WASHINGTON (Gray DC) Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue faced questions from members of the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, just four weeks since being sworn into office.
Lawmakers were looking for clarity after Perdue announced a plan that changes the position of a lieutenant that had been focused on rural issues in order to create one focused on trade.
"Will somebody take on the day to day responsibilities of leading rural development with this new structure," asked Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL). "The concern is just the attention that is going to be given to rural, it's a big concern," she continued.
The new secretary defended his decision to eliminate the position which coordinates billions of dollars in loans and grant programs, explaining that an assistant secretary position will spearhead rural development.
“The mission is not going to diminish what so ever," Perdue responded to Bustos. "The people are going to report to this assistant secretary, who will have direct access to the secretary, and I consider that an elevation.”
However, two Minnesota Democrats on the committee worry about the move.
“I was concerned that the last administration, I think did not pay the attention I thought it probably deserved to rural areas," said Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN). "So removing of the position, my first inclination is that I don’t think that’s good."
Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN), the lead Democrat on the Committee says he'll be watching closely.
"He says that the move that he's made will actually increase the influence in rural development, I take that as his word," Rep. Peterson said.
There are a limited number of undersecretaries allowed within the Department of Agriculture. Perdue eliminated the position focused on rural issues in order to create one focused on trade. Some say it’s a good idea.
“I think he did a good job at assuring us on the importance of trade," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE). "That is, I believe the number one issue facing Nebraska. He really pounded that home.”
Perdue says there will be no reduction in staff with this reorganization.