Vilsack Says He's Not Obama's Pick to Head USDA

Published on: 14:40PM Nov 24, 2008
By Jim Wiesemeyer

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

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Speculation on TOP USDA Post Will Continue

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Former Iowa Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack on Sunday said that he will not be the next Agriculture secretary, admitting in an e-mail to the Des Moines Register that he had never been contacted by aides to President-elect Barack Obama about that position or any other.

"I would have to speculate that I was in fact in the running and further speculate as to why I was no longer. I do not think it prudent or appropriate to speculate about either," Vilsack said.

No more shoo-in. Not long ago, Vilsack was labeled a “near shoo-in” for USDA's top position, according to an article in the Washington Post, citing Obama transition sources. Obama's staff had never confirmed that he was being considered.

The Congressional Quarterly quickly followed the Washington Post in branding Vilsack as the next potential USDA leader, only to follow a few days later with another name -- John Boyd.

Comments: Unless Vilsack's remarks are a diversionary tactic, the speculation on USDA's top post will continue, with gusto. For example, another person on the "short list," former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Tex.) said he has not been contacted. And House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) keeps saying he will not take the position.

There are far more important items on the agenda list -- the most important being the need to turn the financial system/economy around for the better. That involves a host of issues on President-elect Barack Obama's top list, and agriculture is not one of them. That does not mean the business of agriculture isn't important, far from it.

Perspective: I have previously listed several potential selections for the next Ag Secretary. I have also noted that when the past two people were announced as the next Ag Secretary, neither were rumored for the post.

Watch other announcements just as much. While the Ag Secretary position is important for agriculture, the deputy position and other key positions are very important as well because, frankly, the Ag Secretary has been, and should be, the spokesman or spokeswoman for agriculture -- and that takes up to 60 percent of the time. That means the glue that holds USDA together is not the top position but those critical spots under the leader.

Also important ahead are those individuals chosen to lead other Cabinet or important slots in other Departments, including but not limited to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Justice Department. And, when it comes to trade with Cuba, the Treasury Department.

Obama today in Chicago announced his top economic team, including his likely choices of New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner to be Treasury Secretary and Lawrence Summers as the National Economic Council director.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.