Publications: Rural Development

Liability of Federal Agencies for Failure to Abide by the Rural Development Act

Steve Sheppard Associate Professor of Law and Allen Mazzanti Juris Doctor, 2005 University of Arkansas School of Law

The poorest areas of the United States are almost entirely among its rural counties.  Despite some recovery of its economy in some sectors, many aspects of rural life in the United States continue to decline.  The number of farmers has fallen.  Even though some population has returned to rural areas after fifty years of decline, the number of children in rural areas continues to fall, leaving rural areas with a disproportionally high population of the aged.  Moreover, the dominant form of federal assistance to rural areas, $15 billion in annual farm supports and agricultural subsidies, is under pressure from the federal budget as well as under attack in the World Trade Organization.  It is apparent that a need for federal support of rural areas persists, and yet the expensive habit of direct payments to farmers is both increasingly difficult and, as it has perhaps always been, less efficient as a means of rural development than other approaches.  There is an obvious need for a means for the federal government to encourage rural development, if possible, in a manner that both provides long-term stability for rural communities while at the same time requiring less from the federal budget.  A tool to do exactly this has languished in the United States Code for thirty-five years: the Rural Development Act (RDA).  This article first considers the structure of the RDA and the scope of its application to “rural areas.”  It then considers agency attempts and failures to conform to it, as reported by the General Services Administration.  Lastly, the article considers means for states and others whose interests are harmed by agencies that fail to conform to the RDA to enforce the Act under the Administrative Procedures Act.      Download this article Posted:  Sept. 14, 2005