Here’s a fun trivia question for you: who was President Barack Obama’s longest-serving Cabinet secretary? USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack lays claim to that feat, but all good things must come to an end. On Jan. 13, in an email to his employees, Vilsack noted he would be ending his tenure a week early.
The email didn’t explain his early departure, and he reiterated that he wanted to stay in agriculture after leaving his government position. He didn’t explain what those plans were, but many companies within the industry could benefit from hiring a person so closely linked to the inner workings of the federal government. President-elect Donald Trump still hasn’t named a replacement. Vilsack noted that the agriculture industry is awaiting his replacement eagerly:
“When that individual is named, he or she will be at a tremendous disadvantage, in terms of getting up to speed on all this department does.”
Many exit polls note that farm states were key in Trump’s victory, and lawmakers from those states are worried that agriculture is taking a backseat to other interests. Trump’s team has interviewed some candidates for the position to date, including former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. They have also talked to potential candidates from Texas and Indiana.
What will Vilsack’s legacy be? This question is always hard to answer three days after an official leaves office, but Vilsack remained popular in farm country and was one of the nation’s longest-serving agriculture secretaries. He was able to balance traditional farming with organic agriculture, and he focused on rebuilding rural communities, making schools healthier and resolving civil rights claims against USDA.
So long, Mr. Vilsack. But I have a sneaking suspicion this won’t be the last time we hear from you.