Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who got a historically late start on his job, told senators on Wednesday that it may be fall before they have a chance to confirm the top-level policymakers, such as the deputy secretary, who will put the Trump administration stamp on USDA programs. “It’s taking far too long with the undersecretary positions that we submitted to the White House,” said Perdue. Six nominees, including deputy secretary, were undergoing background checks by the FBI and Office of Government Ethics. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency in those areas to get people cleared,” said the Secretary.
Subcommittee chairman John Hoeven (R-ND) said 15 executive posts at USDA are vacant and await White House nomination. Rumors continue to circulate that ISDA Director Ted McKinney is one of those on the list awaiting action. Several media sources have reported McKinney is in line for the top trade position at USDA.
All of the subcabinet positions immediately below Perdue – deputy secretary and the seven undersecretaries who direct USDA’s operating arms – are occupied at the moment by senior civil servants who act as caretakers until a presidential appointee takes the seat. The career employees were chosen by the departing Obama administration as a bridge to the Trump era and were empowered to sign orders and documents to keep USDA functioning. They work with the advice of Trump transition officials who arrived on January 20.
“We’re here half a year into this administration and still doing (the job) with the ragtag SWAT team, and doing a very good job with the people we put in place,” Perdue told reporters. He also credited the work of USDA staffers. Even posts that do not need congressional approval remain on hold such as state FSA directors.