With the start of the new year, both Congress and the administration are considering their legislative and budget agendas.  One effort, leftover from the previous Congress, could be the reintroduction of global food security legislation. The bills passed by the House and introduced in the Senate largely reflected the administration’s intent to narrowly authorize its Feed the Future initiative.

It is interesting to note that these bills to authorize a whole of government approach to Feed the Future were limited to the work of the U.S. Agency of International Development and the State Department. As the primary agencies in charge of devising and implementing U.S. foreign policy (State) and operationalizing the U.S. development agenda (USAID), it is not surprising that these agencies would be a central focus. However, a program is not whole of government if only two agencies are explicitly authorized to carry out those activities.

The administration needs to live up to its whole of government claims by presenting Congress with a global food security whole of government budget. And, Congress needs to broaden the scope of legislation in order to accommodate and take advantage of the expertise that resides across a range of agencies.

The latest USAID-issued Feed the Future Progress Report lists 11 government agencies at the end of the report (USAID, the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce and Treasury, OPIC, USTR, MCC, USGS, US African Development Foundation, and Peace Corps) although it does not include any systematic discussion of the role each plays. Neither does it reflect any budgetary information. Other documents make reference to the Department of Interior, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. And, let’s not forget the Defense Department.

So why hasn’t the administration fully embraced its whole of government rhetoric? Well, in a nutshell, it’s just hard, plain and simple. This is more than just herding cats, since each cat has its own independent power base, ties to the White House, and a number of congressional oversight and appropriations committees. Authorizing and funding structures are stove-piped making it difficult to achieve a full understanding of the value of each agency and how their work fits into overarching goals.

All the more reason for the administration to spell this out in an integrated food security budget presentation. A whole of government global food security budget should do more than just outline funding levels of various agencies’ work. It needs to explain how each effort fits within the overarching goal and to justify their comparative advantage in doing such work. How is the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Commerce, USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service or the Department of Treasury supporting better trade flows to and from food insecure nations? How does the health systems capacity building work of PEPFAR, the Centers of Disease Control, and USAID’s Global Health Program support Feed the Future’s nutrition goals? Are all programs, regardless of sponsoring agency, being evaluated on the same terms?

Let’s use the Department of Agriculture as an example. It is well understood that USDA knows agriculture and is a natural partner for global agricultural development work.

I understand that some in the development community fear that USDA involvement will result in a neglect of small holders and a push to make all of Africa look like Iowa. Let me be clear -- I am not asserting that USDA knows “development” particularly as it works in poor and food insecure countries. Nor am I advocating that any other agency but USAID should be in the lead.

Having laid out those caveats, here is some of the work that USDA is already doing, but is not captured by any Feed the Future or global food security budget presentations. First, here is how USDA describes its work:

USDA is strategically placed in over 80 countries constantly monitoring agricultural matters globally. Since 2010, USDA has aligned appropriate programs to Feed the Future plans to support agriculture development in target countries and regions: Ghana, Kenya, East Africa, Bangladesh, Haiti, Guatemala and Central America.

And these are some specific programs:

These programs do not even touch the surface if we include USDA’s network of research partnerships.  The National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s site suggests that it plans “to deepen and increase the relevance of NIFA research partnerships to Feed the Future goals.” The joint USDA and USAID 2011 Feed the Future Research Strategy does outline a research agenda but without further budget information, it is unclear how this document is guiding joint or complementary investments in research relevant to food insecure countries. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service provides some insights on what international research it is funding but does not relate it to a strategy.

This is all a very long way of saying that we do not have the full picture of U.S. global food security programs. Yet it is information that Congress needs to make funding decisions and that agency managers need to craft effective and efficient programs.  There is time to put together a whole of government food security budget for FY2016, if the administration has the will.

Dr. Connie Veillette is a Senior Fellow in global food security and aid effectiveness at The Lugar Center.