Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

Marc McFetridge, formerly of Enterprise and now a USDA agricultural economist working in Washington, D.C., recently received a Gears of Government President’s Award by the Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office of the President.

McFetridge is a 1996 graduate of Enterprise High School and the son of Larry and Davise McFetridge, a fourth-generation farmer. He graduated from Oregon State University in 2001 with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural business management and in 2004 with a master’s of science in agriculture and resource economics.

The award he received was for his role on the “Streamlining of Section 32 Review and Approval Process” team for the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The team is composed of McFetridge, Robert Wintersteen, Michael Sheats and Roger Cryan.

“I am sharing the recognition with my colleagues,” McFetridge said. “This is a team award, and we all worked very hard. It is a great honor to be recognized for all of our hard work. We were all shocked that we were even being considered for a Presidential award.”

The AMS team worked to streamline the way the department provides wholesome food to all Americans through participating food banks and school lunch programs.

“Section 32 purchase process is a way for the USDA to purchase commodities that are in oversupply and provide those commodities to various food nutrition
assistance programs, namely food banks,” he said.

The updated process is more efficient and saves a lot of time, he said.

“The streamlined process moved the approval process from the Secretary of Agriculture to the Under Secretary,” McFetridge said. “It also streamlined the economic assessment to highlight the price trends, supply and demand.”

The streamlined process has allowed for USDA to be more reactive to requests from industries. A request now can be approved in a few weeks to a month versus the old process in which it could take multiple months to get approval.

Funding for the Section 32 purchasing program is collected from the tariffs that importers pay to bring their products into the country. No taxpayer money is used on these purchases.

“In the second half of last year alone, AMS was able to cost-effectively purchase on a timely basis 15 types of fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products worth more than $300 million to feed hungry Americans,” he said.

McFetridge and his team members demonstrated exemplary service to American farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers of American agriculture with the goal of doing right and feeding families across the country.

“Typically, an industry experiencing a bumper crop will contact USDA to request a Section 32 purchase,” he said. “Once the request is received, USDA will complete an economic assessment of the industry and the request.”

McFetridge performs the assessment, which provides the justification for either approving or rejecting the request. If a request is justified, the economist will work with USDA’s purchasing department and the Food and Nutrition Service to determine the food banks’ demand of the product.

“Based on the food banks’ demand, a quantity and dollar amount will be assigned to the request,” explained McFetridge. “A decision memo based on the economic assessment (is then submitted).”

McFetridge works in the South Building of the United States Department of Agriculture located in Washington, D.C.

“I work as an economist in the Promotion and Economics Division under the Specialty Crops Program that is part of the Agricultural Marketing Service,” he said. “Specialty Crops are primarily fruits and vegetables but we also work on (products such as) Christmas trees and softwood lumber.”

His daily work entails tracking market trends, pricing and other areas that impact the production for different specialty crops. One of the biggest parts of his job is working with the procurement department determining if contracted prices of fruits and vegetables for the National School Lunch program are fair and reasonable.

“There are additional hurdles to ensure food safety, and a big part of my job is to ensure USDA isn’t overpaying for the fruits and vegetables that are purchased,” McFetridge said.

The AMS team received an agency-level Gears of Government Award in April and were then nominated for the Gears of Government President’s Award. The team also received a Secretary’s Honor Award from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in March 2019.

The Gears of Government Awards recognize individuals and teams across the federal workforce whose dedication supports exceptional delivery of key outcomes for the American people, specifically: mission results, customer service and accountable stewardship. The President’s Award is the highest level of distinction within the Gears of Government Awards program and recognizes the best of the best with only eight awardees selected from more than 200 agency-level award recipients.

McFetridge and the other AMS team members were formally recognized at the Gears of Government President’s Awards Ceremony on May 22 in Washington, D.C.