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Perdue Sees ‘Lack of Urgency’ to Clear USDA Nominees

WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who got a historically late start on his job, told senators on Wednesday that it may be fall before they have a chance to confirm the top-level policymakers, such as the deputy secretary, who will put the Trump administration stamp on USDA programs.

“It’s taking far too long with the undersecretary positions that we submitted to the White House,” said Perdue. Six nominees, including deputy secretary, were undergoing background checks by the FBI and Office of Government Ethics. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency in those areas to get people cleared,” said the secretary.

“I’m being told some of them won’t be confirmed until after the August recess,” said Perdue at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. Perdue did not identify the potential nominees but said they were “some very capable names that I think you all will be proud to confirm.”

So far, Perdue is the only presidential nominee for an ag position to be confirmed by the Senate. Subcommittee chairman John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican, said 15 executive posts at USDA are vacant and await White House nomination.

“It is moving too slowly. We all need to do everything we can to expedite it,” said Hoeven.

All of the subcabinet positions immediately below Perdue – deputy secretary and the seven undersecretaries who direct USDA’s operating arms – are occupied at the moment by senior civil servants who act as caretakers until a presidential appointee takes the seat. The career employees were chosen by the departing Obama administration as a bridge to the Trump era and were empowered to sign orders and documents to keep USDA functioning. They work with the advice of Trump transition officials who arrived on January 20.

“We’re here half a year into this administration and still doing (the job) with the ragtag SWAT team, and doing a very good job with the people we put in place,” Perdue told reporters. He also credited the work of USDA staffers.

A month ago, Perdue was optimistic of prompt clearance of a team of executives to put into action Trump’s philosophy of less regulation and more free enterprise. At that point, Steve Censky, chief executive of the American Soybean Association, was tipped as the likely nominee for deputy secretary with Bill Northey, the Iowa agriculture secretary, for undersecretary for farm production and conservation, and Ted Mckinney, Indiana agriculture director, for undersecretary for trade. Sam Clovis, a senior Trump adviser and leader of Trump’s beachhead team at USDA, faced opposition as the rumored choice for undersecretary for research because he has no credentials in the area although he is a former college professor.

Perdue told reporters there were no issues piling up or unresolved because of the vacant top-tier jobs. “I’m tired of working 22 hours a day,” he said.

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