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Nearly A Year Into Trump Presidency, Several USDA Leadership Posts Unfilled

File/Grant Gerlock
Harvest Public Media

As President Donald Trump and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made the rounds this week to reiterate their commitment to  rural communities and farmers and ranchers, the federal agency that President Abraham Lincoln established still lacks top appointments.

Thirteen U.S. Department of Agriculture positions are appointed by the president. So far, only four of Trump’s picks have been confirmed and two nominations are pending, according to the Partnership for Public Service. Seven positions need nominations, including the undersecretary for research, education and economics; the original choice  withdrew in November after being tied to the Russia investigation and amid growing opposition.

One USDA position that’s been filled is new: the undersecretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs (Ted McKinney was confirmed in the fall). But the administration looks to have claimed more credit than it’s due. 

Ted McKinney.
Credit Courtesy of USDA
Ted McKinney.

In announcing reorganization plans in May, the USDA said Perdue created the position as a “recognition of the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture.” But the next paragraph of that news release contradicts the “creation” wording, showing that the post actually was laid out in the 2014 farm bill.

The Obama administration had two years to define the position and appoint someone, but it never did. Then-Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack failed to meet the bill’s provision to conduct a study and file a report within 180 days describing how the agency would reorganize to accommodate the position. Vilsack repeatedly told  media  outlets that reorganizing trade responsibilities was complicated and needed to be done right, even if that meant not meeting deadlines.

Ultimately, Perdue submitted a report on the reorganization of the department to include the new undersecretary, which may be how he is claiming creation of the post.

Perdue also proposed other organizational changes in May, such as adding undersecretary positions for natural resources and the environment and farm production and conservation, positions for which  Perdue has named “acting” leaders to serve until presidential appointees can be nominated and confirmed.

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyinAmes

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Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.