Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland assured an audience of consumer activists last week that the consumer "is not an adversary, not a person with whom to start an argument, but a friend."
He told the Consumer Federation of America that he has asked for authority to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a new Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer affairs "to which he would like to appoint a Carol Foreman-type." His statement brought a great deal of laughter from the audience, not only because Foreman is executive director of CFA, but because it is no secret that she already has the job, pendidng security all but an infinitessimal number of sub-Cabinet officers from assuming their jobs officially.On Monday, Foreman went to work at USDA as a paid consultant, until the clearance comes through.
Bergland said he plans "profound changes in policy" in the Department that will include a reduction by hall of the 128 advisory committees. Because of "the proliferation of these committees," he said, "the voice of consumers has been fragmented and lost." He told the audience not to be alarmed "if we decide to terminate an advisory committee because we will do it only if we find a bettwe way of using the expertise."
Bergland said the Department will look very carefully at the 17 different public feeding programs, which are "often III managed. I think they are a mess," he said, but he assured his listeners that he has "a strong commitment to the needs of hungry people" and the programs will be administered by people who care and who know what they are doing."
Bergland said he "has no intention of pushing food stamps out of USDA because we think we can run it better here than anywhere else." This was a reference to the suggestions that the program be shifted to HEW.
The food stamp program is under review in order to have legislation ready to present to Congress around March 15. Some of the options he is considering in food stamp reform include: Whether to make food stamps available to students only if they have dependents; whether the ownership of luxury items such as snowmobiles, planes or boats will affect an individual's eligibility for food stamps; whether to decide eligibility on the basis of standard deductions instead of complicated formulas; whether to eliminate the purchase price for food stamps. Bergland said that last option is one "which interests me a lot."
Bergland was the speaker at the final lunch of the CFA meeting, during which Foreman was lauded for her work in making the organization a powerful force ofr the consumers' viewpoint. In token of the group's regard for its outgoing executive director it presented her with a slightly doctored version of the famous Grant Wool painting, "American Gothic." It shows an austere old rarm couple standing before a barn, he with a pitchfork in his hand. But in place of the face Wood had painted on the woman, Foreman's face had been superimposed as a symbol of her new job in the Department of Agriculture.