(Dec. 2) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Having streamlined his organization, spearheaded improvements in an inspection system tainted by scandal and built an agency that Canada has worked to copy, Jim Frazier is leaving.

Frazier announced Dec. 1 that he is stepping down as chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Branch, effective at the end of the year.

“We had been thinking about it for some time,” said Frazier, 57, who has led a PACA staff of 100 since June 1996. “At the (recent Western Growers) convention, I thought a little bit more about it, and I decided it was the right time. At least, it appeared to be the right time.”

The USDA has not announced a timetable for replacing Frazier, as of Dec. 2. An interim branch chief was expected to be announced soon, spokesman George Chartier said.

Meanwhile, Frazier will have time to reflect on his accomplishments.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Perhaps most notably was the branch’s response to the 1999 bribery scandal involving several USDA inspectors and numerous produce dealers at the Hunts Point Terminal Market in New York.

“I think improvements have been taken in the infrastructure within the inspection program itself that has gone a long ways to ensure that that type of thing does not happen in the future,” he said.

Frazier’s leadership during the Hunts Point crisis was invaluable, said Bob Keeney, deputy administrator for fruit and vegetable programs for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

“Hunts Point was a very difficult time for the industry and a very difficult time for us here,” Keeney said. “And, PACA has, under his leadership, done a tremendous job of investigating those matters and bringing it to a head. And, we’re very appreciative of him and all his staff.”

Frazier, who has been with the PACA branch for 28 years, also served as head of the trade practices section, and as assistant chief from 1988 until moving up to branch chief.

He took over an agency that had a $7 million annual budget and had fought battles over rules for licensing and fees. Congress rewrote the PACA law in 1995, establishing a license fee scale of $550-4,000 for firms that buy and sell produce. PACA’s annual budget is now $10 million.

In 1996, under Frazier’s guidance, the organization underwent a streamlining program that saved as much as $1 million per year. The branch subsequently won Vice President Al Gore’s Hammer Award, which was part of Gore’s “National Partnership for Reinventing Government” program.

“We went through the re-engineering process and identified a lot of redundancies and business processes and were able to address those,” Frazier said. “To make the program more efficient and cost less was what it was about, so we were able to accomplish that.”

Frazier downplayed the significance of building a more efficient organization during a more complex business climate involving increased international trade through mechanisms like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“It’s more challenging to build on accomplishments we’ve had over the years,” he said. “PACA, I think, is a very high-performing organization and always has been. And just trying to improve on what’s already been accomplished as chief of the branch was certainly the challenge that I saw, to make it a better organization.”

A MODEL

It’s efficiency was modeled in Canada with the Dispute Resolution Corp. that formed in 2000.

“I think it’s a great tribute to the program, and I think it’s one that we have taken pride in, with Canada and Mexico trying to develop a dispute mechanism similar to PACA,” Frazier said. “Just the fact that they wanted a program like PACA says a lot about the program.”

Outgoing Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman also presented an award to the PACA branch in 2001 for establishing an Internet-based program for assisting licensees in understanding their rights and responsibilities, Frazier said.

PACA’s next challenge likely will be securing its first fee increase since 1995, Frazier said.

“I think it’s going to double,” he said. “Since 1995, a third of our fee-paying base, the retailers, are no longer required to pay license fees. So, you have to make up 30% to start with.”

PACA chief ends his 28-year tenure
FRAZIER