President-elect Joseph Biden has selected Tom Vilsack to serve as Agriculture Secretary, which would return Vilsack to a role he held for eight years in the Obama administration.
Andrew Novaković is a Cornell University emeritus professor of agricultural economics and an agriculture and food policy expert. He says given the broad spectrum of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and responsibilities, Tom Vilsack’s previous experience and intimate knowledge of USDA will allow him to hit the ground running.
“In choosing Vilsack to reprise his role under President Obama, Joe Biden has turned to an old friend, with experience to hit the ground running. The fact that these two are not just familiar with one another but good friends means that the agriculture, food, and forestry interests which are at the heart of USDA’s responsibilities will have a strong voice in the inner circles of the incoming administration.
“A key marker for the new president is not only reaching out but embracing, involving and supporting women, people of color and the array of diversity that represents all of America. One might observe that Tom Vilsack himself does not embody that diversity, but I can say from personal experience that these are concerns that Vilsack shares deeply with the president-elect.
“There are numerous and varied issues to challenge the new administration in general and USDA in particular. Reviewing the effectiveness of food assistance and child nutrition programs in the time of the pandemic will be an important early task, as we may be approaching the end of that tunnel but are far from emerging from it yet. The lack of reliable broad band access in rural America has been another element that has become especially evident during our adjustments to the pandemic. USDA has a role to play in that arena. Trade will also be a key issue. Stabilizing the labor supply for workers in agricultural and food industries and ensuring that they work in a safe environment will be another high priority. Less urgent but just as important is reviewing programs to better manage forests to deal with the rising threat of fires in the coming seasons. And, with a new growing season beginning shortly, it will be necessary to review the effects and effectiveness of programs to support agriculture, particular following a year of massive direct subsidies to farmers.
“Secretary Vilsack has a full plate but his intimate knowledge of USDA and familiarity with and to the long-serving career employees in leadership positions within USDA ensure that this agency will get off to a quick start.”