During his confirmation hearing, Tom Vilsack outlined priorities he would like to see the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) address. The Senate Agriculture Committee also questioned Vilsack on a variety of issues including COVID-19 relief, biofuels, discrimination, and trade. In his opening address to the committee, Vilsack highlighted a philosophy and challenge put forth by Robert Kennedy.
“Some people look at things as they are and say ‘why?’ And others dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’ I think we are faced today with a number of ‘why not?’ opportunities and moments in agriculture, in the food industry, and in rural America,” said Vilsack during his virtual testimony. “I realize that I’m back again, but I also realize that this a fundamentally different time.”
Prior to answering questions from committee members, Vilsack outlined four specific ‘why not?’ moments he believed to be significant priorities for USDA. One area of focus is addressing inequities within USDA programs. Vilsack also noted that he would like to lead the department in providing more food security and meeting nutritional needs. “I think we create a food system that makes healthy and nutritious food more available, more convenient, and more affordable for all Americans,” Vilsack noted.
Climate change was a subject that came up repeatedly during the confirmation hearing. Vilsack pointed out several ways USDA can help contribute to efforts to mitigate climate change. “I think there’s an opportunity for us to create new markets, incentives for soil health, for carbon sequestration, for methane capture and reuse,” said Vilsack.
Finally, Vilsack highlighted markets as another ‘why not?’ opportunity for USDA to address. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on markets on a global scale. Vilsack believes that investment in the domestic food supply chain and how it relates to the global market can help strengthen American communities. “I think we can support more marketing and processing opportunities and facilities throughout the country that will help to create jobs, greater resilience, and more competitiveness in our food system,” Vilsack explained.
The committee voted to advance his nomination to once again lead the USDA. Vilsack is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate in the coming days. Vilsack previously served as Agriculture Secretary for eight years in the Obama administration.