Federal Eye: USDA Contractor Disputes Charge of Political Favoritism

The man singled out during Wednesday’s White House press briefing as the beneficiary of a now-terminated contract with the Agriculture Department today disputed any suggestion that he was awarded the contract because of connections to the Bush administration, and cited his decades-long career as an agricultural economist as the main reason he earned a six-figure contract with USDA’s Research, Education and Economics (REE) office.

Stanley Johnson, board chairman of the University of Nevada, Reno’s National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, said during an interview that he first learned of the contract’s termination on Feb. 5, and expressed surprise that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack mentioned it during an appearance at the White House yesterday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano where the two announced millions of dollars in savings at their departments.

The agriculture secretary mentioned the cancellation of “a $400,000 consulting contract which career employees felt was inappropriate,” and later told reporters “it involves an individual by the name of Stan Johnson who had a close connection with the previous administration.”

“I’m an apolitical person, as you have to be in this position,” Johnson said, and maintained his professional experience qualified him for the work. A leading thinker on agricultural economics, Johnson previously taught at Iowa State University and has published several books and articles on the topic. He retired from the University of Nevada Reno in 2006 and now works part-time as the chairman of its D.C.-based food and agriculture policy center.

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