Biden Food Stamp Chief Offloads Policymaking to Soros-Funded Think Tank, Ethics Complaint Charges

Stacy Dean (USDA/Tom Witham via Wikimedia Commons)
March 22, 2024

Two months into the Biden administration, a top official at the Department of Agriculture fielded a question, from a New York Times reporter about a program, that she couldn't answer.

The reporter emailed Deputy Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Stacy Dean on March 30, 2021, asking for her thoughts on data that suggest food stamps are a poor vehicle to address food insufficiency, given that only a quarter of Americans struggling with insufficiency are enrolled for the benefit.

Dean appears to have been stumped. But instead of consulting her colleagues at the Agriculture Department, she immediately forwarded the reporter's question to her former coworkers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a George Soros-funded think tank.

"Thoughts on a good answer to this?" Dean asked in an email to the think tank's vice president for data analysis and research, Arloc Sherman, six minutes after receiving the reporter's message. Hours later, Sherman responded to the bureaucrat with a link to a Census Bureau survey with data that he said disputed the reporter's suggestion. Five days later, the New York Times featured that same survey in the reporter's story covering the Biden administration's efforts to expand federal food assistance programs.

Dean's leverage of the Soros-funded think tank to help her counter the reporter's question is emblematic of the unusually close relationship that Dean has maintained with the group since she joined the Biden administration in January 2021. During her first 16 months in office, Dean communicated over 120 times with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where she served as vice president for food assistance policy from 2000 through 2021, according to records obtained by the watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust. In several communications, Dean solicited assistance from the think tank. In others, she lent her expertise under the banner of the Agriculture Department to the group.

"The sheer volume of contacts alone suggests that Ms. Dean is not simply consulting on general matters of policy as envisioned by [the Office of Government Ethics], rather she is effectively serving as the eyes and ears of [the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] at USDA," Protect the Public's Trust said in a complaint filed Friday with Department of Agriculture inspector general Phyllis Fong. The complaint calls for an investigation into whether Dean is violating her ethics pledge.

Neither Dean nor the center responded to a request for comment.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities was founded in 1981 and focuses on analyzing federal budget policies that affect low-income Americans. It presents itself as a nonpartisan think tank but receives substantial funding from Democratic megadonors, including the Democracy Alliance and Soros's Open Society Foundations, which have contributed over $5.6 million to the think tank since 2016.

Federal officials are typically prohibited from participating in any matter involving their former employers, but the Obama administration carved out an exception in 2009 for officials whose former employers are think tanks. While Dean pledged in her ethics agreement she wouldn't communicate with the center on matters in which it has a financial interest, Protect the Public's Trust said it obtained records showing her doing just that.

On June 26, 2021, for example, a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities senior analyst emailed Dean and members of her staff asking that they review a draft report the think tank had drafted on the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Days later, Dean's staffer responded with a review of the report coupled with research conducted by the Agriculture Department.

"Thank you so much for taking the time to review it!" the think-tank analyst responded to Dean and her staff. "Unsurprisingly, all your comments are very helpful and will make it a stronger piece."

According to Protect the Public Trust, the email chain shows that Dean, who has direct oversight of the WIC program, used federal resources to the private benefit of her former employer's work, in direct violation of federal ethics laws.

"In this instance, it appears Ms. Dean had her department essentially fact-check a report for an outside party, which, not coincidentally, was her former employer," Protect the Public's Trust director Michael Chamberlain said in a statement. "That service—and the assumedly improved report—represent financial benefit to CBPP."

"It's not hard to imagine the level of outrage that would ensue if, in a different administration, a former employee of the Heritage Foundation had assisted that group in preparing a report on the benefits of fossil fuels, for instance," Chamberlain added. "This is precisely the type of double-standard that has contributed so much to the precipitous loss of trust in government."