Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Led the Biden Administration's Supply Chain Task Force. He Never Attended A Meeting.

Task Force was a 'cynical attempt to signal engagement' while 'doing little or nothing,' watchdog says

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
January 20, 2023

President Joe Biden tapped Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to co-chair a team tasked with fixing a supply chain crisis that left grocery shelves empty. The secretary never even showed up to a meeting, records show.

In June 2021, as supply chains were being crippled by the effects of pandemic-era restrictions and Biden’s rampant spending, Vilsack pledged to participate in meetings with the newly formed Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, an initiative Biden said would solve the budding crisis with a whole-of-government approach.

But those promised meetings never occurred. There are no records showing that Vilsack or his designees participated in any meetings with the task force after its launch, according to the Department of Agriculture’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Functional Government Institute.

Instead, Vilsack focused his efforts on accusing the meat industry of using the pandemic as an excuse to reap unfair profits. And he wasn’t the only absentee member of the supply chain initiative. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, another task force co-chair, quietly went on paternity leave in August 2021. Two months passed before anybody noticed Buttigieg’s absence.

The Department of Agriculture produced just 19 pages of records responsive to the Functional Government Initiative’s request, which asked for all of Vilsack’s memos, meeting minutes, calendar entries, and calendar invitations for task force meetings from the date of its creation through July 28, 2022. The records contained 14 pages of public statements from the department and the White House. The remaining five pages were briefing materials for the task force’s launch event where Vilsack pledged to participate in the initiative.

According to Functional Government Initiative spokesman Peter McGinnis, Vilsack’s task force "might be more aptly called a ‘hole in government’ approach."

"Secretary Vilsack’s failure to convene a single meeting with his fellow leaders, while dedicating federal resources to investigate and blame the private sector, shows that the Task Force was little more than a cynical attempt to signal engagement on supply chain disruptions while, in fact, doing little or nothing," McGinnis said.

The United States is still reeling from supply chain issues in the food industry, the lingering effects of which have caused egg prices to spike by 60 percent since the end of 2021.

Vilsack was present at a publicly televised, virtual task force meeting with Biden and a group of private sector CEOs on Dec. 22, 2021. The secretary didn’t say a word during the event. In February 2022, the Department of Agriculture claimed in a press release that Vilsack was intimately involved with the task force.

The Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force’s only apparent accomplishment was its creation, according to a May 2022 report from the Congressional Research Service. The report said Biden tasked the initiative with alleviating bottlenecks and supply constraints in a wide array of industries, and that it was directed to increase data sharing among agencies. But the report did not identify what, if anything, the task force did to fulfill its mandate.

The Department of Agriculture did not return a request for comment.