New faces at USDA

It has been a little over a year into Sonny Perdue’s tenure as the U.S. Agriculture secretary. By most accounts, he has had a pretty successful year in office. Compared to other agencies within the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been relatively void of scandal—and that’s just how we like it.

USDA has recently gone through several senior-level staff shakeups. USDA Chief of Staff Heidi Green is leaving to return home to Georgia. Green has been a longtime friend and colleague of Perdue’s since the early 2000s when Perdue transitioned to be governor of Georgia.

Though Green will be leaving, her shoes will be filled quickly with someone who knows agriculture in and out. You may recall Ray Starling, who has served on President Trump’s National Economic Council as the Special Assistant for Agriculture, Trade, and Food Assistance, since early 2017. He is moving to USDA to replace Green.

Starling is well-respected within Washington agriculture circles. He grew up on a farm in North Carolina, worked in multiple capacities for U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, and served as general counsel to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, among other agricultural law ventures.

Larry Kudlow, director of the President’s National Economic Council, said Starling is “a trusted adviser on issues near and dear to the heart of the American farmer,” adding, “Secretary Perdue has gained a fierce advocate for agriculture.”

I’m hopeful President Trump replaces Starling’s position quickly, as he needs now more than ever a sound and knowledgeable go-to source for agriculture policy.

Another familiar name you may remember—Sam Clovis. Clovis was nominated by President Trump to be the USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. He eventually withdrew his name due to mounting criticism for past controversial remarks and lack of science background. Clovis remained at USDA in a senior advisor capacity that does not require Senate confirmation. Clovis recently left USDA to head back home to Iowa.

Though it may appear that a lot of folks are leaving USDA, it’s important to note that unlike other parts of the country, a year or two can be a long time to stay in one job in Washington, especially a government job.

It appears that just a few months, sometimes days, is the going tenure now for senior-level federal government workers in the executive branch. At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alone, several hundreds of staffers have quit since President Trump took office. Depending on how you look at it that can be a good or bad thing. However, it doesn’t help the day-to-day function of the federal government to have constant staff turnover.

Even within the White House, high staff turnover seems to be commonplace.

Secretary Perdue must be the exception. He’s keeping his staff around for more than a year, and equally as important, quickly filling vacancies with highly qualified and respected folks.

Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.