Will This Help? You Tell Me.

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

President Obama last week signed an order establishing a rural council within the White House. The council’s role will be advisory; its task is to suggest ways to improve the economy and quality of life in rural America, home to sixteen percent of the nation’s people. It will look for ways to provide better access to health care, education, and job opportunities. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will chair the council.

Specifically, according to a White House press release,

In the coming months, the White House Rural Council will focus on job creation and economic development by increasing the flow of capital to rural areas, promoting innovation, expanding digital and physical networks, and celebrating opportunity through America’s natural resources. The Council will begin discussing key factors for growth, including:

• Jobs: Improve job training and workforce development in rural America

• Agriculture: Expand markets for agriculture, including regional food systems and exports

• Access to Credit: Increase opportunity by expanding access to capital in rural communities and fostering local investment

• Innovation: Promote the expansion of biofuels production capacity and community based renewable energy projects

• Networks: Develop high-growth regional economies by capitalizing on inherent regional strengths

• Health Care: Improve access to quality health care through expansion of health technology systems

• Education: Increase post-secondary enrollment rates and completion for rural students

• Broadband: Support the President’s plan to increase broadband opportunities in rural America

• Infrastructure: Coordinate investment in critical infrastructure

• Ecosystem markets: Expanding opportunities for conservation, outdoor opportunities and economic growth on working lands and public lands

I don’t mean to sound picky, but I wish someone would explain to me how “celebrating opportunity through America’s natural resources” will improve the quality of anything. This sort of sky-pie verbiage tends to make me suspect that there is less here than meets the eye.

The president has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to forming the council. This is both good news and bad. It can be interpreted as an indication that the President understands that the well being of the entire nation is intimately connected with the well being of rural communities. Council members are the Secretaries of each of the 13 executive departments (including Defense and Homeland Security), the heads of 12 administration agencies and offices and, lest anyone be left out,

such other executive branch departments, agencies, and offices as the President or the Secretary of Agriculture may, from time to time, designate.

But the net effect of this Cecil B. deMille assemblage is apt to be less of a major motion picture than a huge blob of no-progress. Also, of course nobody expects the actual cabinet secretaries and agency heads to show up for a meeting; each is empowered to assign any upper-level full time employee to take a seat on the council. I think it’s highly unlikely that any surrogate so appointed will be relieved of his or her regular duties. I also think it’s highly likely that said surrogates will send a lower-level aide to meetings with orders to come back and report on what’s being said.

In an earlier life I worked at that lower level for a particular congressmember. I sat in on meetings, reported back to the senior aide who was supposed to be sitting in on the committee meetings, who presumably reported back to the congressmember. I had no authority to aye or nay to anything, only to take notes and report. I never got any instructions back from the member or from the senior aide. I don’t recall any committee that I attended accomplishing anything. I only filled that role for two years, so maybe I was being impatient.

The Department of Agriculture will pay the bills, but without any additional appropriation. This council is to be a freebie, to cost nothing.

You know what you get for nothing. Exactly that.

Read the executive order establishing the White House Rural Council and tell me what you think. I’m open, even eager, to be persuaded that this council will make a difference in rural lives.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply