By P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Dairy Export Council on Tuesday named former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as its president and chief executive officer, making him the top official promoting American milk producers and processors overseas.
Vilsack, 66, served as head of the U.S. Agriculture Department for eight years and before that was governor of Iowa.
He will start his new position on Feb. 1.
He told Reuters in an interview that he stepped down from his Cabinet position earlier than expected, on Friday, because he planned to take a trip to Mexico with his family this week and did not want the federal government to pay for a security detail to travel with him.
"I wanted to save taxpayers a few bucks," he said.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has left the agriculture secretary as the last department head to be named to his Cabinet.
Vilsack, who said he and his agency were tasked by the White House to provide "as smooth as possible" a transition to the new administration, said he did not know why Trump has taken so long to select a replacement.
He said a transition office has been set up in the USDA's offices, and his former team has created "extensive briefing books, thumb drives filled with information" about the agency for the Trump administration.
"It's a lot of information," he said. "It's going to take some time for them to absorb it."
Vilsack said he left a memo for his successor on his desk at the USDA. Among the advice he gave, he said, was to "rely on the career folks around you. Rely on the people you work with."
In his new role, Vilsack will follow Tom Suber, who retired at the end of 2016 as head of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, which promotes U.S. dairy products to overseas markets. Suber had served as the Council's president since its founding in 1995.
(Reporting by Mark Weinraub; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Matthew Lewis)