Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 - 16:13
First called the People’s Department by President Lincoln,
the United States Department of Agriculture is a diverse and
complex organization. From enhancing economic opportunities
for agricultural producers to protecting the nation’s food
supply to improving nutrition and health, the USDA supports
programs that touch the lives of most Americans every day.
On Managing the USDA
The USDA was created in 1862 by an Act of Congress that was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln; it’s referred to as the “People’s Department.” It’s a wonderful place and a very large place. We have three big buildings in D.C. on the Mall, but we also have offices around the country and around the world. We manage a budget of about $145 billion. When most people think about USDA, they may think of farmers/ranchers [who are key USDA stakeholders]. Yet, what people may not realize is that nearly two-thirds of USDA’s budget is for nutrition assistance programs. We operate the nation’s food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNA P). The department is also involved in the national school meals programs, so the bulk of the USDA budget goes to support of national nutrition assistance programs. Interestingly, USDA is also the fifth-largest employer in the federal government.
Given my background and experience, I have a particular role in this administration leading efforts on building local and regional food systems. President Obama recognizes that we need to invest more in local/regional food systems. I’ve had great pleasure working on that and all the issues around childhood obesity and childhood hunger with the First Lady. However, as a political appointee, I’m also very cognizant that the sands of time are running through the hourglass. Given my previous experience as an agency administrator during the Clinton administration, I understand that you really have to set priorities. It’s quite challenging with all the things pressing upon us today. It’s important to have that laser focus and know how to manage your time to [concentrate on] your key strategic priorities.
Read more of this interview.