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From the Ivy League to the farm

By Seymour Klierly

The "change" mantra that propelled President Obama to victory in the voting booth also inspired thousands of volunteers and staffers to join his efforts before Election Day. Enthusiastic supporters from across the country left well-paying, highly successful jobs in private and public sectors to take lower level, less profitable positions with the campaign. Now it's time for the administration to return the favor.

Recently, via several press releases, USDA Secretary Vilsack announced a slew of staff appointments to the Department. While most of these particular appointees do not require confirmation in the Senate, they will nevertheless play significant roles in policy implementation and the development for their specific agencies. Included in these press releases were short paragraph-long biographies of the individuals. A quick review of the releases leads to some interesting observations.

Roughly 70 percent of the appointees most recently worked for either the Obama campaign or the Obama-Biden transition team. While it is certainly not unusual for a new administration to reward those who helped win the election with jobs, one would expect the press release announcing the appointments would somehow tout the relevant credentials of those being rewarded to their new position. One would think that these folks were given jobs at the Department of Agriculture because of some experience with ag. Or that, at least, the press release that first introduces them to the ag community would use some of that often talked about "political spin" to give these folks the appearance of having an agricultural background. Instead, in most cases, the releases highlighted the appointees' political credentials more than their policy credentials.

In fairness, many of these appointees appear to be great fits for the Department and Secretary Vilsack. Several of the appointees have a strong history of either working with USDA or on issues within the Department's jurisdiction. However, based on their background summaries, I'm guessing a few of them have neither driven a tractor nor scraped manure off their boots before.

I have nothing against Ivy League schools. In fact, I'm sure that at that age I didn't have smarts to make it through the cafeteria line at most of those schools. But for some of these folks, it may be more of a "change" than they bargained for--to go from the halls of Princeton, Harvard and Yale to the halls of USDA's South Building. Maybe Secretary Vilsack should welcome them all by leading a staff retreat out to the nearest farm where these former campaign specialists can learn how to drive a combine, milk a cow and, since it is spring, plant some corn.


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