USDA Secretary Vilsack’s Leadership of the Supply Chain Task Force – All Hat and No Cattle

Agriculture Secretary AWOL from Task Force While Calling for Investigation of Private Sector

January 20, 2023

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Functional Government Initiative announced findings from litigation around the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) response to the ongoing supply chain crisis. Records obtained show that Secretary Vilsack’s leadership of the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force was not only lacking – it was nonexistent.

Amidst much fanfare, in June 2021, the White House announced the creation of the “Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force” to address “structural weaknesses in both domestic and international supply chains [that] threaten America’s economic and national security.” The Administration explained that the Task Force would take a “whole of government approach” to tackling these threats and assigned the secretaries of Agriculture, Transportation, and Commerce to lead the effort. USDA proudly announced Secretary Tom Vilsack’s selection as co-chair of the Task Force that would “convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions—large and small, public or private—that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints related to the economy’s reopening….” Secretary Vilsack also touted the robust role he expected the Task Force to play.

FGI submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the records of Secretary Vilsack or anyone else he delegated to participate in the Task Force meetings. After more than five months after the request, only after FGI filed a federal lawsuit, USDA produced a “final” response of merely 19 pages, 14 pages of which copies of the public statements from the White House and USDA. While USDA has indicated these are all the records they have on the topic, none were dated after the Task Force’s creation and no records exist to evidence Secretary Vilsack or any of his deputies participating in – much less co-chairing – the Task Force.

Notably, the Task Force itself seems to have been disrupted by the absence of another of its “co-leaders,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose official calendars from his two-month paternity leave show he apparently also participated in no Task Force meetings during that time.

Interestingly, while the USDA appears to be MIA when it came to finding solutions to the supply chain crisis, another ongoing FGI investigation shows USDA was quite active in the effort to target and place political blame on meat producers for empty shelves and rising food prices. Across multiple issues, this appears to be a favorite approach of the current administration’s approach to any type of crisis – investigate the private sector while ignoring any federal policy that may be contributing to out-of-control inflation and supply chain challenges.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“The supposed ‘whole of government’ approach taken by the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force under the leadership of Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack might be more aptly called a ‘hole in government’ approach. As the Administration rightly recognized in creating the Task Force, supply chain issues threaten the economic and national security of the country. Secretary Vilsack’s failure to convene a single meeting with his fellow leaders, while dedicating federal resources to investigate and blame the private sector, shows that the Task Force was little more than a cynical attempt to signal engagement on supply chain disruptions while, in fact, doing little or nothing.”