Tom Dorr resigned as USDA Undersecretary of Rural Development effective Dec. 1, 2008. He says the past two weeks have given him the opportunity to step back, catch his breath and reflect on both what's been accomplished but more importantly on what lies down the road.
Dorr says one thing that is important for anyone to be able to appreciate is the transition process and the way in which both the Bush and Obama Administration have gone after this is really remarkable.
"There's been some very effective briefings put together; some good transition processes," Dorr says. "Obviously we don't always all agree on everything, but by in large it has been a very smooth transition at least from my vantage point; what I was able to witness while I was still at USDA."
Going forward, Dorr says there are still a number of challenges but a number of opportunities as well. Dorr says the 2008 Farm Bill is a fairly dynamic device that begins to dramatically transition into specialty crops, more conservation, and more risk management strategies. All of that augers quite well for an expanding or strengthening economic model throughout rural areas, because that's acknowledging we're going to use more technology, we're going to increase productivity and that energy ultimately is going to be a major component of what we do in rural areas.
"If that is the case; if that's where we go then you know we have to begin looking at a number of the substantive policy issues," Dorr says. "They are going to impact how we develop these rural, renewable alternative energy sources in conjunction with the greenhouse gas issues and in conjunction with sustainable agricultural practices and a whole array of issues."
One issue concerning the 2008 Farm Bill that is likely to be dealt with is payment limitations. A major sticking point during negotiations of the bill, there has been a lot of talk about reopening the bill to address payment limitations.
"I don't think there's any question that budget constraints are clearly going to require the Administration, regardless of whether it was Republican or Democratic to go back in and revisit the issue," Dorr says. "If you look at the demand for energy, both liquid fuels and power, that has some real significance in addressing the farm payment limitation issues. I think what we're going to see is these new demands are going to facilitate the transition into the kinds of agriculture that are sustainable and yet that also provide the kind of income support that's necessary to have a strong vibrant agriculture community."
As far as changes to rural development policy are concerned, Dorr doesn't see broad changes occurring.
"The one thing I've learned in this position is that regardless of what people say on the stump these changes are gradual," Dorr says. "Generally the people implementing the changes are really pretty thoughtful. I think one of the biggest challenges that we have in this country right now is to try to affect a more bipartisan tone to address both the challenges, but in my view to capitalize on the opportunities we have."
Dorr says that everything he has seen so far suggests that the Obama Administration has been pretty thoughtful in the people that they have put into announced positions.
"If that continues and we look at these things in the context of what's not just good for our role internationally but also what is sound environmental, sound energy and sound economic policy for us. I think these things are collaborative, I don't think they are exclusive," Dorr says. "My sense is that there are a lot of people who are very committed to trying to capture the value in these opportunities and want to make them work. And until I see otherwise I'm inclined to believe that we can work through these things."