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Schlect Chris blog post● The Foreign Agricultural Service has long been viewed as an elite arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, staffed with talented, aggressive trade negotiators and export marketing experts. Employee morale once seemed high to me and many others who work with this agency. Over the past several years, morale has headed south.

In an annual survey released in December, “The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government,” FAS ranks 290 out of 315 of the agencies ranked from across our entire federal government. Within USDA, FAS was dead last. I think the problem rests with a combination of a blurred mission, top leadership turnover, increased red-tape, and unresolved friction between those who go overseas to various foreign posts and those whose careers are anchored to desks in the South Building.

●  Osama El-Lissy, who has been a central figure in the work aimed at re-opening the apple market in China, will represent the United States on the executive committee of the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO). He takes over from Rebecca Bech, who, like Mr. El-Lissy, works for USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine. NAPPO is a creature of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

●  Last week I was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the United States Apple Association’s Government Relations Committee and for visits with various officials at USDA. Tuesday night was the State of the Union Address by President Obama, which reminded me of the evening of January 25, 1984, when I was lucky enough to obtain a seat in the gallery of the House Chamber for a State of the Union Address by then President Reagan.

● Two from the Pacific Northwest will serve on the House Agriculture Committee for the new Congress: Suzan DelBene (D/Washington) and Dan Newhouse (R/Washington). Representative Rodney Davis (R/Illinois) has been named the new chairman of that committee’s Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee. I had the opportunity to make my first visit to Mr. Newhouse in his official capacity last Tuesday in his office located on the sixth floor of Longworth House Office Building.

●  It has been a difficult marketing year given a number of export related headaches: a strong U.S. dollar; labor problems at West Coast ports; an anti-dumping case out of Mexico; and, most recently, a food scare in certain Asian markets triggered by problems linked to one California apple packinghouse. And, the year is not over.

●  This Sunday I travel to Berlin to attend both the world’s largest produce trade show, Fruit Logisitica, and a meeting of the World Apple and Pear Association.