Pick an Agency, Any Agency: GIPSA

As fiscal conservatives continue to seek avenues through which to derail the federal gravy train, it helps from time to time to take a look at the mind-numbingly long list of federal departments and agencies that are on board. Of course, this list is hardly exhaustive – just one that is publicly available – but it can certainly give us some concrete ideas on how and where to cut the spending.

Today: Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration

About: “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 is part of USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs, which are working to ensure a productive and competitive global marketplace for U.S. agricultural products.”
FY 2010 Budget: $84 million (Source)

You read that correctly. The USDA essentially has a marketing department called GIPSA, established in 1994. While they speak of a “competitive global marketplace,” however, they don’t deal with foreign marketing or exports; no, for that, you’d have to go down a couple floors to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). But that’s another article for another day. If GIPSA is in the business of marketing, but there’s a separate agency to improve American agriculture in foreign markets, then what does that leave GIPSA tasked with?

Well, among other things, they keep track of all of the market statistics. Did you know that 2.3 million bushels of soybeans left the Puget Sound for China a couple weeks ago? Now we’re back into statistics and informational reporting – didn’t I already cover this?

Wait, though! Let’s not get carried away! Like most government agencies, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration is here to protect you, the consumer! (Try saying that five times fast.) You see, GIPSA is also in place as a regulatory body in the grains and livestock industries. What would we do without them? Who would oversee the thousands of pages of regulations dedicated to ensuring that our grain is in marked containers upon export, or that exporters of grains are registered, or that all of our grain scales across the country are calibrated to specifications? And, of course, what would we do without the essential Swine Contract Library to tell us how many swine are being bought and sold by whom and being sent to where? Those pig farmers would never volunteer private contractual information on their own – why, we’d never know the details of the market at all!

The truth is that these overbearing regulations are burdensome on the agriculture industry, particularly on the small family farmers who would still be in operation if not for the cost of compliance. According to the EPA, the number of family farms in the U.S. has decreased from around 6.8 million in 1935 to just over 2 million today. Of course, the EPA is part of the problem as well, but the fact remains: over-regulation, coupled with the concentration of farm subsidy money into the hands of the biggest industrial farms, are contributing to the disappearance of the family farm.

As far as the Constitution is concerned, the case can be made for GIPSA to remain in place. After all, regulating interstate commerce is a function granted to the federal government, however cumbersome or confusing the regulations are. Assuring the purchasers of our exports that our products are what we say they are is worthwhile, although it likely could be done just as effectively with a corporate brand name than it is with the government “seal of approval.” But marketing? Education? Fancy brochures to justify their own existence? There is a lot of waste here, and suffice it to say that we have a few too many government agencies. We can consolidate the legitimate functions of GIPSA and cut away most of the fluff.

Results
Constitutionality: Fairly low
Visibility: Little to none
Ease of Abolishing: Moderate
Taxpayer Expense: Low
Priority: Fairly low

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