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Overview:

Covering more than 75% of the nation’s total landmass, rural America is home to only 50 million people. Formerly defined by the agricultural industry, rural areas are increasingly diverse, requiring a varied approach to development that addresses traditional problems caused by isolation, poverty and lack of infrastructure and community resources—as well as modernization and integration projects such as the government’s recent investments in broadband and general focus on business development.

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) office, often referred to  as the “venture capitalist” for rural America, consolidates a number of agencies with roots in the Great Depression that were successful over the years in supporting the agriculture industry, electrifying rural America and building community resources.

 

RD’s mission is “assisting rural communities to create prosperity by providing financial and technical assistance to rural residents, businesses, and private and public entities for a broad range of purposes that bring prosperity and better living to Rural America,” which it approaches through more than 40 rural development programs focusing on housing, community facilities, water and waste management, business and technological development, among other areas. It claims $91 billion in investments in rural home ownership, business development and community and technological infrastructure between 2001 and 2008, with more than 1.7 million jobs created or saved as a result. Speaking in 2008, then-RD Under Secretary Thomas C. Dorr noted that the agency’s loan and loan guarantee portfolio exceeds $100 billion for the first time in history. In FY 2012, RD claims to have a $155 billion portfolio of loans and expects to administer $20 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants through its programs.

 

Since The Washington Post broke the story in April 2007, RD has come under increasing criticism for the fact that the vast majority of its budget actually goes to metropolitan areas, including resort and retirement developments—more than three times the amount provided to poor or shrinking rural areas.

 

Dorr was once forced to pay fines for violating the rules of the very agency he once headed.

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History:

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Resettlement Administration to help relocate families stricken by the Depression, to address soil-erosion and to provide emergency funding for farmers. The Administration’s functions were expanded to include funding for housing, community projects and business development when Congress established the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) in 1946. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA, established 1935, integrated into USDA in 1939) also contributed to rural development through electrification, telephone and telecommunications—and most recently, Internet services.

 

“Rural policy as an identified congressional concern, however, may be dated to the 1972 Rural Development Act, an amendment to the Consolidated Farmers Home Administration Act of 1961,” according to congressional sources.

 

The USDA Rural Development agency was created as part of a 1994 Department reorganization, in which former FmHA’s “non-farm financial programs for rural housing, community facilities, water and waste disposal and rural businesses,” as well as the former REA’s utility programs, were consolidated under the authority of Rural Development.

A Brief History of Farmers Home Administration (pdf)

 

At that time, the Rural Development mission was divided into three components. Because these three are closely aligned, they are commonly referred to as the USDA Rural Development, Business & Cooperative Programs. They are:

 

1. Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS). Its mission is to "to enhance the quality of life for rural Americans by providing leadership in building competitive businesses including sustainable cooperatives that can prosper in the global marketplace."

2. Rural Housing Service (RHS). This service is responsible for providing safe, sanitary, and affordable housing for very-low-income, low-income, and moderate-income rural families.

3. Rural Utilities Service (RUS). It traces its roots directly to the REA (mentioned above).

 

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What it Does:

With a $155 billion loan portfolio, Rural Development (RD) administers $20 billion in program loans, loan guarantees, and grants. There are more than 40 separate programs, which include low-interest housing operations, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-backed loans for businesses and grants for communities and non-profit groups.

 

Utilities/Water/Telecom Programs

Electric services are historically and currently an integral part of rural development. According to the USDA, rural America “currently enjoys high-quality electric service.”

 

Most rural electric utilities are cooperatives, serving 11% of the population and 75% of the country’s total land mass. Average service coverage is 10,000 customers (as compared with typical investor-owned utilities, which service an average of 315,000), who are mostly residential, more sparsely distributed and tend to have different demands and peak use schedules. This makes rural utilities costly, requiring extra capacity and larger per-capita investment to serve peak demand.

 

Recent policy initiatives to restructure the electric market have caused price increases—and controversy. The RD has begun to shift focus toward business development that incorporates alternative energy sources and production.

 

In 2000, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Internet access was 62% for urban households and 53.7% in rural areas.

ERS Digital Economy Briefing Room

 

But advances in technology now make access to broadband the key measurement of Internet usage and the NTIA says, according to 2010 census figures, that rural areas lag significantly behind urban areas, 65.9% to 51%.

 

Water investment is also more costly in rural areas (which are sparsely populated with a limited tax base), requiring higher per capita investments for development, environmental compliance and maintenance costs for drinking water and wastewater treatment operations.

Economic Impact of Water/Sewer Facilities in Rural and Urban Communities (pdf)

 

Budget: FY 2013, the presidential budget includes $6.1 billion for RD electric programs; $25 million for distance learning and telemedicine; and $22 million for broadband programs. Water and waste disposal spending for FY 2013 is a proposed $1 billion in direct loans and $415 million in grants.

 

Telecommunications Loans and Grants include broadband loans, community connections grants, distance learning and telemedicine, rural and public television grants, among other loans and grants.

Rural Development Strategies: Infrastructure

 

USDA Announces Rural Broadband Loans (by Meghan Grebner, Brownfield Ag News for

            America)

Detailed Information on the Rural Development Broadband Loan and Loan Guarantee Program Assessment (Office of Management and Budget)

Rural Broadband Loan Program (pdf)

 

Housing and Community Facilities

 

Community development programs tend to focus on activities like fostering community organizations and infrastructure to encourage leadership, cohesion and involvement rather than economic development. Programs are also meant to target high-poverty and isolated areas, and encourage private sector development and investment. Specific programs deal with housing stress and offer rental assistance.

 

Budget: FY 2013, the presidential budget requests approximately $1.486 billion in budget authority for a $28.3 billion program encompassing all rural housing services. (Those numbers were $1.4 billion and $26.7 billion respectively FY 2012.) Some $320 million in budget authority and $12.9 billion of the total program in 2009 were one-year-only costs associated with the Recovery Act passed to deal with the financial downturn.

 

Further Reading: USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) offers information on community development issues, which underscore rural development community programs. (See AllGovs ERS pageDevelopment at the Urban Fringe and Beyond: Impacts on Agriculture and Rural Land, Rural Areas Benefit From Recreation and Tourism Development, One in Four Nonmetro Households are Housing Stressed, The Two Faces of Rural Population Loss Through Outmigration, U.S. Farm Structure: Declining -- But Persistent -- Small Commercial Farms and Debt Landscape for U.S. Farms Has Shifted.

Rural Development Housing and Community Facilities Programs

 

For more information on Housing and Community Facilities:

Nonprofit Opportunities
Lender Opportunities
Developer Opportunities
Individual and Family Opportunities
Information for Existing Borrowers

Income and Property Eligibility

Guaranteed Home Loan Opportunities

                                                     

Also, the Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Community program (EZ/EC) provides community-based grants.

 

USDA’s Rural and Community Development

 

Business and Cooperative Programs

Business development programs aim at building industry, attracting investment, and helping rural economies integrate in national/global economies. There are a wide range of approaches and assistance programs offered by RD. See the USDA general approaches for support to business development.

 

The FY 2013, the presidential budget requests $132 million in budget authority for $986 million in Rural Business-Cooperative Services. That compares to $364 million and $1.3 billion, respectively, FY2012.

 

USDA RD Business Programs include:

Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan (B&I) Program

Intermediary Relending Program (IRP)
Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) Program
Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG)
 

Biorefinery Assistance Program (BIOREFINERY)

Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels

 

Repowering Assistance Program

Rural Energy for America Program/Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistant (REAP/EA & REDA)

Rural Energy for America Program/Renewable Energy Systems/Energy Efficiency Improvement Program (REAP/RES/EEI)

Rural Energy for America Program/Feasibility (REAP/FEASIBILITY)

Rural Energy for America Program

Farmbill Initiatives - REAP

Section 9006 Guaranteed Loan Program
 

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program (REEEP)

 

 

Special Initiatives include: Rural Cooperative Development Grants, Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grants, Business Information System Network (BISNet), Biobased Products and Bioenergy Program (BIOMASS) and Community Adjustment and Investment Program (CAIP), among others.

National Rural Development Partnership

Rural Development Regulations

 

Field Offices

State Offices

Rural Development Executive Summary (USDA 2007 Farm Bill Theme Papers) (pdf)

 

From the Web Site of Rural Development

Agencies and Offices

Audio Archives

Business

Community Development

Congressional Testimony

Contact Information

Cooperatives

En Espanol

Energy Programs

Events

Forms

Grants

Help Guide

Housing and Community Assistance

Loans

News Releases

Newsroom

Online Services

Programs and Opportunities

Publications

Regulations and Guidance

Reports

Speeches

Spotlights

Strategic Plan

Success Stories

Technical Assistance

Utilities

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Where Does the Money Go:

Stakeholders include residents of rural areas (including those being developed for retirement and recreation) and metro and suburban areas that qualify for Rural Development (RD) assistance; business investors; utility companies and Internet/technology providers; water and waste treatment industries (also environmental regulators); agricultural and manufacturing industries concentrated in rural areas; alternative fuel industry; politicians pandering to rural base; etc.

 

Recipients of business loans and grants may include individuals, corporations, partnerships, cooperatives, public bodies, nonprofit corporations, Indian tribes, and private companies.

 

The Cooperatives Program serves cooperative members, directors, management, educational institutions, organizations, rural residents, and all others with an interest in the cooperative form of business.

 

Single Family Housing Programs provide home ownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income rural Americans.

 

Multi-Family Housing Programs offer loans to provide rental housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income families; the elderly; and persons with disabilities.

 

Rural Development Success Stories

 

Full Budget Information (pdf)

 

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Controversies:

Shirley Sherrod

On July 19, 2010, Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign her position as Georgia State Director of Rural Development (RD) days after video excerpts were posted online by Andrew Breitbart, blogger and media commentator, which purported to show her making racist remarks to a gathering of the NAACP Freedom Fund. The story was quickly picked up by the national media and evoked widespread condemnation of her inside and out of government, including a tweet from NAACP President Benjamin Jealous that he was “appalled.”

 

However, within days it was established that Sherrod’s videotaped comments had been edited and taken out of context. Sherrod, who is black, was making precisely the opposite point with an uplifting story of how she helped a white family avoid loss of their farm through foreclosure in 1986 while employed at a private advocacy firm for African-American farmers. Most of the media quickly reversed course, President Obama personally called Sherrod to express his “regret” about the controversy and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered her a new job, which she declined.

Shirley Sherrod sues Andrew Breitbart over video he posted that led USDA to fire her (by James

            Oliphant, Los Angeles Times)

 

Rural Development Funds Going to Suburbs Resort Towns

With more than 40 programs under its aegis and growing, the Rural Development division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a quiet but controversial presence, distributing billions of dollars in development aid and loans/loan guarantees. Many observers note what can seem like arbitrary administration of these funds to areas designated by a vague policy definition of “rurality.” The majority of recipient communities are, in fact, not at all rural—but suburban, retirement- or resort-economy-based, and positively metropolitan.

 

USDA officials maintain that they follow regulations as directed by the department and Congress, but those regulations are increasingly confusing or opaque. Rural America covers 75% of the nation’s landmass, and can no longer be predominantly defined (culturally, demographically, or economically) by the agriculture industry. But inconsistent definitions of “rural” lend well to subjective—and ultimately, strategic interpretations.

 

According to an article published in The Washington Post in April 2007, the USDA has doled out in excess of $70 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees through its Rural Development program since 2001. A Post investigation found that more than half of that money has gone to “metropolitan regions or communities within easy commuting distance of a midsize city, including beach resorts and suburban developments.” Metropolitan areas with populations of 50,000 or more received $30.3 billion—more than triple the amount given to poor or shrinking rural counties (which are the ostensible beneficiaries of Rural Development), which received a total of $8.6 billion for the same period. (Even retirement or recreational communities got $8.8 billion).

 

Among the beneficiaries: Providence, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, home to some of the wealthiest beach towns in the country. Such popular destinations, which are located conveniently close to big cities and swell with summering populations (and the resultant tourist economies) and boast exorbitant real estate prices, are somehow eligible for billions of dollars in USDA rural development aid. In addition to the “beach towns from Cape Cod to New Jersey to Florida” that the Post reports “collected federal money for water and sewer systems, town halls and boardwalks,” are the electric and Internet companies awarded low-interest loans to provide for affluent southern suburbs.

 

A long way from the early narrow focus of the Rural Development initiative, whose roots go back to emergency relief for farmers and destitute rural communities in the Great Depression—the breadth and scope of “rural” communities in need has expanded dramatically. Requirements for determining eligibility for RD assistance tend to be quite variable and even subjective, depending on the program itself and leaving room for lawmakers to weigh in. For some programs, assistance is limited to towns with populations below 2,500, but for others numbers can reach up to 50,000, and some census-based decisions can divide eligible communities by street or block.

 

The Post article further argues that, over time, the RD program has “become more complicated, bureaucratic and secretive,” with reporters deferred to central authority in Washington and “heavily redacted” documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which hid loan amounts and recipient locations.

 

Only a day before the Post article was published, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns had proposed changes in the 2007 Farm Bill that would include streamlining RD, with more funds going to rural health care and community facilities, as well as a consolidation of energy grant, business loan, loan guarantee and Community Programs platforms. At the same time, Under Secretary Thomas Dorr announced a $62.9 million provision for distance learning and telemedicine loans, $75 million in loan and grant combinations and $15 million in grants.

 

An analysis of USDA farm program payments and Rural Development funding by the private, non-profit Center for Rural Affairs concluded that “the farm commodity payment system allows larger farm operators and businesses to bypass normal, individual payment limitations through loopholes that allow for the organization of businesses and corporations in a way that leads to the massive payments.”

 

“In total, rural development funding for 260 counties (with over 1,400 incorporated municipalities and nearly 3 million people) received about three-fifths the amount of the 260 top farm program recipients, and for every dollar invested in rural development projects $1.69 goes to one of the individuals or business in the top 20 farm program recipient list.”

 

Measuring Rurality

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Former Directors:

Thomas Dorr, July 2005-May 2009

 

A native of Marcus, Iowa, Thomas C. Dorr earned his BS degree in business administration from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. For more than 30 years, he was president of a family farming and agribusiness company that consisted of a corn and soybean farm, a state-licensed commercial grain elevator and warehouse and two limited liability companies.

 

In 1995, the USDA forced Dorr’s Pine Grove Farm to return $17,000 in federal agricultural subsidies that it had improperly obtained. (And according to the Environmental Working Group, Dorr Farm operations received $466,673 in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2002.) Despite the dubious record, President George W. Bush appointed him Under Secretary in 2001—to the same Department he was found guilty of cheating. Following Dorr’s nomination, another USDA probe found further violations, which Dorr’s farm quieted with another $17,000 in fines. According to a Texans for Justice Report, few Republicans supported Dorr’s nomination, and shortly after his nomination, in 2002, the Senate Agricultural Committee Chair from his home state said, “Mr. Dorr lacks the judgment, outlook and temperament for this very important position.” Senator Tom Harkin was more direct, saying, “As the CEO of a corporation, Mr. Dorr, in filing false information with USDA, does not meet the standard set by President Bush when he signed a new law on corporate responsibility just last week.”

 

Although appointed in 2002, he was not sworn in until July 2005.

 

President Bush had appointed Dorr in 2000 to his Agriculture Department transition team, and invoked temporary recess appointment powers (after Congress went into recess during the summer of 2002) to install Dorr as a USDA undersecretary and as a board member of the Commodity Credit Corp. After his nomination, comments he had made in 1999 on the Iowa State Board of Regents—suggesting that Christian and European backgrounds of certain Iowa farmers “enabled them to succeed”—surfaced amid controversy. The timing was especially poignant because in the same year, the USDA has settled a class-action suit by black farmers who accused the Department of discriminatory lending practices. Other criticisms of the Under Secretary stem from his reported praise of—and policy support for, big agribusiness over family farms.

 

Dorr is currently president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of U.S. barley, corn and sorghum and related products worldwide. Dorr coordinates the Council’s worldwide staff and oversees market development activities in more than 50 countries around the world.

 

NextGenWeb Interview with Thomas Dorr about Internet (YouTube)

Thomas C. Dorr: Bush Donor Profile (Texans for Public Justice)

Jill Long Thompson, 1995-2001

A native of Warsaw, Indiana, Long was appointed by President Bill Clinton. She served until 2001 with the start of the George W. Bush administration.

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Comments

Anonymous (will be harassed) 1 year ago
When was the last time you audited the RD properties in Monroe, LA. How and what the moneys given to Management Co.are not being used to maintain suitable and safe living conditions. You really need to see what's happening here.
Suzanne Zimmerman 3 years ago
As a concerned citizen of Franklin County, I am very much opposed to the $10.2 million USDA loan for Weems Hospital. The citizens cannot shoulder this financial burden. Please don't encumber this debt upon us. Thank you, Suzanne Zimmerman
John Hitron 3 years ago
P.O. Box Y 139 Franklin Street Carrabelle, FL 32322 15 October 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave. S.W Washington, D.C. 20250 ATTN: Rural Development Loans Gentlemen: I am a resident of Franklin County, Florida, and wish to alert you to a county request for a loan of up to $20 million dollars to rebuild a local hospital. I am not sure of where to specifically write, but trust to your judgment to forward this to the proper agency. I URGE you to investigate the allegations of mismanagement of the current facility before any consideration is given to this loan!!! The Board of County Commissioners has given short shrift to any consideration of the recommendations by local citizen groups or past administrators of the current facility. I am attaching several documents pertaining to the situation and ask that you please investigate this potential waste of government / tax dollars on behalf of a facility, its administration and its management that border on malfeasance. A) Letter from the former CEO of Weems Hospital Why I returned to Iowa By Ray Brownsworth http://www.apalachtimes.com July 23, 2014 9:28 As I leave Weems Memorial Hospital from the position of CEO, I want to share some of the background for my decision. I am speaking only for myself and neither the hospital board of trustees nor the hospital as an organization. A little less than two years ago I started at Weems, quickly purchased a house and relocated my family here. At that time, many suggested that due to the historical volatility of the position, it might be better to rent than buy. At the time of our move here, it was to be for the rest of our lives and the purchase was a demonstration of our being vested in the community I served. Moving here was in part coming back to my roots not only in the South but also the area. While I was not born and raised here, my ancestral roots in the area date back to the 1780s, depending on the branch of the family tree. Ancestral surnames from the area are Taylor, Peacock, Lamb, Hill, Patterson and Barksdale. After starting work, I discovered three distant cousins and another by a distant marriage. Why mention this? To provoke the question of why would someone invested in the community with deep historical ties leave after such a short period? This is even more important considering my love of the hospital, staff and area Commissioners’ effect on me as CEO As CEO, I reported to the hospital trustees, not the county commissioners. The hospital board is appointed to govern the hospital on behalf of the county and the commission. The CEO is the board-designated person to manage the operations of the hospital. It is, however, common practice for commissioners to become involved in the operational activities (micro-management) of the hospital seeking to bypass both the board and the CEO. Frequently and even publicly, commissioners have provided me with direction contrary to the hospital board. For some reason commissioners feel they have a better understanding of hospital operations and business than the hospital board and leaders. Such direction of the commission may or may not be based on a vote of the overall commission but instead a single individual. Frequently, as CEO I was contacted by various commissioners and given direction based on the personal agenda of the commissioner. During my tenure, I have been told whom to hire, to fire or not fire, and to give a raise to. In one instance, I was told to do whatever it took the keep a person employed despite the fact I could not legally do so. When I confronted the commissioner with the legality of this, I was told “you’re the CEO, figure it out.” I did what was legally correct and suffered the wrath of the commissioner. I have been told to write off bills of constituents and friends. Generally, commissioners expect to have no out-of-pocket costs and certainly are shielded from collection efforts. Commissioners have become the de facto persons for community members or staff to go to with complaints or concerns rather than using established procedures to handle these. One commissioner told me “if I get chewed out, you’re going to get chewed out too.” I am not saying the hospital is perfect, as it is not, but this is not how to handle patient and family concerns. Direct them to the CEO or staff and allow them the chance to solve the problem. My qualifications have been publicly questioned and various commissioners have regularly berated me. In seeking to provide my CEO report to the commission, I am rightfully asked questions. However, in my attempts to respond, I am frequently interrupted and even told not to continue with my explanation as apparently the commissioners didn’t want to hear it. The commission meetings are not an effective means of communicating as useful dialogue becomes impractical or even impossible. To improve this communication, the hospital board and I have asked the Commission to appoint and send a representative to the board meetings. They have failed to do so, despite the fact this would be the best way of keeping them and us informed. When questioned about this, a commissioner recently admitted the decision was political. An individual commissioner might not want to serve, but at the same time does not want another to do so because of political advantage gained, thus no consensus can be achieved for an appointment. Topics and questions brought up become political footballs and commissioners’ responses are often for the purpose of saving face or gaining political points. Commission meetings are often characterized by grandstanding to rally constituent support. This is not to say there have not been times of good and appropriate comments, but instead too often they are not. The antics of the commission are acknowledged in the community with chuckles, a shake of the head and the comment “well, you know how the commission is.” Most commissioners support the idea of healthcare as a necessary service but this is not the same as being advocates for the hospital that they should be. Compare their reluctant support of the hospital to their advocacy for those working on the bay, or those in need, and you will see a marked difference. The hospital seems to be a burden, rather than a wonderful asset. Just watch the commission videos and notice the commissioners are pleasantly sociable to the county directors, even thanking them and wishing them a good week. Contrast this to my time in front of them, exemplified by confrontation, stern faces and lack of cordiality. During my tenure, the commissioners have never asked me what they can do to assist and support the hospital. The Commission should be the hospital’s best advocate, rather than a reluctant partner who looks down on us. The Commission should be doing everything possible to make the hospital more viable and robust. At the May county meeting, commissioners expressed that they wanted to be involved in the CEO selection process, implying that by their involvement, the next selection would be more successful. This comment suggested that the hospital board did an inadequate job, and that the current CEO, myself, was deficient due to leaving. Have they considered this is type of mindset is exactly the problem and that they are a large part of the reason that qualified CEOs do not stay? No thank-you or best wishes At the July 1 county commission meeting, I encountered the usual challenge to the hospital’s and my performance. Interestingly, both our chief financial officer and a physician who spoke mentioned various improvements realized at Weems during my tenure. I am not saying it was all due to me as it was not, but it was during my stay and the result of a lot of my staff and leaders I had the privilege to work with. As the meeting was closed out, there was no recognition of my hard work and positive impact on the organization, staff or patients. I heard no thank you or best wishes from the commissioners. While here, I was regularly urged to recognize the staff, to let them know they were appreciated and seek to retain them. This was rightfully offered as the staff at the hospital, ambulance and clinics are wonderful and qualified people that make Weems a success. Unfortunately, the commission forgets the CEO and other hospital leaders are people too, who look to be appreciated and fulfilled in their jobs. The majority of my experience in communicating with the commission is completely contrary to this concept. Why do we leave? Perhaps it is because we don’t feel recognized, appreciated and even welcomed. The bottom line related to the county commission is that I was tired of being beat-up, disrespected and not having confidence my job would survive the next year, much less another 10 years due to the unpredictability of the commission. These comments are not directed in any manner toward the hospital board as they are exactly the opposite, given they are engaged, supportive, communicative, and not micromanaging. They are one of the best boards I have worked for. The staff is wonderful and I enjoyed my days because of them. I looked forward each day to going to work. I loved the area, my job and the people. It is too bad the commission and schools made it impossible to realize my dream of finishing out my career and the remainder of my life here. Quickly, for the county commissioners, you need to: 1. Stay out of the hospital’s business allowing the board to govern, and the CEO under their direction and oversight to operate the hospital, 2. Advocate for the hospital and seek every opportunity to make it more successful, by seeking and providing additional sources of revenue such as indigent tax or conversion of such tax to construction tax assuring the viability of the proposed new and renovated facility. 3. Be an ambassador for the hospital, expressing the good things the hospital does and the benefit to the community and county. To date, I have expressed my reason for moving to Iowa as the desire to be closer to my 19- and 20-year-old daughters and my 34-year-old son. This is true, but I would be moving in the next couple years even if I had not taken the job back in Iowa. Why? It boils down to the schools and the county commission. These two issues will burden Franklin County for years to come and make it difficult to recruit and retain qualified hospital CEOs. As I share my personal comments, they are not directed at any individual but to the organizations in place. My wife, Lori, has shared a number of thoughts about the school in an editorial letter. I will add several comments. These are my frustration with the unwillingness of the school to take the steps necessary to provide adequate special educational activities as required by law. They are at great risk of lawsuit for those who are so inclined. Fortunately for them, I am not one of them; others may not be so generous. It seems that not hurting people’s feelings is more important than confronting tough issues. My condemnation is not of the people but of the system that allows for this. The people have been kind and considerate. Even in regular classes, little real teaching is done. This varies from teacher to teacher, with some good and even great teachers. It seems showing videos has become a common method of filling class time. The videos typically are not based on the curriculum, if there is an established curriculum at all being followed. It seems that established curriculum and learning objectives no longer exist as a standard to teach by and to guide the learning experience. Substitute teachers are often aides or other school employees rather than actual teachers. Attendance at a three-hour training course does not make someone a “fit” substitute, merely a better option than leaving students on their own. Some substitutes have been known to tell the class to read and then proceed to sleep or occupy themselves on their laptop. This sounds bad enough, but the use of ear buds isolates them even more as they pay little if any attention to students and provide no learning opportunity. Teachers are told to make sure students pass, even if it means providing supplemental points to edge the score above the point of failing. Students lose all ambition to excel in this environment of mediocrity and blatant apathy. The school system alone is enough to cause families to leave My best wishes to my friends and coworkers. You will be missed. B) Weems Soap Opera Michael J. Cauley Franklin County resident Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 12:58 PM. To the Franklin County board of commissioners and to the residents of Franklin County, I respectfully submit to you this letter for your consideration regarding the future of Weems Memorial Hospital. I have lived in Franklin County now for three years. Coupled with my time in neighboring Wakulla County I've been in this immediate area for close to 20 years. While I am no expert, I can say that Franklin County residents have been victimized by the economy, the downward trend of the fishing industry and the inability of Franklin County officials to offset these hardships with achieving growth and/or in making better decisions. Wakulla County has no hospital and it is a considerably larger county in comparison to that of Franklin County based on population. Wakulla County has become an extension to Leon County and our state capital, Tallahassee. If Wakulla County does not have a hospital, why is it Franklin County needs a hospital? Franklin County is in a better position than Wakulla County; we have the same hospitals they have in Tallahassee. PLUS we have what they don't have just 10-15 minutes away by ambulance in Port St Joe, a new outreach hospital affiliated with one of the best hospitals and medical care providers in this state. Without Weems Memorial Hospital, from a geographical standpoint Franklin County is still in a better position for hospital care for its residents than many residents in Wakulla County. Wakulla County does not have the luxury of a new highly-rated hospital about 15 minutes west of Apalachicola, a straight shot on Hwy 98. We here in Franklin County do. This must be taken into consideration with any decision-making process that may result in a $10 million to $20 million burden levied upon residents here in Franklin County. Is it really worth $10 million to $20 million dollars, at the expense of Franklin County residents, for a few more years of existence for Weems Memorial Hospital, a hospital already operating at a substantial loss? Who in their right mind will spend $20 million on a hospital losing over $2 million annually already? You are only prolonging the inevitable closure of this hospital. Why place this burden on our children or grandchildren? Let’s do the right thing, think with our heads and not let the heart interfere with the decision that needs to be made in the best interest of Franklin County residents. Weems Memorial Hospital is an albatross. Let’s not bring hardship upon the residents here in Franklin County more than what they already face or drive the stake in even farther. People in this county cannot afford it. Very truly yours, Sincerely, John Hitron jhitron@mediacombb.net

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Founded: 1994
Annual Budget: $2.4 billion (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 5,346 (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/
Rural Development
O’Brien, Doug
Previous Acting Under Secretary

 

On May 5, 2013, Doug O’Brien was appointed acting under secretary of agriculture for Rural Development after having served as deputy under secretary for rural development. Rural Development administers more than 40 separate programs, including providing loans and grants for businesses and non-profit groups.

 

O’Brien grew up on a farm in near Fillmore, Iowa, outside of Dubuque and graduated from Cascade High School in 1989. He attended Loras College in Dubuque, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature in 1992 after only three years. O’Brien then went to the University of Iowa, earning his J.D. in 1996, and then to the University of Arkansas for his Master’s degree in agricultural law in 1998, after which he clerked for Iowa Supreme Court Justice Jerry Larson.

 

He worked as a legal specialist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration’s National Hog Office and then became a legislative assistant to Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa). In 2001 he was a counsel for the Senate Agricultural Committee, where he worked on the 2002 farm bill. O’Brien returned to Iowa in 2004 as a senior staff attorney at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, but also taught part-time at Arkansas’ agricultural law program. In 2006, O’Brien served as a senior advisor in the Iowa governor’s office on energy issues. 

 

O’Brien left Iowa in 2006 to become the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. There, he focused on plant industries, animal health and biofuels and renewable energy. He left to work on the Obama for President campaign in 2008 as rural vote director for Obama for Ohio. After the election, O’Brien was brought into the Obama administration, first as chief of staff for Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, then as senior advisor to a fellow Iowan, Secretary Tom Vilsack. In 2011, O’Brien was named deputy under secretary for rural development.

 

Since joining Rural Development, O’Brien has worked on projects such as helping farms increase their use of renewable energy, giving rural areas help with high energy costs and other efforts to boost rural economies.

 

O’Brien’s brother, Bill, is a senior advisor for program innovation at the National Endowment for the Arts and had a recurring role as “Kenny Thurman,” the sign language interpreter to Marlee Matlin’s character on “The West Wing.”

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More

Official Biography

Cascade Native Is USDA-Approved (by Sara Millhouse, Cascade Pioneer)

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Mensah, Lisa
Former Under Secretary

 

On May 8, 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Lisa Mensah to be the undersecretary of agriculture for Rural Development. If confirmed, it will be the first federal government post for Mensah.

 

Mensah is from Beaverton, Oregon, although she spent part of her childhood in her father’s native Ghana. Her mother, Gloria Mensah, was a software duplication technician at Tektronix Inc. Her father, Kwaku Mensah, was a metallurgist at Tektronix  

 

She graduated from Radcliffe College at Harvard University in 1983 with a B.A. Mensah continued her education at Johns Hopkins University, earning an M.A. in 1985 from the school’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

 

Upon graduation from Johns Hopkins, Mensah became an economics teacher and assistant to the directors at the Governor’s School of New Jersey on Public Issues, a prestigious summer program. In 1986, Mensah went to work for Citibank in their commercial banking division, remaining there three years.

 

Mensah joined the Ford Foundation’s economic development unit in 1989. She began as a program officer and in 1991 was named deputy director of rural poverty and resources programs. In 1996, Mensah became deputy director of economic development, remaining in that job for six years. She directed the foundation’s efforts to expand microcredit and women’s economic development.

 

In 2002, Mensah moved to The Aspen Institute to become executive director of its Initiative on Financial Security (IFA). The IFA works to encourage savings and wealth-building for working-poor families in the United States. 

 

If confirmed for the Department of Agriculture post, Mensah will be in charge of initiatives for affordable and safe housing in rural areas, economic development and infrastructure investment.

 

Mensah’s husband, Barry D. Ford, whom she married in 1993, is the director of public affairs and advocacy for the United States Tennis Association. They have two children. Mensah’s sister Sarah was formerly one of the top female executives in professional sports as chief operating officer of the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography (Aspen Institute)

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Overview:

Covering more than 75% of the nation’s total landmass, rural America is home to only 50 million people. Formerly defined by the agricultural industry, rural areas are increasingly diverse, requiring a varied approach to development that addresses traditional problems caused by isolation, poverty and lack of infrastructure and community resources—as well as modernization and integration projects such as the government’s recent investments in broadband and general focus on business development.

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) office, often referred to  as the “venture capitalist” for rural America, consolidates a number of agencies with roots in the Great Depression that were successful over the years in supporting the agriculture industry, electrifying rural America and building community resources.

 

RD’s mission is “assisting rural communities to create prosperity by providing financial and technical assistance to rural residents, businesses, and private and public entities for a broad range of purposes that bring prosperity and better living to Rural America,” which it approaches through more than 40 rural development programs focusing on housing, community facilities, water and waste management, business and technological development, among other areas. It claims $91 billion in investments in rural home ownership, business development and community and technological infrastructure between 2001 and 2008, with more than 1.7 million jobs created or saved as a result. Speaking in 2008, then-RD Under Secretary Thomas C. Dorr noted that the agency’s loan and loan guarantee portfolio exceeds $100 billion for the first time in history. In FY 2012, RD claims to have a $155 billion portfolio of loans and expects to administer $20 billion in loans, loan guarantees and grants through its programs.

 

Since The Washington Post broke the story in April 2007, RD has come under increasing criticism for the fact that the vast majority of its budget actually goes to metropolitan areas, including resort and retirement developments—more than three times the amount provided to poor or shrinking rural areas.

 

Dorr was once forced to pay fines for violating the rules of the very agency he once headed.

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History:

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Resettlement Administration to help relocate families stricken by the Depression, to address soil-erosion and to provide emergency funding for farmers. The Administration’s functions were expanded to include funding for housing, community projects and business development when Congress established the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) in 1946. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA, established 1935, integrated into USDA in 1939) also contributed to rural development through electrification, telephone and telecommunications—and most recently, Internet services.

 

“Rural policy as an identified congressional concern, however, may be dated to the 1972 Rural Development Act, an amendment to the Consolidated Farmers Home Administration Act of 1961,” according to congressional sources.

 

The USDA Rural Development agency was created as part of a 1994 Department reorganization, in which former FmHA’s “non-farm financial programs for rural housing, community facilities, water and waste disposal and rural businesses,” as well as the former REA’s utility programs, were consolidated under the authority of Rural Development.

A Brief History of Farmers Home Administration (pdf)

 

At that time, the Rural Development mission was divided into three components. Because these three are closely aligned, they are commonly referred to as the USDA Rural Development, Business & Cooperative Programs. They are:

 

1. Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS). Its mission is to "to enhance the quality of life for rural Americans by providing leadership in building competitive businesses including sustainable cooperatives that can prosper in the global marketplace."

2. Rural Housing Service (RHS). This service is responsible for providing safe, sanitary, and affordable housing for very-low-income, low-income, and moderate-income rural families.

3. Rural Utilities Service (RUS). It traces its roots directly to the REA (mentioned above).

 

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What it Does:

With a $155 billion loan portfolio, Rural Development (RD) administers $20 billion in program loans, loan guarantees, and grants. There are more than 40 separate programs, which include low-interest housing operations, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-backed loans for businesses and grants for communities and non-profit groups.

 

Utilities/Water/Telecom Programs

Electric services are historically and currently an integral part of rural development. According to the USDA, rural America “currently enjoys high-quality electric service.”

 

Most rural electric utilities are cooperatives, serving 11% of the population and 75% of the country’s total land mass. Average service coverage is 10,000 customers (as compared with typical investor-owned utilities, which service an average of 315,000), who are mostly residential, more sparsely distributed and tend to have different demands and peak use schedules. This makes rural utilities costly, requiring extra capacity and larger per-capita investment to serve peak demand.

 

Recent policy initiatives to restructure the electric market have caused price increases—and controversy. The RD has begun to shift focus toward business development that incorporates alternative energy sources and production.

 

In 2000, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Internet access was 62% for urban households and 53.7% in rural areas.

ERS Digital Economy Briefing Room

 

But advances in technology now make access to broadband the key measurement of Internet usage and the NTIA says, according to 2010 census figures, that rural areas lag significantly behind urban areas, 65.9% to 51%.

 

Water investment is also more costly in rural areas (which are sparsely populated with a limited tax base), requiring higher per capita investments for development, environmental compliance and maintenance costs for drinking water and wastewater treatment operations.

Economic Impact of Water/Sewer Facilities in Rural and Urban Communities (pdf)

 

Budget: FY 2013, the presidential budget includes $6.1 billion for RD electric programs; $25 million for distance learning and telemedicine; and $22 million for broadband programs. Water and waste disposal spending for FY 2013 is a proposed $1 billion in direct loans and $415 million in grants.

 

Telecommunications Loans and Grants include broadband loans, community connections grants, distance learning and telemedicine, rural and public television grants, among other loans and grants.

Rural Development Strategies: Infrastructure

 

USDA Announces Rural Broadband Loans (by Meghan Grebner, Brownfield Ag News for

            America)

Detailed Information on the Rural Development Broadband Loan and Loan Guarantee Program Assessment (Office of Management and Budget)

Rural Broadband Loan Program (pdf)

 

Housing and Community Facilities

 

Community development programs tend to focus on activities like fostering community organizations and infrastructure to encourage leadership, cohesion and involvement rather than economic development. Programs are also meant to target high-poverty and isolated areas, and encourage private sector development and investment. Specific programs deal with housing stress and offer rental assistance.

 

Budget: FY 2013, the presidential budget requests approximately $1.486 billion in budget authority for a $28.3 billion program encompassing all rural housing services. (Those numbers were $1.4 billion and $26.7 billion respectively FY 2012.) Some $320 million in budget authority and $12.9 billion of the total program in 2009 were one-year-only costs associated with the Recovery Act passed to deal with the financial downturn.

 

Further Reading: USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) offers information on community development issues, which underscore rural development community programs. (See AllGovs ERS pageDevelopment at the Urban Fringe and Beyond: Impacts on Agriculture and Rural Land, Rural Areas Benefit From Recreation and Tourism Development, One in Four Nonmetro Households are Housing Stressed, The Two Faces of Rural Population Loss Through Outmigration, U.S. Farm Structure: Declining -- But Persistent -- Small Commercial Farms and Debt Landscape for U.S. Farms Has Shifted.

Rural Development Housing and Community Facilities Programs

 

For more information on Housing and Community Facilities:

Nonprofit Opportunities
Lender Opportunities
Developer Opportunities
Individual and Family Opportunities
Information for Existing Borrowers

Income and Property Eligibility

Guaranteed Home Loan Opportunities

                                                     

Also, the Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Community program (EZ/EC) provides community-based grants.

 

USDA’s Rural and Community Development

 

Business and Cooperative Programs

Business development programs aim at building industry, attracting investment, and helping rural economies integrate in national/global economies. There are a wide range of approaches and assistance programs offered by RD. See the USDA general approaches for support to business development.

 

The FY 2013, the presidential budget requests $132 million in budget authority for $986 million in Rural Business-Cooperative Services. That compares to $364 million and $1.3 billion, respectively, FY2012.

 

USDA RD Business Programs include:

Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan (B&I) Program

Intermediary Relending Program (IRP)
Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) Program
Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG)
 

Biorefinery Assistance Program (BIOREFINERY)

Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels

 

Repowering Assistance Program

Rural Energy for America Program/Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistant (REAP/EA & REDA)

Rural Energy for America Program/Renewable Energy Systems/Energy Efficiency Improvement Program (REAP/RES/EEI)

Rural Energy for America Program/Feasibility (REAP/FEASIBILITY)

Rural Energy for America Program

Farmbill Initiatives - REAP

Section 9006 Guaranteed Loan Program
 

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program (REEEP)

 

 

Special Initiatives include: Rural Cooperative Development Grants, Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grants, Business Information System Network (BISNet), Biobased Products and Bioenergy Program (BIOMASS) and Community Adjustment and Investment Program (CAIP), among others.

National Rural Development Partnership

Rural Development Regulations

 

Field Offices

State Offices

Rural Development Executive Summary (USDA 2007 Farm Bill Theme Papers) (pdf)

 

From the Web Site of Rural Development

Agencies and Offices

Audio Archives

Business

Community Development

Congressional Testimony

Contact Information

Cooperatives

En Espanol

Energy Programs

Events

Forms

Grants

Help Guide

Housing and Community Assistance

Loans

News Releases

Newsroom

Online Services

Programs and Opportunities

Publications

Regulations and Guidance

Reports

Speeches

Spotlights

Strategic Plan

Success Stories

Technical Assistance

Utilities

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Where Does the Money Go:

Stakeholders include residents of rural areas (including those being developed for retirement and recreation) and metro and suburban areas that qualify for Rural Development (RD) assistance; business investors; utility companies and Internet/technology providers; water and waste treatment industries (also environmental regulators); agricultural and manufacturing industries concentrated in rural areas; alternative fuel industry; politicians pandering to rural base; etc.

 

Recipients of business loans and grants may include individuals, corporations, partnerships, cooperatives, public bodies, nonprofit corporations, Indian tribes, and private companies.

 

The Cooperatives Program serves cooperative members, directors, management, educational institutions, organizations, rural residents, and all others with an interest in the cooperative form of business.

 

Single Family Housing Programs provide home ownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income rural Americans.

 

Multi-Family Housing Programs offer loans to provide rental housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income families; the elderly; and persons with disabilities.

 

Rural Development Success Stories

 

Full Budget Information (pdf)

 

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Controversies:

Shirley Sherrod

On July 19, 2010, Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign her position as Georgia State Director of Rural Development (RD) days after video excerpts were posted online by Andrew Breitbart, blogger and media commentator, which purported to show her making racist remarks to a gathering of the NAACP Freedom Fund. The story was quickly picked up by the national media and evoked widespread condemnation of her inside and out of government, including a tweet from NAACP President Benjamin Jealous that he was “appalled.”

 

However, within days it was established that Sherrod’s videotaped comments had been edited and taken out of context. Sherrod, who is black, was making precisely the opposite point with an uplifting story of how she helped a white family avoid loss of their farm through foreclosure in 1986 while employed at a private advocacy firm for African-American farmers. Most of the media quickly reversed course, President Obama personally called Sherrod to express his “regret” about the controversy and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered her a new job, which she declined.

Shirley Sherrod sues Andrew Breitbart over video he posted that led USDA to fire her (by James

            Oliphant, Los Angeles Times)

 

Rural Development Funds Going to Suburbs Resort Towns

With more than 40 programs under its aegis and growing, the Rural Development division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a quiet but controversial presence, distributing billions of dollars in development aid and loans/loan guarantees. Many observers note what can seem like arbitrary administration of these funds to areas designated by a vague policy definition of “rurality.” The majority of recipient communities are, in fact, not at all rural—but suburban, retirement- or resort-economy-based, and positively metropolitan.

 

USDA officials maintain that they follow regulations as directed by the department and Congress, but those regulations are increasingly confusing or opaque. Rural America covers 75% of the nation’s landmass, and can no longer be predominantly defined (culturally, demographically, or economically) by the agriculture industry. But inconsistent definitions of “rural” lend well to subjective—and ultimately, strategic interpretations.

 

According to an article published in The Washington Post in April 2007, the USDA has doled out in excess of $70 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees through its Rural Development program since 2001. A Post investigation found that more than half of that money has gone to “metropolitan regions or communities within easy commuting distance of a midsize city, including beach resorts and suburban developments.” Metropolitan areas with populations of 50,000 or more received $30.3 billion—more than triple the amount given to poor or shrinking rural counties (which are the ostensible beneficiaries of Rural Development), which received a total of $8.6 billion for the same period. (Even retirement or recreational communities got $8.8 billion).

 

Among the beneficiaries: Providence, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, home to some of the wealthiest beach towns in the country. Such popular destinations, which are located conveniently close to big cities and swell with summering populations (and the resultant tourist economies) and boast exorbitant real estate prices, are somehow eligible for billions of dollars in USDA rural development aid. In addition to the “beach towns from Cape Cod to New Jersey to Florida” that the Post reports “collected federal money for water and sewer systems, town halls and boardwalks,” are the electric and Internet companies awarded low-interest loans to provide for affluent southern suburbs.

 

A long way from the early narrow focus of the Rural Development initiative, whose roots go back to emergency relief for farmers and destitute rural communities in the Great Depression—the breadth and scope of “rural” communities in need has expanded dramatically. Requirements for determining eligibility for RD assistance tend to be quite variable and even subjective, depending on the program itself and leaving room for lawmakers to weigh in. For some programs, assistance is limited to towns with populations below 2,500, but for others numbers can reach up to 50,000, and some census-based decisions can divide eligible communities by street or block.

 

The Post article further argues that, over time, the RD program has “become more complicated, bureaucratic and secretive,” with reporters deferred to central authority in Washington and “heavily redacted” documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, which hid loan amounts and recipient locations.

 

Only a day before the Post article was published, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns had proposed changes in the 2007 Farm Bill that would include streamlining RD, with more funds going to rural health care and community facilities, as well as a consolidation of energy grant, business loan, loan guarantee and Community Programs platforms. At the same time, Under Secretary Thomas Dorr announced a $62.9 million provision for distance learning and telemedicine loans, $75 million in loan and grant combinations and $15 million in grants.

 

An analysis of USDA farm program payments and Rural Development funding by the private, non-profit Center for Rural Affairs concluded that “the farm commodity payment system allows larger farm operators and businesses to bypass normal, individual payment limitations through loopholes that allow for the organization of businesses and corporations in a way that leads to the massive payments.”

 

“In total, rural development funding for 260 counties (with over 1,400 incorporated municipalities and nearly 3 million people) received about three-fifths the amount of the 260 top farm program recipients, and for every dollar invested in rural development projects $1.69 goes to one of the individuals or business in the top 20 farm program recipient list.”

 

Measuring Rurality

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Former Directors:

Thomas Dorr, July 2005-May 2009

 

A native of Marcus, Iowa, Thomas C. Dorr earned his BS degree in business administration from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. For more than 30 years, he was president of a family farming and agribusiness company that consisted of a corn and soybean farm, a state-licensed commercial grain elevator and warehouse and two limited liability companies.

 

In 1995, the USDA forced Dorr’s Pine Grove Farm to return $17,000 in federal agricultural subsidies that it had improperly obtained. (And according to the Environmental Working Group, Dorr Farm operations received $466,673 in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2002.) Despite the dubious record, President George W. Bush appointed him Under Secretary in 2001—to the same Department he was found guilty of cheating. Following Dorr’s nomination, another USDA probe found further violations, which Dorr’s farm quieted with another $17,000 in fines. According to a Texans for Justice Report, few Republicans supported Dorr’s nomination, and shortly after his nomination, in 2002, the Senate Agricultural Committee Chair from his home state said, “Mr. Dorr lacks the judgment, outlook and temperament for this very important position.” Senator Tom Harkin was more direct, saying, “As the CEO of a corporation, Mr. Dorr, in filing false information with USDA, does not meet the standard set by President Bush when he signed a new law on corporate responsibility just last week.”

 

Although appointed in 2002, he was not sworn in until July 2005.

 

President Bush had appointed Dorr in 2000 to his Agriculture Department transition team, and invoked temporary recess appointment powers (after Congress went into recess during the summer of 2002) to install Dorr as a USDA undersecretary and as a board member of the Commodity Credit Corp. After his nomination, comments he had made in 1999 on the Iowa State Board of Regents—suggesting that Christian and European backgrounds of certain Iowa farmers “enabled them to succeed”—surfaced amid controversy. The timing was especially poignant because in the same year, the USDA has settled a class-action suit by black farmers who accused the Department of discriminatory lending practices. Other criticisms of the Under Secretary stem from his reported praise of—and policy support for, big agribusiness over family farms.

 

Dorr is currently president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of U.S. barley, corn and sorghum and related products worldwide. Dorr coordinates the Council’s worldwide staff and oversees market development activities in more than 50 countries around the world.

 

NextGenWeb Interview with Thomas Dorr about Internet (YouTube)

Thomas C. Dorr: Bush Donor Profile (Texans for Public Justice)

Jill Long Thompson, 1995-2001

A native of Warsaw, Indiana, Long was appointed by President Bill Clinton. She served until 2001 with the start of the George W. Bush administration.

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Comments

Anonymous (will be harassed) 1 year ago
When was the last time you audited the RD properties in Monroe, LA. How and what the moneys given to Management Co.are not being used to maintain suitable and safe living conditions. You really need to see what's happening here.
Suzanne Zimmerman 3 years ago
As a concerned citizen of Franklin County, I am very much opposed to the $10.2 million USDA loan for Weems Hospital. The citizens cannot shoulder this financial burden. Please don't encumber this debt upon us. Thank you, Suzanne Zimmerman
John Hitron 3 years ago
P.O. Box Y 139 Franklin Street Carrabelle, FL 32322 15 October 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture 1400 Independence Ave. S.W Washington, D.C. 20250 ATTN: Rural Development Loans Gentlemen: I am a resident of Franklin County, Florida, and wish to alert you to a county request for a loan of up to $20 million dollars to rebuild a local hospital. I am not sure of where to specifically write, but trust to your judgment to forward this to the proper agency. I URGE you to investigate the allegations of mismanagement of the current facility before any consideration is given to this loan!!! The Board of County Commissioners has given short shrift to any consideration of the recommendations by local citizen groups or past administrators of the current facility. I am attaching several documents pertaining to the situation and ask that you please investigate this potential waste of government / tax dollars on behalf of a facility, its administration and its management that border on malfeasance. A) Letter from the former CEO of Weems Hospital Why I returned to Iowa By Ray Brownsworth http://www.apalachtimes.com July 23, 2014 9:28 As I leave Weems Memorial Hospital from the position of CEO, I want to share some of the background for my decision. I am speaking only for myself and neither the hospital board of trustees nor the hospital as an organization. A little less than two years ago I started at Weems, quickly purchased a house and relocated my family here. At that time, many suggested that due to the historical volatility of the position, it might be better to rent than buy. At the time of our move here, it was to be for the rest of our lives and the purchase was a demonstration of our being vested in the community I served. Moving here was in part coming back to my roots not only in the South but also the area. While I was not born and raised here, my ancestral roots in the area date back to the 1780s, depending on the branch of the family tree. Ancestral surnames from the area are Taylor, Peacock, Lamb, Hill, Patterson and Barksdale. After starting work, I discovered three distant cousins and another by a distant marriage. Why mention this? To provoke the question of why would someone invested in the community with deep historical ties leave after such a short period? This is even more important considering my love of the hospital, staff and area Commissioners’ effect on me as CEO As CEO, I reported to the hospital trustees, not the county commissioners. The hospital board is appointed to govern the hospital on behalf of the county and the commission. The CEO is the board-designated person to manage the operations of the hospital. It is, however, common practice for commissioners to become involved in the operational activities (micro-management) of the hospital seeking to bypass both the board and the CEO. Frequently and even publicly, commissioners have provided me with direction contrary to the hospital board. For some reason commissioners feel they have a better understanding of hospital operations and business than the hospital board and leaders. Such direction of the commission may or may not be based on a vote of the overall commission but instead a single individual. Frequently, as CEO I was contacted by various commissioners and given direction based on the personal agenda of the commissioner. During my tenure, I have been told whom to hire, to fire or not fire, and to give a raise to. In one instance, I was told to do whatever it took the keep a person employed despite the fact I could not legally do so. When I confronted the commissioner with the legality of this, I was told “you’re the CEO, figure it out.” I did what was legally correct and suffered the wrath of the commissioner. I have been told to write off bills of constituents and friends. Generally, commissioners expect to have no out-of-pocket costs and certainly are shielded from collection efforts. Commissioners have become the de facto persons for community members or staff to go to with complaints or concerns rather than using established procedures to handle these. One commissioner told me “if I get chewed out, you’re going to get chewed out too.” I am not saying the hospital is perfect, as it is not, but this is not how to handle patient and family concerns. Direct them to the CEO or staff and allow them the chance to solve the problem. My qualifications have been publicly questioned and various commissioners have regularly berated me. In seeking to provide my CEO report to the commission, I am rightfully asked questions. However, in my attempts to respond, I am frequently interrupted and even told not to continue with my explanation as apparently the commissioners didn’t want to hear it. The commission meetings are not an effective means of communicating as useful dialogue becomes impractical or even impossible. To improve this communication, the hospital board and I have asked the Commission to appoint and send a representative to the board meetings. They have failed to do so, despite the fact this would be the best way of keeping them and us informed. When questioned about this, a commissioner recently admitted the decision was political. An individual commissioner might not want to serve, but at the same time does not want another to do so because of political advantage gained, thus no consensus can be achieved for an appointment. Topics and questions brought up become political footballs and commissioners’ responses are often for the purpose of saving face or gaining political points. Commission meetings are often characterized by grandstanding to rally constituent support. This is not to say there have not been times of good and appropriate comments, but instead too often they are not. The antics of the commission are acknowledged in the community with chuckles, a shake of the head and the comment “well, you know how the commission is.” Most commissioners support the idea of healthcare as a necessary service but this is not the same as being advocates for the hospital that they should be. Compare their reluctant support of the hospital to their advocacy for those working on the bay, or those in need, and you will see a marked difference. The hospital seems to be a burden, rather than a wonderful asset. Just watch the commission videos and notice the commissioners are pleasantly sociable to the county directors, even thanking them and wishing them a good week. Contrast this to my time in front of them, exemplified by confrontation, stern faces and lack of cordiality. During my tenure, the commissioners have never asked me what they can do to assist and support the hospital. The Commission should be the hospital’s best advocate, rather than a reluctant partner who looks down on us. The Commission should be doing everything possible to make the hospital more viable and robust. At the May county meeting, commissioners expressed that they wanted to be involved in the CEO selection process, implying that by their involvement, the next selection would be more successful. This comment suggested that the hospital board did an inadequate job, and that the current CEO, myself, was deficient due to leaving. Have they considered this is type of mindset is exactly the problem and that they are a large part of the reason that qualified CEOs do not stay? No thank-you or best wishes At the July 1 county commission meeting, I encountered the usual challenge to the hospital’s and my performance. Interestingly, both our chief financial officer and a physician who spoke mentioned various improvements realized at Weems during my tenure. I am not saying it was all due to me as it was not, but it was during my stay and the result of a lot of my staff and leaders I had the privilege to work with. As the meeting was closed out, there was no recognition of my hard work and positive impact on the organization, staff or patients. I heard no thank you or best wishes from the commissioners. While here, I was regularly urged to recognize the staff, to let them know they were appreciated and seek to retain them. This was rightfully offered as the staff at the hospital, ambulance and clinics are wonderful and qualified people that make Weems a success. Unfortunately, the commission forgets the CEO and other hospital leaders are people too, who look to be appreciated and fulfilled in their jobs. The majority of my experience in communicating with the commission is completely contrary to this concept. Why do we leave? Perhaps it is because we don’t feel recognized, appreciated and even welcomed. The bottom line related to the county commission is that I was tired of being beat-up, disrespected and not having confidence my job would survive the next year, much less another 10 years due to the unpredictability of the commission. These comments are not directed in any manner toward the hospital board as they are exactly the opposite, given they are engaged, supportive, communicative, and not micromanaging. They are one of the best boards I have worked for. The staff is wonderful and I enjoyed my days because of them. I looked forward each day to going to work. I loved the area, my job and the people. It is too bad the commission and schools made it impossible to realize my dream of finishing out my career and the remainder of my life here. Quickly, for the county commissioners, you need to: 1. Stay out of the hospital’s business allowing the board to govern, and the CEO under their direction and oversight to operate the hospital, 2. Advocate for the hospital and seek every opportunity to make it more successful, by seeking and providing additional sources of revenue such as indigent tax or conversion of such tax to construction tax assuring the viability of the proposed new and renovated facility. 3. Be an ambassador for the hospital, expressing the good things the hospital does and the benefit to the community and county. To date, I have expressed my reason for moving to Iowa as the desire to be closer to my 19- and 20-year-old daughters and my 34-year-old son. This is true, but I would be moving in the next couple years even if I had not taken the job back in Iowa. Why? It boils down to the schools and the county commission. These two issues will burden Franklin County for years to come and make it difficult to recruit and retain qualified hospital CEOs. As I share my personal comments, they are not directed at any individual but to the organizations in place. My wife, Lori, has shared a number of thoughts about the school in an editorial letter. I will add several comments. These are my frustration with the unwillingness of the school to take the steps necessary to provide adequate special educational activities as required by law. They are at great risk of lawsuit for those who are so inclined. Fortunately for them, I am not one of them; others may not be so generous. It seems that not hurting people’s feelings is more important than confronting tough issues. My condemnation is not of the people but of the system that allows for this. The people have been kind and considerate. Even in regular classes, little real teaching is done. This varies from teacher to teacher, with some good and even great teachers. It seems showing videos has become a common method of filling class time. The videos typically are not based on the curriculum, if there is an established curriculum at all being followed. It seems that established curriculum and learning objectives no longer exist as a standard to teach by and to guide the learning experience. Substitute teachers are often aides or other school employees rather than actual teachers. Attendance at a three-hour training course does not make someone a “fit” substitute, merely a better option than leaving students on their own. Some substitutes have been known to tell the class to read and then proceed to sleep or occupy themselves on their laptop. This sounds bad enough, but the use of ear buds isolates them even more as they pay little if any attention to students and provide no learning opportunity. Teachers are told to make sure students pass, even if it means providing supplemental points to edge the score above the point of failing. Students lose all ambition to excel in this environment of mediocrity and blatant apathy. The school system alone is enough to cause families to leave My best wishes to my friends and coworkers. You will be missed. B) Weems Soap Opera Michael J. Cauley Franklin County resident Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 12:58 PM. To the Franklin County board of commissioners and to the residents of Franklin County, I respectfully submit to you this letter for your consideration regarding the future of Weems Memorial Hospital. I have lived in Franklin County now for three years. Coupled with my time in neighboring Wakulla County I've been in this immediate area for close to 20 years. While I am no expert, I can say that Franklin County residents have been victimized by the economy, the downward trend of the fishing industry and the inability of Franklin County officials to offset these hardships with achieving growth and/or in making better decisions. Wakulla County has no hospital and it is a considerably larger county in comparison to that of Franklin County based on population. Wakulla County has become an extension to Leon County and our state capital, Tallahassee. If Wakulla County does not have a hospital, why is it Franklin County needs a hospital? Franklin County is in a better position than Wakulla County; we have the same hospitals they have in Tallahassee. PLUS we have what they don't have just 10-15 minutes away by ambulance in Port St Joe, a new outreach hospital affiliated with one of the best hospitals and medical care providers in this state. Without Weems Memorial Hospital, from a geographical standpoint Franklin County is still in a better position for hospital care for its residents than many residents in Wakulla County. Wakulla County does not have the luxury of a new highly-rated hospital about 15 minutes west of Apalachicola, a straight shot on Hwy 98. We here in Franklin County do. This must be taken into consideration with any decision-making process that may result in a $10 million to $20 million burden levied upon residents here in Franklin County. Is it really worth $10 million to $20 million dollars, at the expense of Franklin County residents, for a few more years of existence for Weems Memorial Hospital, a hospital already operating at a substantial loss? Who in their right mind will spend $20 million on a hospital losing over $2 million annually already? You are only prolonging the inevitable closure of this hospital. Why place this burden on our children or grandchildren? Let’s do the right thing, think with our heads and not let the heart interfere with the decision that needs to be made in the best interest of Franklin County residents. Weems Memorial Hospital is an albatross. Let’s not bring hardship upon the residents here in Franklin County more than what they already face or drive the stake in even farther. People in this county cannot afford it. Very truly yours, Sincerely, John Hitron jhitron@mediacombb.net

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Founded: 1994
Annual Budget: $2.4 billion (FY 2013 Request)
Employees: 5,346 (FY 2013 Estimate)
Official Website: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/
Rural Development
O’Brien, Doug
Previous Acting Under Secretary

 

On May 5, 2013, Doug O’Brien was appointed acting under secretary of agriculture for Rural Development after having served as deputy under secretary for rural development. Rural Development administers more than 40 separate programs, including providing loans and grants for businesses and non-profit groups.

 

O’Brien grew up on a farm in near Fillmore, Iowa, outside of Dubuque and graduated from Cascade High School in 1989. He attended Loras College in Dubuque, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature in 1992 after only three years. O’Brien then went to the University of Iowa, earning his J.D. in 1996, and then to the University of Arkansas for his Master’s degree in agricultural law in 1998, after which he clerked for Iowa Supreme Court Justice Jerry Larson.

 

He worked as a legal specialist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration’s National Hog Office and then became a legislative assistant to Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa). In 2001 he was a counsel for the Senate Agricultural Committee, where he worked on the 2002 farm bill. O’Brien returned to Iowa in 2004 as a senior staff attorney at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, but also taught part-time at Arkansas’ agricultural law program. In 2006, O’Brien served as a senior advisor in the Iowa governor’s office on energy issues. 

 

O’Brien left Iowa in 2006 to become the assistant director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. There, he focused on plant industries, animal health and biofuels and renewable energy. He left to work on the Obama for President campaign in 2008 as rural vote director for Obama for Ohio. After the election, O’Brien was brought into the Obama administration, first as chief of staff for Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, then as senior advisor to a fellow Iowan, Secretary Tom Vilsack. In 2011, O’Brien was named deputy under secretary for rural development.

 

Since joining Rural Development, O’Brien has worked on projects such as helping farms increase their use of renewable energy, giving rural areas help with high energy costs and other efforts to boost rural economies.

 

O’Brien’s brother, Bill, is a senior advisor for program innovation at the National Endowment for the Arts and had a recurring role as “Kenny Thurman,” the sign language interpreter to Marlee Matlin’s character on “The West Wing.”

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More

Official Biography

Cascade Native Is USDA-Approved (by Sara Millhouse, Cascade Pioneer)

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Mensah, Lisa
Former Under Secretary

 

On May 8, 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Lisa Mensah to be the undersecretary of agriculture for Rural Development. If confirmed, it will be the first federal government post for Mensah.

 

Mensah is from Beaverton, Oregon, although she spent part of her childhood in her father’s native Ghana. Her mother, Gloria Mensah, was a software duplication technician at Tektronix Inc. Her father, Kwaku Mensah, was a metallurgist at Tektronix  

 

She graduated from Radcliffe College at Harvard University in 1983 with a B.A. Mensah continued her education at Johns Hopkins University, earning an M.A. in 1985 from the school’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

 

Upon graduation from Johns Hopkins, Mensah became an economics teacher and assistant to the directors at the Governor’s School of New Jersey on Public Issues, a prestigious summer program. In 1986, Mensah went to work for Citibank in their commercial banking division, remaining there three years.

 

Mensah joined the Ford Foundation’s economic development unit in 1989. She began as a program officer and in 1991 was named deputy director of rural poverty and resources programs. In 1996, Mensah became deputy director of economic development, remaining in that job for six years. She directed the foundation’s efforts to expand microcredit and women’s economic development.

 

In 2002, Mensah moved to The Aspen Institute to become executive director of its Initiative on Financial Security (IFA). The IFA works to encourage savings and wealth-building for working-poor families in the United States. 

 

If confirmed for the Department of Agriculture post, Mensah will be in charge of initiatives for affordable and safe housing in rural areas, economic development and infrastructure investment.

 

Mensah’s husband, Barry D. Ford, whom she married in 1993, is the director of public affairs and advocacy for the United States Tennis Association. They have two children. Mensah’s sister Sarah was formerly one of the top female executives in professional sports as chief operating officer of the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team.

-Steve Straehley

 

To Learn More:

Official Biography (Aspen Institute)

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