USDA secretary favors strong link between performance measures and goals

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes results-oriented management is central to running his department effectively -- and technology and federal employees are essential to that effort.

"Tying what we do to specific articulated results is a very important function of what the management side of this agency has to do," Vilsack said in a March 17 interview with Government Executive. "To do that not only requires a commitment by leadership to make that happen, the president has been very clear in his expectation in that respect."

The former Iowa governor, who became Agriculture secretary in January, said he wants to improve performance measures to achieve results the public expects, including a safer food safety system, more vibrant rural communities and jobs, and greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to prosper.

Vilsack also said that he and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., both understand that achieving good performance at USDA requires modern technology. "It is frustrating to farmers and ranchers who want to be able to access information that we are still in a more paper orientation than a technology orientation. It is also frustrating that it seems to people it takes forever to implement the farm bill and the recovery and investment act, because we have to rewrite old, old software so that it is available to calculate the new programs."

The third component of managing USDA well, Vilsack said, is to recognize that the department's workforce is aging and that many employees will retire during the next few years. Vilsack pointed out that 54 percent of USDA's workforce is older than 45, compared with 41 percent of workers in the general population who are over 45.

"We have to look forward and say to ourselves, 'What does this mean?'" he said. "What do we have to do in terms of institutional knowledge? What does that mean for USDA?"

Peterson noted in a recent interview that Vilsack took a great interest in management when he was Iowa governor and eliminated several agencies during his tenure. Peterson, who believes that management at USDA has been deficient for years, would like to look into reorganizing the department. The last restructuring at USDA occurred in 1994 during the Clinton administration.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.