Tom Vilsack was sworn in as the 30th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on January 21, 2009. Appointed by President Barack Obama, Vilsack received unanimous support for his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Secretary Vilsack has served in the public sector at nearly every level of government, beginning as mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1987, and then as state senator in 1992. In 1998, he was the first Democrat elected Governor of Iowa in more than 30 years, an office he held for two terms.
As Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack has been candid and direct about the challenges and opportunities facing USDA, and the importance of fulfilling the vast missions of the Department as a champion of rural America, a steward of the environment and a protector of our food supply.
Already, Agriculture Secretary, he has helped to implement the Recovery Act to create thousands of jobs, instituted reforms at USDA that will save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and met with foreign governments to begin to establish food security across the globe. Vilsack has also made civil rights a top priority, taking definitive action to improve the Department's record and to move USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.
At USDA, Secretary Vilsack is working to ensure that America's forests and private working lands are conserved and restored to enhance water resources and help lead in the battle against climate change. USDA has implemented programs that create private sector jobs protecting and rehabilitating forests and wetlands.
Under Vilsack's leadership, USDA is working to promote a safe and nutritious food supply for all Americans and to end child hunger by 2015. Already, the Department has implemented an increase in SNAP, its main food assistance program, to benefit families in need with an additional $80 per month. And for the first time ever, USDA is providing healthy fruits and vegetables to women and their infant children to encourage nutritious eating, combat the obesity epidemic, and prevent health problems down the road.
USDA is working to revitalize and create wealth in rural communities by expanding economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers and investing in infrastructure like houses, fire departments and health clinics that will stimulate local economies and create jobs. We are ensuring that America is the world leader in sustainable crop production, by conducting cutting edge agricultural research by maintaining an appropriate safety net for America's small and mid-sized farmers.
Throughout his time as Governor, Vilsack articulated a vision for making Iowa the Food Capital of the World and focusing on creating economic opportunity in rural communities and small towns through value-added agriculture. As Governor, he created the Iowa Food Policy Council to advance local food systems, enhance family farm profitability, and combat hunger and malnutrition. He led trade missions to foreign countries to market agricultural products and attended the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to push for expanded agricultural trade negotiations. In addition, he worked to support independent farmers and ranchers by enacting livestock market reform and mandatory price reporting legislation in 1999.
Vilsack was a leader among his colleagues. In addition to serving on the National Governors Association Executive Committee, he also served as chair of the Governors Ethanol Coalition, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and founding member and chair of the Governors Biotechnology Partnership. As chair of the National Governors Association Committee on Natural Resources, Vilsack promoted private lands conservation and advanced the concept of tying farm payments to conservation commodities. Vilsack's national Private Lands, Public Benefits conference focused attention on the need to address conservation challenges by providing incentives to private landowners to implement conservation practices resulting in clean air, clean water, and enhanced wildlife habitat. He also created a comprehensive conservation program in Iowa to encourage and assist landowners in installing buffer strips, restoring wetlands, and rewarding good conservation practices.
During his tenure as Governor, Tom Vilsack initiated a comprehensive effort to increase economic opportunity and create good-paying jobs. He started Vision Iowa, a program to invest in cultural and recreational infrastructure throughout the state. A combination of venture capital initiatives created an entrepreneurial environment for innovation and new ideas to get started; and the Iowa Values Fund provided an economic growth strategy focused on creating and retaining jobs in targeted sectors including life sciences, financial services, and advanced manufacturing. Each of these initiatives created under Vilsack's administration contributed to the rebuilding of local economies in small towns and rural communities across the state.
In addition to state economic investment, Vilsack's leadership and vision were instrumental in transforming Iowa to an energy state. His policies led to the construction of Iowa's first power facility in two decades and made Iowa a leader in alternative energy and renewable fuels. Vilsack created a regulatory and financial environment in Iowa for wind energy to develop to the point that it now makes up 5.5% of the state's generation, the largest percentage of any state. Iowa also emerged as a leader in the production of ethanol and biodiesel during his tenure.
Throughout his public service, Tom Vilsack has pursued an agenda dedicated to the principles of opportunity, responsibility, and security. He is recognized as an innovator on children's issues and education, economic and healthcare policy, and efforts to make government more efficient and accessible. Iowa is known for its strong K-12 education system in part due to Vilsack's initiatives. He developed aggressive early childhood programs, reduced class sizes, created a first-in-the-nation salary initiative to improve teacher quality and student achievement, and enacted a more rigorous high school curriculum. His leadership also led to Iowa becoming a national leader in health insurance coverage, with more than 90% of children covered.
A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Vilsack was born into an orphanage and adopted in 1951. He received a bachelor's degree from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, in 1972 and earned his law degree from Albany Law School in 1975. He moved to Mt. Pleasant - his wife, Christie's, hometown - where he practiced law. The Vilsacks have two adult sons, Jess and Doug, who both grew up in Mt. Pleasant, and a daughter-in-law, Kate, who's married to Jess.