The president, on day three of his Midwest bus tour, replied: “If you hear something is happening, but it hasn’t happened, don’t always believe what you hear.”
When the room broke into soft laughter, the president added, “No -- and I’m serious about that.”
Saying that “folks in Washington” like to get “all ginned up” about things that aren’t necessarily happening (“Look what’s comin’ down the pipe!”), Obama’s advice was simple: “Contact USDA.”
“Talk to them directly. Find out what it is that you’re concerned about,” Obama told the man. “My suspicion is a lot of times they’re going to be able to answer your questions and it will turn out that some of your fears are unfounded.”
Call Uncle Sam. Sensible advice, but perhaps the president has forgotten just how difficult it can be for ordinary citizens to get answers from the government.
When this POLITICO reporter decided to take the president's advice and call USDA for an answer to the Atkinson town hall attendee's question, I found myself in a bureaucratic equivalent of hot potato -- getting bounced from the feds to Illinois state agriculture officials to the state farm bureau.
Here's a rundown of what happened when I started by calling USDA's general hotline to inquire about information related to the effects of noise and dust pollution rules on Illinois farmers:
Wednesday, 2:40 p.m. ET: After calling the USDA’s main line, I am told to call the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Here, I am patched through to a man who is identified as being in charge of "support services." I leave a message.
3:53 p.m.: The man calls me back and recommends in a voicemail message that I call the Illinois Farm Bureau -- a non-governmental organization.
4:02 p.m.: A woman at the Illinois Farm Bureau connects me to someone in the organization’s government affairs department. That person tells me they "don't quite know who to refer you to."