates Inc., Washington, D.C., said he served on the technical committee for fruits and vegetables from 1989 to 2011 and found it worthwhile. Because he is a registered lobbyist, Schramm can no longer serve on the technical committee. Other former members of the technical committee not invited back because of the Obama Administration policy include Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association and Nancy Foster, president of the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association.

“The technical committee provides a great service to the produce industry,” Schramm said. “It is the main avenue of information for our trade negotiators.” Schramm said he hopes a change in administration will someday reverse the policy that prohibits lobbyists from serving on the advisory committees.

Guenther said the decision has left the committees with less historical expertise on fruit and vegetable issues.


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