Vilsack Returns to USDA With A Different Attitude

(Credit: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

He’s the only secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has served in one administration and has been asked to come back years later. For President Biden’s newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, it’s an opportunity he said he is looking forward to for many reasons.

“I've been telling people that the first time I was offered this opportunity, I was obviously naïve,” Vilsack said during the Coalition for Epi Response, Engagement and Science Biosecurity Infectious Disease Symposium at Colorado State University on Jan. 28. “I didn't fully understand and appreciate the scope and the significance of the Department of Agriculture.”

Still, he said he went into the job the first time around enthusiastic, hopeful and excited. This time he will go into the job fully understanding and appreciating the breadth and importance of the department and the work it has to do. 

USDA has seen a lot of challenges and changes since Vilsack’s first term. 

“There’s been a lot of transformation that has not necessarily been well received, especially in the science area and facing major issues,” he said.

Many questions keep him up at night, he shared with CSU Vice President for Research Alan Rudolph during the symposium’s opening session. 

  • Can we respond to the challenge of COVID in a way that minimizes the damage to people and to the economy? 
  • Can we be a department that provides access to its programs for to everyone, not just to a select and privileged view? 
  • Are we in a position to be a major driver of transformation in agriculture and rural life that helps to lead the country to a better place as it tackles climate change? 
  • Can we assist in helping transform that rural economy so those moms and dads who are watching their sons and daughters and grandkids leave their small town in their community, for lack of opportunity, will be able to welcome them back or at least offer them the opportunity for a meaningful life in that small town or in that rural place? 

“These are all very significant issues,” Vilsack said. “And that's apart from the next bioterrorism threat that could take place or the cybersecurity disruption that could totally compromise our infrastructure or many of the other problems that we face globally. So, that’s a lot to keep anyone up at night.”

And it’s why Vilsack said he will go into this job “with a much different attitude and a more serious focus on getting stuff done quickly” to be able to minimize some of the challenges and risks the country faces.

Read more:

Senate Ag Committee Approves Vilsack Confirmation for USDA

Vilsack Weighs In On Parallel Between COVID-19 and Animal Disease Outbreaks

Vilsack Could Unveil His Climate, CCC Plans During Tuesday’s Hearing


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