WASHINGTON, March 27, 2013 – Dallas Tonsager, under secretary of agriculture for rural development, said today that he is leaving May 3 after nearly four years in the job. He did not announce future plans but said that he has “some great opportunities,” mostly in Washington.
“I have been a political appointee for 17 of the last 22 years in three administrations – eight years as state director of rural development [in South Dakota during the Clinton Administration] and four years as under secretary. I really do need a new challenge.”
Asked about rumors of the last two weeks that he was asked to leave, he told Agri-Pulse in a telephone interview, “I’m not going to talk about my conversations with the secretary. He’s been incredibly helpful. It’s been a very positive circumstance.” He said that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack “has been incredibly helpful for me in my search for a new challenge.”
Tonsager, who owns a farm near Oldham in eastern South Dakota, was a member of the Farm Credit Administration Board during the Bush Administration and was an early leader of the Obama presidential campaign in rural areas. He co-chaired the transition committee at USDA before his nomination and confirmation as under secretary in early 2009.
“It has been a remarkable four years” at USDA, he said. With loans and grants of $130 billion in four years, “we put out more money than any four years in history” even as the number of employees in the rural development agencies shrank by 18 percent.
“As you might expect, I can’t say enough good about my state directors and staff,” he said.
Most people don’t seem to know much about us [in rural development]. We don’t get as much attention, but we are major players in every state – in many states more than a billion dollars a year. Our rural housing programs helped put a floor under housing prices during the recession.”
In addition to his federal service in rural development, Tonsager was executive director of the South Dakota Value-Added Agricultural Development Center from 2002 to 2004, assisting farmer-owned ventures such as ethanol production. He served two terms as president of the South Dakota Farmers Union.
“Dallas Tonsager’s efforts as under secretary for rural development have helped increase opportunity for thousands of rural families, businesses and communities," Vilsack said in a statement. "Dallas’s service to the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Obama Administration was the latest part of a distinguished career of service to agriculture and rural America. I’m proud of the work we have achieved together and I wish Dallas the best in his future endeavors.”
USDA’s web site says the rural development agencies – the Rural Utilities Service, rural housing and rural business and cooperatives units – consist of 6,100 employees in 500 offices across the country. Its business, housing and infrastructure loans reach $132 billion with an estimated $20 billion annually to support rural economic and community development.
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