Inside D.C.

Sec. Perdue Needs His Team

I’m getting tired of an “unconventional” White House, but I’m already fed up with a Congress which seems in perpetual knee jerk mode.  When evaluating Congress and the White House, forget the “first 100 days” stuff.  That’s nothing more than a self-imposed deadline born of campaign rhetoric.

This unconventional administration needs to develop policy which gives folks in the country certainty.  Democrats on both sides of the Hill are still so bent out of shape about the November election outcome, they announce opposition to actions which have yet to take place, as in “we’ll oppose any Trump nominee to the Supreme Court.”

Part of why the Senate couldn’t get Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue from nominee on January 19, to confirmed secretary on April 24, was that automatic knee jerk reaction to all things Trump.  Arguably the most popular and least controversial of Trump’s nominees, Perdue had a couple of paperwork snafus, but foot-dragging by the loyal opposition slowed the process down even more. Perdue was eventually confirmed on an 87-11 vote, a record for a Trump nominee.

However, when it comes to the more than 550 subcabinet jobs yet to be filled by the Trump White House – most which will need Senate confirmation – the country can’t afford such delays.  There must be clear intent communicated by the administration, and there needs to be honest vetting by both Republicans and Democrats.  The country cannot afford to idle in neutral while partisan politics plays out like children in a playground spat.

There are more than 250 subcabinet slots at USDA which still must be filled.  The department, second only to the Pentagon in size, needs a deputy secretary immediately, the number two person, the person whose job it is to keep the trains running on time.  Given regional competitions in agriculture, the deputy secretary will no doubt be a Midwesterner because Perdue hails from the deep South; hopefully, that person will actually understand agriculture.  At any cost, Trump must avoid how President Obama viewed USDA appointments, i.e., USDA was where his team slotted loyal campaign workers for whom they couldn’t find another job.

Former Gov. Perdue successfully ran the Georgia state government for eight years, in large part because he had solid help.  At USDA he must fill the subcabinet slot for food safety quickly, and he’s committed to staffing the new deputy secretary for trade office, authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, but never achieved by the previous administration.  In times of drought, flood and everything in between, he needs experienced folks in the forestry slots, in rural development, in economics, crop insurance, and on and on.

Much of Perdue’s success as the Georgia chief executive – and I’m sure he’d be the first to agree – was because he had folks he could trust to help run the government, delivering services and helping constituents. Perdue looks to bring that operational philosophy to USDA, and Trump needs to get out of his way.

Fresh off his official swearing in Tuesday morning by fellow Georgian Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Perdue went straight to USDA to meet and greet the rank and file.  He talked unscripted, he took off his coat and tie, he rolled up his sleeves, and he said, “I was a farmer first, and we are going to get comfortable in working clothes.”  He made a few nervous when he said he’d get to know them better over time by dropping in to their offices unannounced, but gratified a great many more when he promised a department picnic.

Trump made one of his frustratingly oblique statements a while back when a reporter asked him when stakeholders could expect to see subcabinet nominations start to roll out.  He told the reporter – I’m paraphrasing here – “I don’t know. I’m not sure all of those jobs are necessary so I’m not sure I’m going to fill all of them.”

My strong recommendation to the president:  With all due respect, allow your cabinet secretaries to determine which of their deputies, assistants, deputy assistant secretaries and so on are necessary.



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