Executive Session - Thomas C. Dorr to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development - Part Two

Date: Nov. 18, 2003
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, again he said on the tape,

Everything is done on a 50-50 normal crop share basis. It always has.

He says that to his brother on the tape, but he says to the FSA, to the taxpayers of America: No, it is not. I am custom farming.

What would be the purpose of misrepresenting these arrangements? Mr. Dorr's own statements show the motives in this telephone call. As Tom Dorr said to his brother, the bogus custom farming arrangements were set up to "avoid the $50,000 payment limitation to Pine Grove Farms."

Again, my fellow Senators, these are not my words. These are Tom Dorr's own words-his own words. He admits in his own words that he misrepresented to the Federal Government his farming arrangements, and he did it to get around payment limitations.

There was the payment limitation connection. A part of the farm program payments for land in these two trusts should have been paid directly to Dorr's Pine Grove Farm under a normal crop share arrangement. But they would have counted against Mr. Dorr's payment limitation. But instead, because of Mr. Dorr's misrepresentations, the USDA payments that should have gone to him were funneled through the trusts and not counted against his payment limitations.

Indeed, the FSA review of Dorr's Pine Grove Farm Company found that Mr. Dorr's misrepresentations " . . . had the potential to result in Pine Grove Farms receiving benefits indirectly that would exceed the maximum payment limitation."

Federal law provides criminal penalties for knowingly making false statements for the purpose of obtaining farm program benefits. The USDA Office of Inspector General referred the Dorr matter to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa.

In February of 2002, that office declined criminal prosecution due to statute of limitations issues. We may hear some claim that the Office of Inspector General exonerated Mr. Dorr. That simply is not so. The OIG simply closed the case after the U.S. attorney decided it could not proceed because the statute of limitations had run.

Is this the rule by which we say to someone they can now get a position in the Federal Government? You tried to cheat the Federal Government out of money, you got caught, you had to pay it back, and you didn't get prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run. That is OK, you can take a position in the Federal Government.

Based on the seriousness of the violations involved, I believe it was the responsibility of the committee to exercise due diligence regarding other parts of his complex farming arrangement and to take a look at some years that had not been involved in the FSA and OIG investigations. Shortly after the March 2002 nomination hearing, Senator MARK DAYTON sent a letter dated March 21 asking for information on the various financial entities from 1988 through 1995, 1988 being the year in which he first changed or said he changed his operation. I wrote Secretary Venenman on May 17, 2002, and on June 6, 2002, seeking a response to the committee's questions.

We received some responses but critical questions remained unanswered and new questions arose. The materials provided in June show that over $70,000 in farm program payments had been received by the two trusts from 1988 through 1992 under, apparently, the very same type of misrepresentation that was found in later years. Each time the USDA provided the committee with some of the requested information that turned up new problems. Again, we tried to get to the bottom of his complex financial dealings. We know the crop shares were misrepresented for two of the entities but we did not have sufficient information about the others, so the committee requested additional documents from USDA. We asked the nominee additional questions. These were reasonable requests pertaining to valid questions. Secretary Venenman made clear in her letter back to the committee that neither the Department nor the nominee would cooperate with or provide any more information to the committee.

I ask consent that a letter from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus dated May 22, 2003, strongly opposing this nominee be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

Washington, DC, May 22, 2003.

Chairman, Committee on Agriculture, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC.

Ranking Member, Committee on Agriculture, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC.

DEAR CHAIRMAN COCHRAN AND RANKING MEMBER HARKIN: On behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, we write to express our continued opposition to the confirmation of Thomas Dorr for Undersecretary of Agriculture for Rural Development. Furthermore, we urge that Mr. Dorr's confirmation process not bypass the required hearings necessary to provide a full accounting of Mr. Dorr's very troubling views on agriculture and his equally upsetting stated views on racial diversity in America.

This opposition is not arbitrary, but based on reasonable concerns. Our opposition is based on Mr. Dorr's vocal stances on his vision of farming and his resistance to sustainable agriculture. One of the biggest threats to independent producers, farm workers, and rural communities is the growing corporate control of the nation's food production system. Undersecretary Dorr's vision of farming is one of 225,000 acre operations-one farm for every 350 square miles. This is 656 times the size of the average farm. Such a vision is antithetical to a broader vision of broad-based and equitably distributed growth for all of rural America.

In addition, in comments made publicly and reported in the Des Moines press, Mr. Dorr believes that diversity of race, ethnicity, and religion detract from economic productivity. He claimed in a meeting in 1999 that three of Iowa's more prosperous counties do well economically because "they have been very non-diverse in their ethnic background and their religious background." These comments are puzzling, and raise concerns about his racial sensitivity.

The Undersecretary of Rural Development must support a viable and equitable vision for our rural communities. Mr. Dorr's opposition to sustainable agriculture programs, support for corporate control of farms, and his contention that economic prosperity can be contributed to lack of ethnic and religious diversity are the worst possible answers to the economic, social and environmental problems facing farm workers and their communities in rural America. Based on Mr. Dorr's background and his tenure at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is easy to understand why both civil rights and farmer interest organizations have opposed him, his extreme corporate views and racial insensitivity.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Latinos, farmers, farmworkers, and farmer organizations throughout the country oppose the confirmation of Thomas Dorr. What we need are USDA officials who represent family farmers, farmworkers, and sensible farm policies. Farmers from his own state and from throughout the country oppose his confirmation. This opposition may explain why President Bush found it necessary to initially appoint Undersecretary Dorr through a recess appointment rather than allowing his nomination to move through a transparent and formal process in the US Senate. Last, the appointment of Mr. Dorr does little to improve the image of an agency plagued with civil rights violations and class action lawsuits from minority farmers.

For all of these reasons, we strongly oppose the confirmation of Mr. Thomas Dorr and strongly urge that his views and tenure at USDA be explored in confirmation hearings.



Mr. HARKIN. I also have a letter from a number of groups dated October 8, 2003, representing family farmers and farm workers across America opposed to this nominee. I ask it be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

October 8, 2003.

DEAR SENATOR, The undersigned organizations are dedicated to promoting social, environmental and economic justice throughout rural and urban America. We are writing to ask you to vote against the nomination of Thomas Dorr as USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development when it comes to the Senate floor. This nomination, now more than two years old, has received on-going, widespread grassroots opposition.

In August 2002 President Bush appointed Mr. Dorr to the USDA in order to avoid the certain rejection of this unsuitable nominee by the full Senate. His recess appointment followed the Senate Agriculture Committee's vote of no confidence when they released his nomination without recommendation. Earlier this year, the Senate Agriculture Committee, without a hearing, sent the nomination to the Senate floor.

We object to Thomas Dorr's nomination for many reasons. First, Mr. Dorr deliberately misrepresented his farming operations structure to order to cheat the U.S. government and circumvent payment limitations. On the morning of the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on his nomination in March 2002 the Des Moines Register published excerpts from a taped conversation between Mr. Dorr and his brother. In this conversation, Mr. Dorr stated that he had misrepresented the structure of his farming operations to "quite frankly avoid minimum payment limitations." The U.S. government required he return $17,000 in 1995 after a review of his Iowa farm operation.

In 2002, in the wake of the Senate Agriculture hearing and further investigation, the Dorr family trust was obligated to repay another $17,000. During the August 2002 Senate Agriculture Committee meeting, Senator Harken raised concerned that according to materials provided in June, two Dorr family trusts received some $65,000 in farm program payments from 1988 through 1993. These payments apparently fall under the very same circumstances that led to the total repayment of $34,000 for 1994 and 1995. Nevertheless, the USDA continues to withhold further records of Mr. Dorr from the Committee and the public.

Second, Thomas Dorr's vision for increased concentration in U.S. agriculture and the consolidation of many family farms into singular "megafarms" is counter to effective rural development and the promotion of family farm and ranch-based agriculture that is at the foundation of healthy rural economies and agriculture communities. He is also on record as strongly opposing sustainable agriculture, including the cutting-edge work of the Leopold Center at Iowa State University.

Third, Mr. Dorr has made comments tying rural economic development with lack of ethnic and religious diversity. Diversity is increasing in our nation's rural communities, and we are concerned that Mr. Dorr's perspective will prevent him from effectively meeting the needs of minority populations. As Senator Harkin said during the Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing on August 1, how does Mr. Dorr's insensitivity fit the urgent need to reverse the USDA's poor civil rights record?

Fourth, Mr. Dorr strengthened our opposition to his nomination with his testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee in March 2002 during which, in a letter to Senator Harkin written by Mr. Dorr himself, he revealed his disdain for rural residents who utilize government programs. In this letter, Mr. Dorr complained about a miniscule tax on his telephone service saying he believed government payments destroyed the initiative of beneficiaries. This seriously calls into question Mr. Dorr's ability to fairly administer programs providing millions of dollars in federal loans and grants to those he is mandated to serve, but about whom he has made antagonizing statements.

Mr. Dorr's track record in the USDA since his recess appointment has not mitigated our objections. On Friday May 16, 2003, Mr. Dorr testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development. As part of the budget request for FY 2004, he stated that he views his agency as the "venture capitalists" of rural America, instead of lender of last resort, its primary historical mission.

It is not in our nation's best interest to have an Undersecretary for Rural Development who has admitted misuse of U.S. government programs, antagonized those he would be charged to serve, and who envisions a structure of agriculture that would further depopulate our rural communities. The Undersecretary for Rural Development should support policies that ensure thriving and viable rural communities and uphold USDA standards. This person should also believe in the government programs he administers.

The undersigned organizations remain concerned about Mr. Dorr's vision, his current USDA record, and the USDA's failure to respond to pending questions from the Senate Agriculture Committee. We strongly urge you to vote against Mr. Dorr's nomination.

Mr. HARKIN. I have a letter from the Black Caucus expressing deep concern about this nomination and pointing out: Before moving forward with the nomination, we urge you to carefully consider the concerns we have outlined here, "only when all parties are satisfied should he be given a vote." I ask unanimous consent that letter be printed in the RECORD, along with a letter signed by 44 Senators, dated June 24, 2003, to Majority Leader Frist, basically saying they are opposed to going ahead with this nomination until one, the nominee furnishes requested information, and two, until a hearing under oath is held on Mr. Dorr's nomination according to committee rules and normal practice.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

Washington, DC, June 24, 2003.

Majority Leader,
U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. LEADER: We write to express our deep concern about the nomination of Thomas C. Dorr as Under Secretary for Rural Development and member of the Commodity Credit Corporation board at the Department of Agriculture. The nomination was reported from the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on June 18.

From the outset, Mr. Dorr has been a highly controversial nominee, due in part to his insensitive and divisive remarks concerning ethnic and religious diversity, his disparaging comments about low income rural Americans and his advocacy of huge mega-farms at the expense of family farms. Accordingly, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus opposes Mr. Dorr's confirmation and the Congressional Black Caucus has expressed "deep concern" about the nomination.

Of critical importance is evidence that Mr. Dorr signed and submitted documents to the Department of Agriculture in which he misrepresented his farming arrangements with two family trusts for the purpose of evading statutory limitations on the amount of farm program payments he could receive. In fact, Mr. Dorr specifically stated in a conversation with his brother that he had set up the arrangements to "avoid a 50,000-dollar payment limitation" to his own farm corporation. The misrepresentations, made by Mr. Dorr on behalf of the trusts, were a necessary part of his plan to evade payment limitations. When USDA discovered the misrepresentations, it required the trusts to make restitution to the federal government of nearly $34,000. In addition, the evidence showed that USDA had paid out over $70,000 in earlier years in the same manner and under the same arrangements that USDA had found improper and which led to the required $34,000 payment. USDA failed to investigate these payments, but they raised additional doubts about Mr. Dorr's dealings with USDA, including those through other parts of his large and complex farming operations.

The Agriculture Committee has a responsibility to investigate these matters as part of its examination of the fitness of this nominee to serve. In the previous Congress, the Committee sought unravel the complicated web of Mr. Dorr's financial dealings with USDA. A hearing was held in February of 2002, but it raised more questions than it answered, including disturbing new issues about Mr. Dorr's truthfulness and veracity in sworn testimony to the Committee. The nominee and the administration rebuffed subsequent efforts by the Committee to obtain information that would have addressed these very serious questions pertaining directly to Mr. Dorr's honesty and integrity. Despite these unresolved problems, the nominee received a recess appointment in August of 2002.

Mr. Dorr was renominated for the position early this year. Despite repeated requests, the current Chairman of the Agriculture Committee has refused to hold a hearing on the serious issues involving Mr. Dorr's nomination, even though this is a new Congress with many new members of the Agriculture Committee, it is a new nomination and there are substantial concerns about Mr. Dorr's performance in his recess appointment. The nominee and the administration continue to stonewall reasonable efforts and requests intended to resolve the very serious unanswered issues about Mr. Dorr's fitness as a nominee for high federal office.

Indeed, during the June 18 Committee business meeting at which Mr. Dorr's nomination was reported, the Chairman would not even yield to allow the minority to debate the nomination or offer a motion for a hearing-contrary to normal practice and the Chairman's previous commitment on the record that the minority would be allowed to debate the nomination. A request for as little as three minutes to speak was denied.

Under the circumstances, we are opposed to any action on the Senate floor pertaining to the nomination of Mr. Dorr until such time as 1) the nominee furnishes requested information that would clear up serious questions about his honesty and integrity in financial dealings with USDA and his truthfulness and veracity in sworn testimony to a Senate Committee and 2) a hearing under oath is held on Mr. Dorr's nomination according to Committee rules and normal practice.

Washington, DC, May 20, 2003.

Chairman, Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.

Ranking Member, Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.

DEAR SENATORS: At the request of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, I am providing you with a copy of a letter which outlines the reservations many of us have regarding the nomination of Thomas Dorr for the Undersecretary of Rural Development at United States Department of Agriculture.

Please find the enclosed letter for your information. If additional information is required, please contact me.


Member of Congress.

Washington, DC, May 23, 2001.

Ranking Member, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Russell Senate Office Building, Washington DC.

DEAR SENATOR HARKIN: We are writing today to register our deep concern regarding the proposed nomination of Tom Dorr for the Undersecretary of Rural Development at the US Department of Agriculture. Recent developments have cast doubt upon the Mr. Dorr's ability to serve all American farmers in a way that is sensitive to their needs and struggles.

In particular, we are disturbed by recent remarks attributed to Mr. Dorr regarding ethnic diversity and economic development. On May 10, the DesMoines Register quoted Mr. Dorr as saying the following:

"This is not at all the correct environment to say this, but I think you ought to perhaps go out and look at what you perceive the three most successful rural economic environments in this state . . . you'll notice when you get to looking at them that they're not particularly diverse, at least not ethnically diverse. . . . There's something there obviously that has enabled them to succeed very well."

Given the past record of the United States Department of Agriculture on matters of ethnic diversity and civil rights, we are shocked to learn that the proposed nominee would express the belief that ethnic diversity is an impediment to economic growth. Mr. Dorr's nomination for a position that would require him to work in counties with extensive ethnic diversity makes it difficult for us to understand, much less reconcile ourselves to, such seemingly insensitive statements.

The Congressional Black Caucus has long worked to ameliorate USDA's historic bias against minority farmers and to improve the capacity of USDA to work with minority and economically disadvantaged farmers. Given the ongoing efforts that many members of this caucus have made in this regard, it is possible, even likely, that to confirm Mr. Dorr as the Undersecretary for Rural Development without a deeper investigation into his sentiments regarding ethnic diversity would send the message that the Administration lacks an adequate commitment to civil rights and minority farmers.

Additionally, we have reservations about reports that Mr. Dorr has proposed that the future of American farming lies in mega-farms of 225,000 acres. As the American agricultural sector becomes increasingly concentrated and mechanized, small and medium size farms are already finding it difficult to compete with larger and more powerful agricultural operations and interests. In recent decades small farmers, especially minority farmers, have slowly disappeared as our agricultural system has increasingly become dependent upon a small number of large farms.

As large farms have gained marketshare, there has been no commensurate improvement in the fortunes of small and medium farmers. If they are able to stay in business at all, many of these farmers are forced to fight for an ever dwindling share of the agricultural market. In addition, those who are unable to maintain the economic viability of their farms find themselves faced with limited off-farm employment and educational opportunities.

Rather than accepting the demise of the small farmer as a historical inevitability, it is critical that the Department of Agriculture seek ways in which to harness new and creative means by which to ensure that farms of all sizes can flourish. The future of rural America need not reside only in ever increasing economies of scale and market concentration. Rural America faces struggles that go considerably beyond the fields. Rather, it faces issues of crumbling infrastructure, lack of planning capacity, outmigration of youth, and a growing digital divide between urban and rural communities. Any policy for rural America which does not recognize the interplay of these many complex and intersecting concerns does rural America injustice.

As you move forward with the consideration of the nomination of Mr. Dorr for the Undersecretary of Rural Development at USDA, we urge you to carefully consider the concerns that we have enumerated here. In particular, we urge you to delay confirmation until you have an adequate satisfaction that Mr. Dorr has the requisite expertise and sensitivity to enable him to address the broad range of needs and issues facing rural America, particularly issues relating to ethnic diversity and small farms.




Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, I yield myself about 4 minutes right now.

There have been some statements made regarding the fact that the Office of Inspector General has somehow exonerated Mr. Dorr; that it found no wrongdoing. That is just simply not the case at all. Federal law provides criminal penalties for knowingly making false statements for the purpose of obtaining farm program payments. The USDA Office of Inspector General looked at all of this and they referred it. The OIG found enough concerns about Mr. Dorr's dealings with the USDA Farm Service Agency to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa.

As I said before, the U.S. attorney declined to proceed because the statute of limitations had run. So attempts by the administration to characterize this as an exoneration are simply wrong. Procedural technicalities do not equate to no wrongdoing.

I ask unanimous consent that a letter from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa dated February 2, 2002, be printed in the RECORD.

February 7, 2002.

U.S. Department of Agriculture,
Great Plains Region,
Mission, KS.

DEAR MR. HAYDEN: After reviewing the investigative report dated September 26, 2001, regarding the above subject and our telephone discussion of this date, we are declining criminal prosecution and any affirmative civil enforcement due to statute of limitations issues.


Charles W. Larson, Sr.,
United States Attorney.

Assistant United States Attorney

Mr. HARKIN. This is a letter to Dallas Hayden. I do not know who Dallas Hayden is. It says, regarding Thomas C. Dorr, Marcus, IA:

Dear Mr. Hayden: After reviewing the investigative report dated September 26, 2001, regarding the above subject [that is Thomas Dorr] and our telephone discussion of this date, we are declining criminal prosecution and any affirmative civil enforcement due to statute of limitations issues. Sincerely, Charles W. Larson, Sr., United States Attorney.

So to characterize this as being an exoneration-he was exonerated because he beat the rap. He escaped the statute of limitations. That is hardly being exonerated.

Again, look at what he said with his own words, saying he had set this up to get around the payment limitation. These are Mr. Dorr's own words.

We know crop shares are misrepresented for two of the entities in this complex web he has woven for himself. We do not know about the rest, and that is what we did not have sufficient information about-about the other corporations, partnerships, and individuals involved.

So the committee requested additional documents. We asked for additional documents and we asked the nominee additional questions. I believe these were reasonable requests pertaining to valid questions.

Secretary Veneman made clear in her letter back to the committee that neither the Department nor the nominee would cooperate with or provide any more information to the committee.

Almost without exception, nominees seek to clear up and resolve any questions about the propriety of their financial dealings most certainly when they involve the Federal Government. In this case, Mr. Dorr refused to provide information and answer questions. Instead, he and the administration decided to stonewall and withhold critical information. That is why 44 Senators said we do not want to take action until the nominee furnishes the requested information and, two, a hearing under oath is held on Mr. Dorr's nomination according to committee rules and normal practice.


Mr. HARKIN. I just have 3 minutes left? I will try to sum up here.

Madam President, as I said in the beginning I don't take any pleasure in what we are doing this morning and the position I am taking. In my 29 years here, 10 in the House and 19 in the Senate, I have never opposed an Iowan for a position in the Federal Government-under the Reagan administration, Ford, Carter, any of them. It does not give me a great deal of pleasure to oppose this one.

I think the record is clear. The record is clear that this individual, in his own words, said he misrepresented to the Federal Government what he was doing in order to avoid payment limitations.

These are not my words. These are his own words on tape. It is his own words when he denigrated racial diversity, ethnic diversity, religious diversity, in saying counties in Iowa which were very successful-were most successful-lacked diversity, and there is something there that caused that because they didn't have racial, ethnic, or religious diversity. Those were his own words.

It was Mr. Dorr's own words when he said you drive around Iowa and you see a $10,000 house and you see 10 cars, he said, which confirms my "10 cars-$10,000 home theory," denigrating poor people.

Sure they may have a lot of cars around because they can't afford a new one. They take parts off of one or another, we know that.

He said the more you help the more you hinder. But then he didn't mind taking Government money. He didn't mind taking student loans when he was a student. He didn't mind taking Federal payments for his farm. That didn't seem to hinder him any.

Last, on the OIG, I have to say again, the Office of Inspector General referred this to the U.S. attorney for prosecution. The U.S. attorney did not prosecute because the statute of limitations had run, that is all. They didn't say he was guilty or not, but that is not an exoneration either.

But on the matter of racial diversity, there was some mention about whether Ralph Paige supports Mr. Dorr. I previously put in the RECORD a letter opposing Mr. Dorr's nomination signed by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which is Mr. Paige's operation.

One of my friends in Iowa said if you can't get along with your neighbors, you probably can't get along with too many other people. This is in the record, in the newspaper, his neighbors talking about him. Verdell Johnson a Republican, a former neighbor who lives in a nearby Cleghorn, said:

He would be very counter to rural development, unless you would consider that rural development is one farmer in every county.

Marvin Pick, whose farm is next to one of Dorr's farms said: "Who are his friends? I don't think he's got any."

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The time of the Senator has expired.

Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, until we get the documents for which we have asked, and until such time as we have him under oath to answer questions about these dealings, I do not think the Senate should invoke cloture and proceed with a vote until such time as we get that documentation.