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Schafer leaves office with more confidence in government

Ed Schafer

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer said Monday he'll leave his post with greater confidence in the functioning of the federal government, despite its inefficiencies and partisan wrangling.

"From the outside looking in, it looks full of bureaucracy and ineffective," he said. "And all of that's there, of course. But from the inside, you see how committed federal employees are and you see the expertise of government employees...That's given me a lot more confidence in executive policy."

Schafer served as governor of North Dakota from 1992 to 2000 and was confirmed as outgoing President Bush's third secretary of agriculture in early 2008. During his one year serving in that post, Schafer said he was taken aback by the hostile relations between Congress and the executive branch.

"In North Dakota, the legislative and the executive branches have a built-in tension, but still, it's reasonably kind," he said. "Here, the relationship between the executive and the legislature is awful. It's a power grab every day. It's just a system that, until you get in the midst of it, you never know how it functions."

But despite conflict with legislators, Schafer said his time as agriculture secretary was "a huge thrill" and at a pre-inaugural reception hosted by the North Dakota congressional delegation Monday, he praised the department for its work not just in promoting agriculture but in its work in biofuels, telecommunications and other agriculture-related issues.

Schafer also spoke favorably Monday of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who Obama nominated to replace him at USDA.

"He was a successful governor of an agriculture state," Schafer said, "so that gives him a star right there."

Schafer said he and his wife, Nancy, plan to stay in Washington through February when their lease runs out.

"We plan to relax a little and do some traveling," he said, "and to see some of the sights in Washington we haven't seen yet."

In February, he said, the couple will return to their home in Fargo. Schafer said it's unlikely he'll run for office in the future and categorically ruled out a run for the U.S. Senate.

"I don't know the future," he said. "And I'm not going to rush into anything."