A native of Marcus, Iowa, Thomas C. Dorr earned his B.S. 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, 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.”
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. (See Texans for Public Justice article, below).
Dorr also served as Chairman of the USDA Energy Council, responsible for the President’s Energy Initiative (promotion of domestically grown fuel), and Federal Co-Chair of the Biomass Research and Development Board.