Scope of the Position:

The Deputy Secretary is tasked with implementing the departmental mission of fostering strong rural communities and creating new agricultural markets. Much of this is accomplished through the utilization of the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) annual budget of $156 billion. There is extensive communication between the 17 agencies within the USDA. The Deputy Secretary receives input from outside the Agency on issues and remains up-to-date on current research trends in the agriculture arena.

The position also coordinates day-to-day operations within the Department and efforts across agencies ranging from the Animal and Plant Inspection Office to the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. In recent decades, there has been a push within the Department to expand U.S. agricultural markets overseas. The Deputy Secretary also leads the Department's focus on serving as an advocate for American farmers. This position will remain important in the coming years due to the interminable reliance on the resources provided by the agricultural sector, including food, biofuels, and other natural resources that are used for manufacturing goods.

Illustrative Management Challenges:

In 2011, the USDA began efforts to streamline and improve administrative and operational services. These efforts culminated in the implementation of the Blueprint for Stronger Service (Blueprint). According to the Government Accountability Office, "The four areas targeted by the program include worker's compensation, strategic sourcing (improving procurement and contracting), shared service centers for certain administrative services, and space utilization (improving space management of USDA-owned and leased property)."1 In a recent study, GAO determined that there may be additional opportunities for strengthening the Blueprint through monitoring progress, identifying and tracking benefits, and sharing lessons. These efforts will directly affect the Department's workforce and budget, both of which are managed by the Deputy Secretary. Managing in this changing environment will be increasingly difficult as the Department aims to cut costs and improve facilitation.

Other Departmental Challenges:

In past decades, genetically engineered (GE) foods have become an increasingly controversial issue, garnering attention from both scientific and mainstream press. According to a recent study from the Government Accountability Office, the USDA is falling behind in its preparations to regulate GE crops. It says the "USDA has not updated its regulations to oversee GE crops derived from alternative technologies in which the GE crop developed contains no plant pest DNA."2 Though the USDA intends to update a clear set of GE guidelines, this promise has been out for years, while no timeline has been established. GAO believes increased information gathering and writing clear regulations will provide a springboard for effective growth and proper response to this growing problem.

The USDA operates the largest nutrition assistance program in the nation. In 2014, the management of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program garnered analysis from GAO regarding financial management and fraud motorization. According to the agency's recent report, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that improper payment rates for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have ranged from an estimated 3.2 percent to 5.8 percent of all payments, likely reflecting, in part, certain policy changes and calculation methods." These reports will continue to pose challenging nationwide management efforts to reform and cut back on costs.


     1USDA Administrative Services: Streamlining Efforts Ongoing, but Actions Needed to Monitor Progress, Identify Benefits and Share Lessons Learned;   ; April 14, 2016.    
     2USDA Needs to Enhance Oversight and Better Understand Impacts of Unintended Mixing with Other Crops;; April 14, 2016.      

Deputy Secretaries of Agriculture:

Most Deputy Secretaries of Agriculture come into the job with experience in the agricultural sector, most often with state departments of agriculture, agricultural trade associations, or university agricultural research programs.

Current Incumbent:

Michael Scuse (Acting) (2016-present): Prior to his appointment as Deputy Secretary, Scuse was the Delaware Secretary of Agriculture, President of the Northeast Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and the Vice President of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Scuse began his tenure with the USDA in April 2012 as the Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services.

Previous Deputy Secretaries:

Krysta Harden (2013-2016): She currently is Vice President of Public Policy and Chief Sustainability Officer at DuPont. Major agricultural legislation was passed during Harden's tenure as Deputy Secretary, most notably the 2014 Farm Bill. Prior to her appointment as Deputy Secretary, Harden served as Chief of Staff to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations. 

Kathleen Merrigan (2009-2013): Merrigan currently is Executive Director of Sustainability for George Washington University. During her time as Deputy Secretary she implemented the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative and was a staunch proponent of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign. In 2009, Merrigan made history as the United Nations' first female chair of the Ministerial Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Chuck Conner (2005-2009): He currently is President of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. Prior to serving as Deputy Secretary, he was named the Acting Secretary of Agriculture, a position he held from September 20, 2007, to January 28, 2008. Conner previously served as President of the Corn Refiners Association, Inc. and Special Assistant to the President of the National Economic Council for Agriculture. He began his career working in various positions in the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and serving as an Agricultural Legislative Assistant to Senator Richard Lugar.

Jim Moseley (2001-2005): During his tenure as Deputy Secretary, Moseley prioritized food and agricultural safety needs following the 9/11 attacks, along with international development agricultural challenges. During his extensive career in agricultural policy prior to serving as Deputy Secretary, Moseley served on the National Pork Producer Council's National Pork Dialogue, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and in various capacities at the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Richard Rominger (1993-2001): Rominger currently is an advisor on production agriculture to several universities in the California State University (CSU) system, including California State University Fresno and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also is actively involved in the leadership of various state agricultural groups, such as the California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment. Leading to up his tenure as Deputy Secretary, Rominger served as California's Secretary of Food and Agriculture from 1977-1982.

Ann Veneman (1991-1993): Veneman currently is the Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Prevention Initiative and prior to that she served as Executive Director of UNICEF for five years. Veneman served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 2001-2005; her previous tenure as California's Secretary of Food and Agriculture paved the way for her appointment to Secretary of Agriculture. Before her return to government for the Secretary position, Veneman spent time working in the private sector at the law firm and lobbying group Patton, Boggs, & Blow. Veneman was the first female Deputy Secretary for the USDA when she was appointed in 1991.

Additional Resources: