Why the FCA lags behind other Federal agencies

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The Farm Credit System (FCS) and its regulator the Farm Credit Administration (FCA) had gotten a pass on nearly everything – failing its mission to help small farmers, lending for “automobiles, college tuition, investments, vacation homes or almost any credit need you may have” and lending to huge telecoms.

That is, until it was reprimanded at oversight hearings in the House and in the Senate.

But for all of the important questions that have been raised by senators and members of Congress, one extremely important point hadn’t been made, until now.

Earlier this month in his column in The Washington Post, George Will touched on an important issue – many agencies in the executive branch of government have five commissioners at the helm, so why are there agencies with three commissioners or fewer?

This may seem like a picky complaint to many, but this is an issue that strikes right to the core of our system of government and the philosophy it is based on. Checks and balances, redundancies and a diversity of opinions is what gives our system of government strength and adaptability. To have an agency or administration operate with fewer than five decision makers at the helm means that there is less room for dissent, less room for non-siloed thinking and less room for innovation. 

So it comes as no surprise to see that the FCA’s structure has likely contributed to its stagnation.

The FCA has a three-person board of directors, one of whom is the chairman. Each board member is appointed by the president for a term of six years – an appointment which could potentially outlast a president’s tenure in office. This three-person board structure leaves little room for dissent, innovation and fresh, bold leadership. 

This is a problem that Congress can fix easily – amend the Farm Credit Act to require the FCA to have five board members. With two additional board members, the current board members will be exposed to new ideas and to innovation – new ways to increase lending to small farmers, to clamp down on associations that don’t play by the rules and to make the FCS more financially stable. Without change soon, the FCA will continue on its path to total stagnation – and we might all eventually pay for it.