Senate confirms Dorr after apology

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Ending a four-year battle, the Senate last week confirmed Thomas Dorr, an agri-businessman from Marcus, to head the Agriculture Department's rural affairs office after he apologized for making racially insensitive remarks and evading limits on farm payments.

The Senate voted 62-38 to approve the nomination.

Dorr sent a letter of apology Thursday to the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman.

"The comment was not intended to be hurtful, I now realize that to many people, it has been, and for this I apologize," Dorr wrote to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

"Regarding farm program payment issues, what I did was wrong. I regret that I did it. If I had to do it over, I would not have filed my farming operations as I did with the Farm Service Agency. I hope that other farmers learn from what I did," wrote Dorr.

The letter, read by Chambliss on the Senate floor, helped remove an impasse over Dorr's nomination, which President Bush first sent to the Senate in 2001.

Dorr headed the rural affairs office in 2003, after Bush made a recess appointment that did not require Senate approval, an appointment that lasted only through 2003. Before and since, Dorr has been working at the department as a consultant.

The letter of apology didn't change the mind of Dorr's chief opponent, a fellow Iowan, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

"This 11th-hour apology and public admission of wrongdoing may be significant, but that is not enough to reward him with a top job at USDA," Harkin said.

Another Iowan, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, praised Dorr's leadership at the department and read a series of positive reviews in a speech on the Senate floor.

"Tom has been under a microscope since his original nomination, and everyone who has looked in the lens has offered glowing praise for his work and accomplishments," Grassley said.

The office of rural development has invested more than $50 billion in the past four years to boost home ownership, business development and community and technology infrastructure.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Dorr's leadership has been vital to the administration's vision of a vibrant rural economy.

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