Perdue Reorganizing USDA

USDA Chief Potentially Naming a New Trade Undersecretary

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaking last week in Iowa. Perdue is expected to make a USDA reorganization announcement Thursday in Ohio. Some of Perdue's top aides were highlighted in a memo to USDA staff on Wednesday. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will announce a reorganization of USDA on Thursday, USDA announced in a media advisory.

The announcement will be made in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Consolidated Grain and Barge, a grain shipping company.

A lobbyist working on grain and transportation issues said, while he did not have direct knowledge of what the reorganization might be about, his "uninformed guess" is that it could be about the creation of an office of an undersecretary for trade.

The 2014 farm bill called for splitting the position of agriculture undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services into two positions, one to oversee the domestic Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency functions and another to be an advocate for exports and to oversee the Foreign Agricultural Service and portions of other agencies involved in exports and imports.

The Obama administration studied the issue and concluded that splitting off certain divisions of other agencies such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would be complicated because those agencies are engaged in both domestic and foreign activities and decided to leave the creation of a new office and undersecretary up to the next administration.

Perdue has said it is the responsibility of farmers to grow products and USDA to sell them, and that he will travel the world selling U.S. agricultural products.

Perdue has not announced the names of potential candidates for top political positions at USDA. However, Heidi Green, a longtime associate who is Perdue's chief of staff, sent USDA employees a memo on Wednesday with short biographies of key aides in the secretary's office and the communications office.

Green was the deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Economic Development when Perdue was governor. Green stated in the memo she was a native Californian who became a Georgian. She stated she was coming out of the private sector, having worked for Deloitte.

According to reports earlier this spring, Green has close business ties to Perdue, having helped set up Perdue Partners LLC in 2011 as one of the principals. Green has been on staff at USDA as a senior adviser since January.

According to Green's memo:

-- Chris Young, a Georgian, is deputy chief of staff. Young's responsibilities will be to handle day-to-day operations and logistics for the secretary's office.

-- Julie Gordon, a Virginian, is now special assistant to the chief and deputy chief of staff.

-- Rachel Pick, an Iowan, is special assistant to the secretary. Pick has worked in the past in Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's office.

-- Tim Murtaugh, a Pennsylvania native, is director of the Office of Communications. Murtaugh most recently served as director of communications for Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.

-- Michawn Rich, a Nevada native, is the deputy director of the Office of Communications and press secretary. Rich had worked for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and also worked for Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's re-election campaign.

Perdue also will testify Wednesday, May 17, before the House Agriculture Committee on the state of the rural economy. In announcing the hearing, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said, "The farm economy is in the midst of a four-year, 50% decline, and it is against that backdrop that Gov. Sonny Perdue was confirmed as the 31st United States secretary of agriculture.'

"Secretary Perdue will share his perspective on the economic outlook in rural America along with his vision for USDA and the role it will play in ensuring that our country continues to enjoy the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food supply in the world," Conaway said.

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

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Jerry Hagstrom