Interviewee: Bob Eadie
Interviewer: Meredith Johnston
Date: July 21, 2005
Location: USDA Headquarters
Description: Robert M. (Bob) Eadie served as Chief of the Policy and Program Development Branch, Child Nutrition Division, of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. This branch is responsible for publishing regulations that deal with the National School Lunch, the Child Care Food Program, the Summer Program, the Special Milk Program, and other Child Nutrition Programs. They write regulations, issue policy interpretations, and provide guidance, materials, handbooks, instructions, and anything necessary for a state agency or a school district to have in their hands to operate the program. Mr. Eadie was “an Army brat.” His father was a military officer and the family moved frequently, ending up in New Jersey. After graduating from college in 1973, he started working with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service in what was then the Northeast Regional Office, which included the middle Atlantic and most of the New England states, in Princeton Junction, New Jersey.
MJ: I am Meredith Johnston and I am here with Bob Eadie at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services and it is July 21, 2005. Thank you for doing this with us today.
BE: Thank you very much for the opportunity.
MJ: Would you tell us a little about yourself and where you grew up?
BE: Well, I’m an Army brat. My father was a military officer and so consequently traveled around an awful lot. I spent a good part of my time in Massachusetts and in New Jersey, and in fact that is where I started working with the Food and Nutrition Service when they had an office in the, I guess it was the Princeton Junction office and I started there in 1973.
MJ: What is your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs?
BE: I remember doing Summer Food Service Program reviews pretty much right after I started with the agency. It was in August of 1973. And they were running the Summer Food Service Program in New York City and we spent an awful lot of time doing reviews, working with sponsors. It was really sort of my first memory of spending a lot of time in hotels and working with sponsors.
MJ: How did you become involved with child nutrition programs?
BE: Well, I took the Federal Service, I guess at the time it was actually the Civil Service Entrance Examination at my wife’s encouragement, because I graduated from college after we were married and had some discussion about maybe what I should do for pursuing a career. And somehow or another she was aware of this Civil Service Entrance Exam and I took it and I guess I did well enough to get offered several positions. And one of them was with IRS, which I knew I didn’t want to do, and one of them was an opportunity to interview with the Food and Nutrition Service, and when I sort of learned a little more about what they might be doing, it sounded a lot more exciting to me. Fortunately, I guess the interview worked and I got offered a job.
MJ: What time period would this have been?
BE: Well, I started in August of 1973, so it would have been probably sometime in the spring of ’73 when that was going on.
MJ: Was there someone, a mentor, who was influential in directing you in this field?
BE: Actually, I, to me, sort of four names come to mind. But at least originally, the very first person I really, my first supervisor with the Food and Nutrition Service, in the regional office which was at that time it was the Northeast Regional Office because it included New England. It was the middle Atlantic and most of the New England states. And at the time my supervisor was John Gyorki who is retired for a couple of years now. He was just a strong influence on my approach to Federal service. He was an excellent supervisor. I always, I always think about, I think I got a good solid start on the kind of perspective and things you need to keep in mind when you are a Federal employee. Especially working with the child nutrition programs and then as a result of working in a regional office you work a lot with state agency personnel and sometimes local personnel. I always felt that the training that I got from him for several years was very, very helpful.
MJ: Would you tell us a little more about your educational background and how that prepared you for your present job?
BE: Well, I am actually a general lit major, and I took my time going through school. A lot of it was night school. A seven-year plan. But I think maybe the general lit background was at least a little helpful in giving me a sort of a strong respect for the written word and of course I am involved now in writing regulations and I think anyway, the respect sort of for literature, books, and I guess that they relate in the end to the guidance and the regulations that we publish in the Food and Nutrition Service is probably a good start.
MJ: Would you tell us more about your career and the positions you have held?
BE: Okay. Well, as I mentioned earlier I started working for the Food and Nutrition Service in a regional office which was at the time located in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, which was good because I lived in New Jersey about an hour away. Although it was a relatively long commute, it worked out just from a number of sort of coincidences. I wound up commuting with a woman who as a deputy director of the New Jersey state agency at the time, and although she didn’t work at the same office we worked in the same general area. So I was able to commute with her because it was about an hour and a half each way. It was a long commute. But since she was the assistant director, I actually learned quite a bit in the long car ride. We talked a lot, so I not only got the Federal perspective by working with obviously in a Federal office, but I got a chance to sort of bounce things off and see how state people reacted to the same kinds of issues. And since she was interested in the same things, only from a state perspective, I think it was a really, a really useful opportunity. And as it turned out, not too much later, about, I guess about nine months after I started working for the Federal government, a whole group of us ended up working very closely with the New Jersey state agency as they took over responsibility for some programs that we had been administering for them. So, what we called ROAP programs. There’s only a few of them, a very few of them left, regional office administered programs left. But at the time back in the early ‘70s, there were a lot of programs administered by regional offices instead of by state agencies. And so I was part of a group that was working with the state agency to help them take responsibility for these programs at the state level. So my knowledge or my acquaintance with the assistant director, who I had been commuting with, and then to work with a group of people as part of this transition I think was really helpful. I learned a lot about how a state administers a program and why their perspective might be somewhat different from our Federal perspective.
MJ: Well, follow up then here. How would that be different?
BE: At the Federal level we are largely interested I think in making sure that the programs are implemented so that if Congress has decided that there will be a special program designed and a benefit that has to find its way to children, we are interested in making sure that that structure as Congress has envisioned gets set up. The states have more of an interest in trying to manage whatever we give them. They are clearly interested in the structure, they want something to be efficient, they want something that they can understand, that they can manage and that they can train the locals to operate. But they are actually sort of in the middle. We are sort of designing things and providing guidance and instructions on how we see a program operates. They then have to help local level personnel, school level personnel or child care center personnel as an example actually implement that. So rather than sort of designing that, they have to make it operate. And I think working at a state agency for a while gives you a healthy respect for both. Not an awful lot of our regional personnel have that opportunity and end up developing that understanding and concern and respect that they have to have for the different positions that you are in, if you are at the state level or even at the local level. Because in the end it is the people at the local level in public schools, private schools, and child care institutions that have to provide the nutrition benefits to the children. It is helpful, I think, early in your career to get a perspective on all of that.
MJ: Could you tell us more about what you do now?
BE: Well, I am currently the Chief of the Program and Policy Development Branch of the Child Nutrition Division and the branch that I am working in is the one that is responsible for, for the most part, for publishing regulations that deal with the National School Lunch, the Summer Program, the Child Care Food Program, the Summer Program, and the Special Milk Program. We write the regulations. We, for the most part, issue policy, policy interpretations, provide guidance, materials, handbooks, instructions, all the things that are necessary for a state agency or even for a school district to have in their hands to operate the program, and perhaps react to situations that they haven’t anticipated. It turns out that there is an awful lot of stuff that occurs in a program that you can’t always anticipate when you are writing the basic regulatory structure, so you have to follow it up with an awful lot of material, guidance material, instructions, that kind of thing to help the locals. And the state agencies react to situations that you might not anticipate right away or that may occur rather frequently but they need detailed guidance on a case by case basis.
MJ: What changes have you seen in the child nutrition programs over the years?
BE: I think there is one really large change that comes to my mind, and that is that when I first started with the program back in the early ‘70s, with the programs in the early ‘70s, it seemed to me that the major concern on the part of all of us, at the Federal level, at the state level, and at the local level, was to make sure that children got a good quality meal. Our concern at the time I think was largely on hunger, making sure that especially, not just needy children, but especially needy children had a good meal. One of the first things that I learned as an employee working in the child nutrition programs was that there was a good number of children whose only really good meal during the week was the meal they got at school, and that when they went home on Friday afternoon, they may not get another really good meal that weekend, so that breakfast on Monday morning, or if breakfast wasn’t available, and in a lot of the schools at the time breakfast wasn’t available, the first good meal that they would have had since Friday was their lunch on Monday. So there was a real huge emphasis on participation, making sure that every school and every child care center possible could offer a program. But later on, and I think more recently now say in the last eight to ten years, there’s, there’s still a concern of course that children get a good meal and that they don’t go hungry, but there has been a much larger emphasis now that we have to pay more attention to the nutrition that the meal delivers rather than just trying to take care of hunger and make sure that a child has enough energy to meet the day, we now have to make sure that they not only have enough energy but that they have a well balanced diet. The huge concern and the focus on obesity in the last few years has really made us pay more attention to what it is that we give the child rather than just making sure that they get a good meal. So I guess the emphasis on nutrition is by far the largest difference that I see from when I started my career up until now.
MJ: What do you think has been your most significant contribution to child nutrition programs?
BE: Well, it probably has to do with accountability. I think that when I first started with the agency, when I was still a fairly junior employee, we were mostly worried about outreach, expansion, making sure that schools as an example started off with the Breakfast Program because at the time in the early ‘70s not many schools did have the Breakfast Program. By the late ‘70s we were really working hard to get breakfast into every school, and then shortly after that in the early ‘80s we were working hard on trying to expand the Child and Adult Care Food Program because we wanted to make sure that in almost every venue you had, whether it was a school, a child care center or a Summer Program site that meals were available, that children that were hungry and that may not have the good choices when they were out of school or when they were home. And one of the things though that started to happen in say the mid ‘70s, late ‘70s, early ‘80s was more emphasis on accountability, and at the time I had moved to Washington. I no longer worked in a regional office, and I was working in the regulation area as I am now, and we were really concerned about making sure that program benefits were effectively delivered to children but at the same time that the government was getting exactly what it was paying for so that programs were putting or submitting accurate claims to state agencies and that the Federal funds that were being used were being used to support what the program expected to deliver and that they weren’t wasted or that perhaps they weren’t subject to negligent or in fact just simply bad administration. So we worked on a series of regulations, one in the National School Lunch Program which was what became known as “Accu-Claim” and that was really to insure that programs, schools in particular, were submitting accurate claims to the states for payment. We invested an awful lot of effort in that for a number of years and did a lot of training. And then near the end of that effort, we started on what became known as the “coordinated review effort.” And that was not only to make sure, initially to make sure that schools were submitting accurate claims but then we wanted to make sure that state agencies were doing effective oversight reviews of schools and institutions. We invested a lot of time and effort in that. It was frequently called “Federal review,” but in the end it became known as “coordinated review” or “coordinated review effort,” C.R.E. That was a really large push and I was heavily involved in the regulations that dealt with that. And then just about that same time we started to worry about concerns in the management of the Child and Adult Care Food Program and we invested I’d say five or six years in working hard to assist the states in getting a good grip on the oversights that they needed to perform and in the way that they needed to effectively work with sponsors to insure that they were doing the job that they were supposed to be doing under the regulations. Now more recently we are sort of doing follow up on both of those. We are still working to improve Child Care Food Program integrity and we are still working to improve school program integrity. But I would have to say that probably the lion’s share of my career has been working on regulations and policies and instructions that have focused on insuring good management of the programs.
MJ: Do any memorable stories or events come to mind when you think about your years’ involvement with the programs?
BE: Well, my memory for those things probably isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. There certainly have been an awful lot of interesting opportunities and a lot of interesting experiences. I am sorry I am just not good at bringing up anything that would probably be worthy of time on an historical document, but it’s certainly been a great opportunity and a job that I’ve loved very much.
MJ: I want to follow up on something. I want to know more about the Child and Adult Care Food Program, maybe the regulations with that and maybe how those have changed through the years.
BE: Okay. Well, that would be fine. The Child Care, the Child and Adult Care Food Program started out in the early ‘80s as the Child Care Food Program and it originally targeted delivery of benefits to children in child care centers. But it became pretty clear that the program needed to expand its coverage. An awful lot of day care in this country, especially starting in the ‘80s, is delivered in family day care homes. Small residential operations where they are in a home, so they are residential, but the children are non-residential. Generally, a day care provider, generally a woman, especially early on in the program who was staying home with her children might decide to provide day care to children from another family, partly because she was home with her children already and it would be a good idea maybe if she could generate some income by taking care of someone else’s child. So in the early ‘80s we brought into the program family day care homes and that program or that part of the program expanded dramatically through the end of the ‘80s and even into the ‘90s to the point where that really became the largest focus of the Child Care Food Program. We spent a great deal of time trying to work with states to insure good management and proper, proper oversight of the family day care homes. And that aspect right now, even now, although I think it provides a very valuable benefit, probably is the single largest oversight concern we have in all the child nutrition programs is how to manage very small programs where you may have three or four or five children in a family day care home. But make sure that that child, or the children in that home are getting meals, healthy meals that meet program requirements. It’s a valuable portion of the program but it is a very difficult portion to manage because it, your resources are kind of stretched because you have to send someone to a home where maybe only five or four children will be participating, whereas if you send someone to a school you can have a hundred or three hundred or a thousand children easily. And so it is, efficiency is a big problem, but it is a big part of the program and I think it is a valuable part. The majority of the children who are being cared for in this country are in family day care homes, not in day care centers. So you need to deliver a benefit where the children are. Was there more to that, I’m sorry?
MJ: I was just wondering about the changing regulations if more specific –
BE: Well, we started out with a relatively I guess loose set of regulations. The idea was, “You need to serve a meal that meets this requirement. You need to claim it and you need to do all that accurately.” But it turned out that the family day care homes are for the most part being staffed by people who had never been responsible, it would have been obvious but I am not sure that we recognized it in the early regulations, by people who don’t really have any management skills necessarily. And although it is not a huge operation, it means that they already have their hands full just taking care of the children, and then they have to complete records for us. We try to keep those records to a minimum but nevertheless they have to document their activity in order to be able to claim it. And one of the things that we ended up having to do with the program regulations was provide an awful lot more specificity about what needed to be done in terms of delivering the meal benefit to children, and that took an awful lot of time and it took a lot of training. And the states even to this day invest a lot of time in training sponsors, and the sponsors who then have to work with family day care home providers have to spend a lot of time training them. So it is a complex program even though when you finally get to the home it is a relatively simple thing to look at. Are the children getting a meal? Are the records there to support the delivery of that meal? It has taken an awful lot of state and sponsor level effort to make sure that that delivery, that benefit gets delivered to the child.
MJ: I just have one more question about your job. Could you take us through a typical day if there is a typical day in your job?
BE: Well, I can certainly try to, I guess, anyway. A typical day has obviously for almost everyone changed now as a result of e-mail which really became, I am not sure I remember exactly the time, but I would say starting about 10 years ago, we all had computers on our desk and we got hooked up to the internet, and we could send e-mail and so on a typical day now is I come in and I usually have a lot of e-mail that I have to go through. And then generally my in-box will have memorandum, letters, and right now because we are working with the reauthorization of the child nutrition programs, draft regulations or pieces that are relevant to a regulation that I will have to review. We spend an awful lot of time trying to respond to questions from our regional offices and state agencies that may have a particular question about how they should react to a situation and how the regs would require them to do that. There is a surprising number of meetings that you have to get involved with because although the program is essentially straight-forward, child nutrition, it is amazing the complexity of the issues that can get involved. So there is an awful lot of time I’d say in reading, writing, good part of that involves time that I have to spend editing. Every day there’s at least a few meetings with multiple people dealing with a local or a state level question or problem. And of course there is some supervisory time, but by and large I would say it is sorting through program related issues.
MJ: Well, anything else that you would like to add?
BE: I guess I just have to say that I really feel privileged to have worked with these programs all these years. Pretty much my entire career since graduation from college has been in child nutrition. And I’ve always felt that I’d landed in the right place and I was really fortunate to be working in these programs. So I guess I am very fortunate for that. Thank you.
MJ: Well, thank you for being with us.
BE: Thank you for the opportunity.