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USDA First Friday: USDA provides stability for America

USDA seal (new 2022)

Good morning,

Over the holidays I spent some much-needed time with my friends and family. Like many, we reminisced about our experiences and talked about things to come in 2023. As so often happens at family gatherings—aside from who has grown, who makes the best pie, who has the better sports team and how school is going—our conversations wandered into the possibilities of the new year. Some of us make resolutions (or vision boards as the younger generations call it) to help us focus and create goals for the new year. Others may choose to experience the year as it comes. Whatever the approach, we can be sure of one thing—change. Change continues to be a theme for all of us—individually, within our families and communities, as an organization and in our country. How we respond to change demonstrates our character and resilience. And, how we create necessary change is also powerful. The late U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright once said:

“What people have the capacity to choose, they have the ability to change.” 

As we prepare for another chapter of our lives and our time at USDA, let’s continue to center our humanity and mission in all we do, during times of stability and during uncertainty.
This is also a time to remind ourselves that much has been done to build America better and there is a great deal of optimism for the future of our great country. There are examples of how we remain optimistic, creative and innovative across USDA and these help us step into our purpose like never before. That optimism is rooted here at USDA in the work you all do. Here are a few examples of where USDA work is shining through:

  • America has a strong independent energy sector that is growing and diversifying every day; by contrast, Europe is struggling with an energy crisis. This past year, through USDA, America invested heavily in projects that increase American energy independence. Just this past month, Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program team announced a $285 million investment to help farmers, ag producers and entrepreneurs in 46 states purchase and install renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements. These projects increase the private sector supply of renewable energy and decrease the demand for energy through energy efficiency improvements like the installation of solar, purchases for energy efficient equipment, hydroelectric projects, wind projects, biofuel development, biofuel storage and distribution projects and others. Over time, these investments will lower the cost of energy for small businesses and agricultural producers. This work that you support as a USDA employee ensures that our energy sectors are stable while other nations face uncertainty due to their dependence.
  • Here in the United States, most households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living. While some Americans do experience food insecurity, our SNAP, WIC, School Meals and other FNS programs ensure that children, single parents, individuals with disabilities, the elderly, veterans and many other eligible participants have enough to eat. Without these programs, the number of food insecure households would be much higher. Nutrition programs like SNAP also support and stabilize our rural economies. ERS analysis found that expenditures of $71.0 billion of SNAP benefits (in 2014 dollars) generated an annual increase in rural economic output of $49 billion and an urban output of $149 billion while supporting the employment of 279,000 rural workers and 811,000 urban workers. By contrast, and as noted by USDA economists Abrehe Zereyesus and Lila Cardell, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and rising input costs are attributed with creating food insecurity for 42 million of the total 118.7 million people who were characterized as being food insecure in 2022.
  • The United States unemployment rate was 3.7%, which is near its lowest level in the last 50 years. Additionally, wages are rising. In contrast, globally, over the next year, the International Monetary Fund is projecting an increase in unemployment rates for 2023, with South Africa, Sudan, Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Greece and a few others heading into the new year with rates over 10% (some significantly over). With the help of USDA, Rural America has become more economically diverse and stable over time, with increasing employment in healthcare, hospitality and other service industries. Agriculture and food sectors still contribute significantly. The latest analysis shows that in 2020, 19.7 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors—10.3% of total U.S. employment. Additionally, the rural workforce has also become more diverse. The Forest Service, Rural Development, our Farm Production and Conservation agencies, research and grants from REE, and marketing programs managed by AMS all create job stability and new jobs for millions of Americans including historically underserved populations.
New Under Secretary Jose Emilio Esteban shakes hands with Secretary Vilsack on stage after swearing in ceremony at USDA headquarters.
In the past few weeks, we swore in Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Jose Emilio Esteban (pictured above) and Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor. We welcome them to the USDA team. USDA photo by Chrisophe Paul.

It’s clear that USDA and our employees are central to the Biden-Harris Administration’s strategies to ensure American prosperity during this time of global uncertainty.  I could talk about: the importance of our FSIS employees to ensuring our food is safe; the importance of our Forest Service’s work to support rural economies through fire safety, recreation and infrastructure development; the importance of our food distribution and marketing supported by AMS; how our FAS agricultural trade programs impact global economics and food security; and much more. However, I think you understand the point. Whether you are the employee responsible for ensuring clean and hygienic offices, drafting correspondence, or managing records, an economist analyzing our programs and the results of USDA policy, a food safety inspector, a conservationist, an accountant, a program administrator or you fill any other of the many job roles at USDA—YOU are securing America’s future and creating stability for American families at a time when geopolitics, economics and climate cause uncertainty for the rest of the world.

This year we will face challenges as a nation, but there is a global consensus that the United States is well-positioned to cross these murky waters.  We have you and your families to thank for that. Let us charge into the new year together with enthusiasm. Your continued dedication and optimism are infectious. Your actions create ripples that are felt across the globe and remind everyone that the United States is resilient.
Happy New Year.

With much appreciation,

Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack

Banner: USDA's 99th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. U.S. Agriculture: Seeds of growth through innovation. February 23-24, 2023.

USDA employees are invited to USDA’S Agricultural Outlook Forum. The forum will be held in person Feb. 23-24, 2023, at the Crystal City Gateway Marriott, Arlington, Virginia, and all sessions will be livestreamed. For more information, see the forum's program at a glance.

See this and other announcements on OneUSDA.

For more department photos, see our Flickr photostream.