The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture held the confirmation hearing for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on January 14, 2009. Vilsack's testimony is below. For a webcast of the hearing, click here.
Thank you, Chairman Harkin, Senator Chambliss, and members of the Committee on
Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry for the opportunity and privilege to appear before
you today. I particularly want to thank my fellow Iowans Chairman Tom Harkin and
Senator Chuck Grassley, for their kind introduction. I have long admired your work and
service to our state and our country, and I appreciate your kind words today. I also want
to take this opportunity to introduce to the Committee and to proudly thank my best
friend and life partner, Christie Vilsack, who joins me today as she has during every step
of my public life: as the mayor of Mt. Pleasant, as an Iowa state senator, and as Governor
of the great state of Iowa.
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, it is a great honor and privilege to be
nominated by President-elect Obama to lead the Department of Agriculture at this crucial
time. The last Iowan asked to serve as Secretary of Agriculture was Henry Wallace. He
served with extraordinary distinction during a period of historic challenges. I am very
mindful of the high standard he set, the reforms he initiated, and the deep compassion he
had for those who work our lands.
Today our country and the Department of Agriculture again face historic challenges.
Farmers and ranchers experience volatile markets while credit tightens. Small towns and
rural communities continue to lose people and jobs while critical infrastructure crumbles.
These towns and communities find it increasingly difficult to keep pace with the everchanging
national and global economy. Recent economic woes caused a dramatic
increase in the number of Americans needing the food assistance programs under USDA
jurisdiction. The nation looks to our rural areas for a sustainable source of food and
energy at the same time the world looks to America for leadership in combating global
climate change. The health care crisis aligns squarely with the need to promote more
nutrition in our diets. All this is happening while the world population continues to grow
at a rate that may in our lifetimes challenge our capacity to grow and raise enough food.
If this weren’t enough, a national treasure – our forests – are under attack by
uncontrollable wildfires and invasive species.
All of these are serious challenges that require a compelling new vision for the
Department with the attention, dedication, and leadership to make it happen. The
President-elect has called upon each of us to meet these challenges. If confirmed, I
pledge to work with all the energy I have to do my part to make sure the Department of
Agriculture does its part:
- To administer a robust farm safety net and create real and meaningful
opportunities for farmers and ranchers to succeed;
- To guarantee that the communities where those farmers and ranchers live can
grow and prosper;
- To help families that struggle to make ends meet put food on the table;
- To place America at the forefront of efforts to aggressively address energy
independence and global climate change;
- To enhance the safety of the food supply and reduce the incidence of
- To work with those who seek programs and practices that lead to more
nutritious food produced in a sustainable way; and
- To preserve and protect our national resources – our land, water, and forests.
I am under no illusion about the difficulty we face, but I also recognize the commitment
Congress has made with the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill. USDA’s job is to implement
that far-ranging piece of legislation promptly and consistent with congressional intent. If
confirmed, I will commit to work immediately to implement the 600 programs and 15
titles of the Farm Bill, including prompt implementation of the Conservation Stewardship
Program and Disaster Payment Programs, and to leverage the financial commitment of
the stimulus bill with other public sector and private resources to realize the full promise
of rural America.
None of this will be possible without 21st century technology. We need to provide
Congress with a workable and realistic plan to implement the technology changes
necessary to bring the Department into the 21st century. If confirmed, I look forward to
working with you to do just that.
I will also take steps to enhance the role of the farm sector and rural communities in
solving the great environmental and energy-related challenges our country faces. Toward
that end, I will work with you to expand opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and rural
communities to promote renewable energy technologies like biofuels, wind, solar, and
geo-thermal, and to deliver environmental benefits like clean air, clean water, and fish
and wildlife habitat.
One final comment, with the time you have provided me: the Department of Agriculture
was founded by President Lincoln as “The People’s Department.” The time has come for
the Department to be the Department for All the People, by working hard to resolve
outstanding civil rights claims in program and employment practices. We need to close
this chapter of the past and look forward. If I’m confirmed, the message will be clear:
discrimination in any form will not be tolerated.
I want to close by finishing where I began – by expressing my gratitude to the Chairman,
the Ranking Member, and the Committee for the chance to speak today; to Presidentelect
Obama for the confidence he has placed in me to do the job; to my family, Christie,
Jess, Kate, and Doug, for their love and support; and to the people of my home state for
the privilege they afforded me to serve them.