Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
Department of Agriculture
Executive Schedule: Executive Level IV - Presidential Appointment with Senate Confirmation
- Administers the Department of Agriculture's nutrition and food security programs
- Promotes dietary guidelines through the Food Guide Pyramid
- Oversees food assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the National School Lunch Program
Key Competencies and Preferred Qualifications:
- Social service background
- Management experience
Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services has principal responsibilities and funding authority for Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which feeds 1 in 4 Americans, and has lead responsibilities for promoting healthful diet through the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
Working in partnership with State and local organizations, FNS oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, which serves over 43 million Americans each month; child nutrition programs including National School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Summer Food Service Programs; The Child and Adult Care Food Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the Commodity Supplemental Food Program; Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations; The Emergency Food Assistance Program; and other nutrition programs.
The flagship program of FNS is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, and its responsibility is to “put food on the table for over 46 million Americans each month.” Due in part to the recent hard economic times, SNAP has seen an large increase in funding by the US government, due directly to increases in enrollment: FY 2007 through FY 2011 saw a 59 percent increase in enrollment and a subsequent 125 percent rise in funding, culminating with a budget of over $75 billion in costs for FY 2011 alone.
SNAP, according to a study by the Department of Agriculture, reduced the poverty rate by nearly 8 percent in 2009, and without that aid, millions of Americans would have remained below the “poverty threshold” of $22,000 for a family of four in 2009.
Rising costs, as well as consumer fraud, have caused many in the United States to criticize the SNAP program, calling for action. In response to a Republican House plan to cut $33.7 billion in funding to SNAP over the next 10 years, Indiana Congressman (D) Gregorio Sablan said, “To cut SNAP now, while families in this country are still struggling, betrays a lack of understanding of how this program is designed to respond to economic conditions. It [SNAP] provides a safety net.”
Another issue facing Concannon and FNS is the thought that eating healthy is expensive. One of the main goals for Concannon is promoting healthy eating habits for people across the country, a habit that some feel is too expensive to adopt. Some say, “I'm too busy. I don't live near a grocery store. I can't afford healthy food. I don't know how to cook. Why go shopping at your local grocery store when you can visit a fast-food establishment and purchase something off of the value menu?
Responding to the Challenge
Addressing the fraud problem within SNAP, Concannon reported that for the first quarter of FY 2012, 350 stores were permanently disqualified from the program for their actions of exchanging SNAP benefits for cash. In addition, 255 stores were sanctioned through fines or temporary disqualification. Concannon realizes, however, that fraud will continue to be a major challenge for SNAP and FNS: “Fraud is not a static concept—we know that where there is a will to commit malfeasance, bad actors will try to find a way.”
In terms of the costs of eating healthy, eating nutritiously is actually cheaper according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. “The study shows that carrots, onions, pinto beans and mashed potatoes are all less expensive per portion than ice cream, sweet rolls, pork chops and ground beef. In fact, protein foods and food high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium were all more expensive than fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains.”