Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vilsack names top advisors and 48 other appointments

The patiently awaited announcement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has arrived as he releases his chief of staff, and deputy chief of staff as well as 48 other appointments filling key points at USDA.

Drum roll please!

Chief of Staff is John Norris. According to the press release:
John Norris has been chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board since 2005 and served as Governor Vilsack's first chief of staff in 1999. He served as Senator John Kerry's Iowa Caucus Campaign Manager and as National Field Director for the Kerry-Edwards Campaign. He was the Democratic nominee for Iowa's Third Congressional District in 2002. Norris is a graduate of Simpson College and the University of Iowa Law School. He also served as state director of the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition in the mid-1980's. He is married to Jackie Norris, who serves as Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama. They have three sons.
Deputy Chief of Staff is Carole Jett.
Carole Jett recently left federal service after 33 years to participate on the Obama Agriculture campaign team in Indiana and served as Co-Lead of the President's Transition Team USDA Agency Review Group. She served as Farm Bill Coordinator for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) prior to her retirement. Previously, she led the NRCS 2002 Farm Bill implementation effort and served on assignment with the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee.
Sarah Wyant at Agri-pulse has collected a list the 48 other appointees. As far as I can tell, I don't see any of the "sustainable dozen that Food Democracy Now has petitioned for in the last few months. As Jill Richardson points out on La Vida Locavore, many of the positions have "acting" in front of them, meaning they are doing the job until they are official appointed or replaced.

Vilsack's first line of business was repealing the proposed $3 million dollar cut to the Fruit and Vegetable Program, proposed by the previous administration. A nice 'good-bye gift,' I guess. He also has extended the comment period for 2008 Farm Bill Farm Program Payment Limitation and Payment Eligibility rulemaking process. Vilsack discussed his priorities in a teleconference call:

"Let's be clear - in no way is this move(extending the comment period) a signal that we will modify the rules for the 2009 crop year," Vilsack said. "Sign up has begun and it's important that clear and consistent rules remain in place so that producers can prepare for the crop year and manage their risk appropriately."

To date, USDA has only received seven comments on the payment limits rule and Vilsack says that by extending the comment period additional farmers and other interested parties will have the opportunity to comment.

"In keeping with President Obama's recent pledge to make government more transparent, inclusive, and collaborative, I would like to pursue an extended comment period so that more farmers and other individuals can participate in this rulemaking process," he said. "I'm particularly interested in suggestions that would help the Department target payments to farmers who really need them and ensure that payments are not being provided to ineligible parties for future crop years."

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