With the somewhat tardy appointment of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture combined with Senate Democrats taking their time with the confirmation process, there’s going to be a backup of some other important appointments at USDA and across the federal government.
And the backup is occurring even though one man came close to a USDA longevity record.
Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack did make a run for it, but fell two days short of the post-World War II record for tenure as secretary of agriculture. Ezra Taft Benson and Orville Freeman both served two days longer than Vilsack. Benson was Secretary of Agriculture for both terms of President Dwight Eisenhower while Freeman held the post for Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Vilsack surprised some when he resigned as secretary on Jan. 13, a week early. However, on Jan. 17, it was announced that he’d been named as the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
It was not until two days later that President Donald Trump selected Perdue to succeed Vilsack, subject to Senate confirmation. Michael Scuse, Vilsack’s former deputy, is the acting secretary of agriculture pending Perdue’s confirmation.
Several other top jobs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are also filled by presidential appointment and require Senate conformation.
Among those are the job of under secretary for food safety, which is often referred to as the highest food safety job in the U.S. government. Former President Barack Obama left the job vacant for the last three years of his second term for reasons that were never disclosed.
The other top USDA jobs requiring presidential appointment and Senate confirmation include:
- Deputy Secretary of Agriculture;
- Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services;
- Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services;
- Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs;
- Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment;
- Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics; and
- Under Secretary for Rural Development.
If confirmed, Secretary-designate Perdue will be free to fill some other top jobs without the Senate’s help. Those include the assistant secretary for congressional relations, the assistant secretary for civil rights, USDA’s general counsel, and USDA’s chief financial officer.
Throughout the federal government, about 4,000 political appointees will eventually be named by the new administration. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are waiting for Trump to name their agency bosses.
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