New Interim USDA Team Looks a Lot Like the Original Interim Team
In the second step of reorganizing the USDA’s executive portfolios, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue named three acting deputy undersecretaries to oversee the department’s ag export, crop subsidy, and forestry arms until Trump administration nominees report to work. The White House has yet to nominate candidates for the executive posts, and Perdue said it will likely be fall before any of them goes to a Senate vote.
All three of the Perdue appointees are civil servants. Two of them were named by the outgoing Obama administration as high-level caretakers for the posts that were reconfigured by Perdue in carrying out a direction in the 2014 farm law to create the office of undersecretary for trade. “These three career USDA employees have already shown the leadership and expertise needed to deliver the highest-quality service to our consumers—the people of American agriculture,” said Perdue.
The Trump administration has one-third as many nominees in senior posts as the Obama and George W. Bush administrations did at this point in their first months in office, said the Washington Post. It counted 43 senior Trump nominees confirmed by the Senate, compared with 151 for Obama and 130 for Bush. “A White House official said about 200 people are being vetted for senior-level posts,” said the newspaper, which reported that “the array of legal and political threats hanging over the Trump presidency has compounded” the task of filling executive posts.
“Congress, in its oversight role, can’t let our executive branch keep running with no one behind the wheel,” wrote Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary during the Clinton era, in an essay for Agri-Pulse. Lawmakers must “push the administration to get going,” he wrote. “I could not even begin to carry out congressional and administration policy without a team of high-performance political and career employees dedicated to serving the American people,” said Glickman, citing his tenure at the USDA.
Perdue named Jason Hafemeister as acting deputy undersecretary for trade; Robert Johansson as acting deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation; and Dan Jiron as acting deputy undersecretary for natural resources—the same job he was assigned by departing Obama officials. Similarly, in January, Hafemeister was given the interim post of acting deputy undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services.
With Hafemeister in charge of trade, food aid, and overseas market development, Johansson, the USDA’s chief economist, will be responsible for the domestic programs that formerly were controlled by Hafemeister. When Perdue created the undersecretary for trade, he put farm subsidies, crop insurance, and land stewardship under the aegis of the undersecretary for farm production and conservation. Some of the stewardship programs were formerly directed by the undersecretary for natural resources. In the reorganization, only the Forest Service reports to that official.
As part of reorganizing the command structure, Perdue abolished the post of undersecretary of rural development and appointed Anne Hazlett as his assistant in charge of rural economic development. The administration has proposed large cuts in rural development, crop insurance, and food stamps.
Last week, Perdue said six USDA sub-cabinet nominees, including the deputy secretary, were undergoing background checks by the FBI and the Office of Government Ethics. “It’s taking far too long with the undersecretary positions that we submitted to the White House,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency in those areas to get people cleared.”