WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the hearing to consider the nomination of Xochitl Torres Small to serve as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Good morning. Thank you, Chairwoman Stabenow, for holding today’s hearing to consider the nomination of Xochitl Torres Small to be the deputy secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. I would like to welcome Under Secretary Torres Small back to the committee this morning.
As the second most senior official at the department, the deputy has significant responsibilities over nearly 100,000 employees, 29 agencies and 4,500 locations in the U.S. and abroad. Managing such a large and sprawling agency is not easy. Upon your confirmation, you will have your work cut out for you, but you will also have an opportunity to improve the operations of the department at a pivotal time.
Regardless of agency, employee, or location, our farmers, ranchers, schools, food banks, rural communities—all individuals and organizations that work with USDA – deserve to have clarity and certainty at the end of every interaction with USDA. This committee deserves that too. As deputy, a focus on creating a culture of transparency, accountability and responsiveness will make that a reality.
To this day, USDA has been unable or unwilling to accurately tell the committee how billions of dollars provided during the pandemic have been spent and what remains unspent. We have asked for this information in emails and letters to the agency, only to have the correspondence go unanswered.
The lack of transparency about USDA’s spending, the lack of a meaningful response to Congress and the lack of accountability by USDA is troubling. Let me be clear, I do not believe you are responsible for this specific issue, but as the deputy you must provide leadership to USDA’s appointed officials and the career agency heads and create a culture of accountability.
We have heard over and over again that USDA’s application processes are too complicated for the citizens and rural communities that need access to them. I know this is a concern that you share within the rural development programs and, just recently, in a subcommittee hearing held by Senator Bennet and Senator Marshall, we heard very similar comments regarding conservation programs. I have also heard from scores of farmers in Arkansas and around the country about the administrative burden required to access Farm Service Agency programs.
If USDA embraces transparency, accountability and responsiveness, the department can not only correct these issues, but meaningfully improve the experience of those that access these programs. Should legislative changes be necessary, I will gladly work with you to ensure that programs throughout USDA are being delivered in a timely and efficient manner. Legislative changes without a change to the department’s culture, however, will not yield the desired results.
I have greatly enjoyed working with you as you have served rural development. I have appreciated your thoughtfulness and your willingness to take the time to visit Arkansas to understand the issues my state faces—and for that matter to visit so many areas around the country and do the same thing. I believe you are well-qualified to serve as the deputy secretary. I look forward to hearing more from you today and a swift confirmation process.