Bill Hawks Resigns as USDA Under Secretary

Future plans still unknown although returning to Mississippi politics is a possibility. Eva Ann Dorris

Published on: Jun 9, 2005

USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced the resignation Tuesday of Under Secretary of Agriculture Bill Hawks, a lifelong Mississippi resident and former large-scale row crop farmer from Hernando.

He was appointed to the USDA position by President George Bush. Hawks served as Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs and during his tenure provided leadership to such issues as the BSE disease in cattle and ongoing and vital trade talks with major importers of U.S. commodities.

"Over the past four years, Bill worked on some of USDA's most challenging issues to protect and promote U.S. agriculture in the areas of animal and plant disease at home and abroad, while also helping the Bush administration's efforts to break down sanitary and phytosanitary barriers to U.S. exports," said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. "Bill has agreed to continue to serve in the coming months as we identify a replacement. I thank him for his service and wish him well in all his future endeavors."

Politics still a possibility

In an interview with Hawks the day after the resignation, he didn’t tip his hand to his future plans, but he did wish to dispel some rumors about his future he says at this point don’t appear to be realistic opportunities.

"For one, I won’t be returning to Mississippi to run against Commissioner Spell," he said, although, Hawks didn’t rule out a return to Mississippi politics as a possible candidate in another race.

Hawks was narrowly defeated by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck in the 1999 election for the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Hawks ran as a Republican and Tuck as a Democrat before she switched political parties.

Hawks says it’s too soon after his resignation and he still has much work to do before his replacement is named to speculate openly about what his next career challenge will be. "It’s just too preliminary to know which direction I will take," he says. "Right now all options are open."

As part of the requirement of Hawks’ appointment to under secretary he disbursed his vast farming land and equipment in DeSoto County, Miss., and therefore says he doesn’t anticipate a return to farming.

"I’m not in a position to totally dismiss anything, but I honestly don’t see how I could return to farming at this point.

"I obviously love Mississippi, and I love politics. Perhaps at some point there will be a place in Mississippi politics for me, but my term as under secretary has opened a new world of ideas, opportunities and challenges of agriculture I wasn’t always aware of," he says. "For now, I have a full schedule to keep, and it will be business as usual for the next few months."

Moving on from what he's learned

According to Hawks, his resignation was a realization that it "was time for me to seek other opportunities.

"I can’t begin to tell you all I’ve learned about American agriculture and the importance of our relationships with other countries that need and buy our products. Agriculture throughout this nation is a remarkable industry. I learned way more than I imagined I could and will take that knowledge with me into my next endeavor.

"I’ve also gained an even greater respect for our trading partners and the sensitive nature of dealing with foreign buyers of our commodities. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Everything we do for ag has to be a meshing of communication between farmers, processors, buyers, importers, regulatory agencies, commodity organizations, etc."

One of Hawks’ most memorable events was the confirmation of BSE in the United States.

"I know we handled that situation extremely well," he says. "But now it’s time to put the possibility of BSE infection into perspective. The risk of BSE in our cattle is so low and it’s out of proportion with the money we’ve spent to identify it, trace it back and monitor it."

In his letter of resignation to President Bush, Hawks wrote of the privilege it had been to serve the administration and the people of the United States.

"Our program area has achieved many of the initiatives under your management agenda," wrote Hawks. "U.S. farmers continue offering the highest quality products; producing them at the lowest possible cost while attempting to earn a fair price for them in the domestic and international market place.

"We made great progress during the past four years, and I realize challenges remain for our nation’s diverse farm sector. However, I feel now is an appropriate time for me to move on to new opportunities and allow others an opportunity for public service," said Hawks.

"I appreciate your confidence in me to serve in your administration. I acknowledge and sincerely thank the members of the U.S. Senate who confirmed my nomination, the innumerable fellow farmers and ranchers I met throughout the country during my service and an incredibly knowledgeable, capable and devoted staff at USDA," he said.