The Far Reaches of Agriculture

I just browsed the latest Consumer Information Catalog from the GSA Federal Consumer Information Center. Certainly, if you’re not a damn kid, you remember the advertisements they used to run for this free catalog, often (it seemed) during Saturday morning cartoons. Well, I picked a copy up at the local library last week and paged through it. A couple things struck me: first, we have a National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases? Second, why do some departments, like Department of Justice and Department of Interior get abbreviated to DOJ and DOI, while Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services get abbreviated to USDA and HHS?

Finally, as I am paging through, I note most of the USDA (Department of Agriculture) publications don’t deal with growing things. We have:

  • How to Get a Great Deal on a New Car
  • Nine Ways to Lower Your Auto Insurance
  • Guide to Health Insurance
  • Guide to Long-Term Care Insurance
  • How to Buy a Home with a Low Down Payment
  • Am I Covered? (deals with homeowners’ insurance
  • Indoor Air Hazards Every Home Owner Should Know About (joint publication with the EPA–although in certain circles, joints are not considered air hazards)
  • The Consumer’s Almanac
  • Annuities

Contrast this list with the publications offered by the Department of Agriculture that deal with products of agriculture:

  • Fabulous Fruits…Versatile Vegetables
  • The Food Guide Pyramid
  • How Much Are You Eating?
  • Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Eating

Non-agricultural topics outnumber agricultural topics by more than two to one. I know, you’re putting pen to paper right now to ask your congressional representatives how this can be. Are they trying to educate ignorant peasants in the country side to finance? Well, you’re not thinking that because I have few leftist coastal readers who would characterize the family farmers out here that way. But I don’t expect that these documents where designed to instruct farmers and farm hands or even migrant pickers on the topics they cover.

No, friends, these are budget burners if I ever saw them. Some department within the USDA had some money to spend and understood that if it didn’t spend that money, it wouldn’t get it next year. So it commissioned a number of booklets on topics which are undoubtedly useful but which should lie outside the scope of the Department of Agriculture. But since the funds were spent in the fiscal years in which the documents were created, undoubtedly future funds must be spent to keep these documents and to supplement the documents with further useful booklets.

Which leads me to guess why the Department of Agriculture goes by USDA instead of DOA. Because when its funding bills come before Congress, perhaps the department recognizes that the legislators don’t actually read beyond the title of bills for which they plan to bother showing up to vote, and any funding bill stamped DOA might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although this would be good for the country, it probably wouldn’t be good for the USDA and its professional communicators.

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