Former Ag Secretary Vilsack worried about lack of rural focus in Trump Cabinet

Apr 14, 2017

Vilsack ran the U.S. Department of Agriculture for nearly the entirety of former President Obama's tenure.
Credit Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the long delays in seating his replacement leaves rural America without a voice in the Trump administration.

Vilsack, a Democrat who served as USDA chief during both terms of the Obama Administration, cites President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal as an example of what happens without a Cabinet position dedicated to rural issues.

The proposal calls for a $4.7 billion cut to the USDA, which would be a 21 percent reduction in the department’s discretionary spending. The cuts could include programs for food safety, rural business development, conservation on farms and food aid.

Vilsack says he is particularly troubled by the proposed elimination of a program that gives grant money to small towns to upgrade their sewer and water treatment facilities. An Agriculture Secretary should push against that, he says.

“You’re talking about a death sentence, if you will, for small communities that have water problems,” Vilsack says. “If they can’t those problems solved it’s going to be very difficult for them to attract new people, build new houses or attract new industries and jobs.”

The confirmation of Vilsack’s would-be successor -- former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue -- could come later this month after the Senate’s two-week recess. The Department of Agriculture is one of two departments without a Cabinet-level head. The Trump Administration pulled its nomination of Andrew Puzder to lead the Department of Labor after news broke he’d hired an undocumented immigrant as his housekeeper, and domestic abuse allegations surfaced.

Vilsack is now the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and recently accepted an advisory position with Colorado State University where he’ll be directing food and water programs based out of the National Western Center in Denver.