Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the retirement of Pearlie Reed. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

The announcement’s timing was a bit curious, since it came five days after Reed actually retired, and two weeks after an inspector general’s report dinged an office under Reed’s jurisdiction for improperly handing out grants — though a department spokesman denied that there was any connection between the IG report and Reed’s departure.

In his statement, Vilsack said Reed, who oversaw the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, was leaving for “personal reasons” and that he had urged him to stay. “He brought the wisdom of nearly four decades of distinguished public service to USDA and to the Obama Administration, and I deeply appreciate his service,” Vilsack’s statement read.

A May 18 IG report found that Reed’s office had ignored procedure in awarding grants for a program meant to assist “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers. “At least some of the 57 applicants selected...may not be the most meritorious and deserving applicants,” the IG wrote.

This marks the second retirement for Reed, a well-respected old hand who first came to the USDA as a college student. Reed retired from USDA in 2002 as Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, but rejoined the agency in 2009 to focus on civil rights issues inside and outside the agency.