May 16—First lady Michelle Obama visited the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) earlier this month and praised the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the 2010 law designed to make school lunches more nutritious. Audrey Rowe, the administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), oversees federal nutrition assistance and education programs, including the 2010 law. Rowe spoke with Tom Fox, a guest writer for The Washington Post's On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.
What are you doing to ensure implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act?
Once the legislation was passed, we proposed rules for the school meals program and received over 132,000 comments from school food service directors, health professionals, parents and students. When we issued the final rules, they needed to be carried out and it was important to be out there talking to the schools, traveling around the country and listening to the challenges people were facing. We quickly realized that there was one provision involving our meat protein rules that presented the greatest challenge, so we allowed some flexibility. Having worked at the state level, I understand what it means when a federal policy comes down and you’re trying to implement it and it’s not working for you. It can be frustrating not being able to get some flexibility.