U.S. ag secretary appoints new leadership in acting roles

by Holly Demaree
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Sonny Perdue US Ag secretary
The temporary appointments come after Perdue's announcement to restructure the USDA.
 
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, named three individuals who will take on leadership roles as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues the reorganization announced on May 11, 2017.  In accordance with a directive in the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA created a new undersecretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs as part of a realignment of several mission areas. 

“Today we continue our progress of making USDA the most effective, the most efficient, and the best managed department in the U.S. government,” Perdue said.  “These three career USDA employees have already shown the leadership and expertise needed to deliver the highest quality service to our customers — the people of American agriculture.  I welcome them to the leadership team and I thank them for their dedication to agriculture.”

Jason Hafemeister, until now serving as the acting deputy undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, will now be acting deputy undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.  He has been involved in agricultural farm and trade policy for over 25 years, including almost 20 at USDA and with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).  Hafemeister’s responsibilities have included serving as the lead U.S. negotiator on agriculture in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Round negotiations, the Central America Free Trade Agreement, and China’s accession to the WTO. The USDA said he was instrumental in finalizing the recent agreement to allow the importing of U.S. beef to China.  Hafemeister received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley, a master’s degree from the University of California at San Diego, and a law degree from Georgetown University.

According to the USDA, agricultural trade is important for the U.S. farm sector and economy as a whole. U.S. agricultural and food exports account for 20% of the value of production, and every dollar of these exports creates another $1.27 in business activity.  Additionally, every $1 billion in U.S. agricultural exports supports approximately 8,000 American jobs across the entire American economy, the USDA said. 

“As the global marketplace becomes even more competitive every day, the United States must position itself in the best way possible to retain its standing as a world leader,” the USDA said.

The reorganization also included a reconstituted mission area reporting to a newly-named undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation.  The U.S. Forest Service will be the only agency to report to the undersecretary for National Resources and Environment.  For these three mission areas, Perdue has named acting deputy undersecretaries, who will serve in their roles until the U.S. Senate confirms permanent presidentially-nominated appointees.

The Farm Production and Conversation will be served by Robert Johansson will serve as the acting deputy undersecretary, while also concurrently remaining USDA’s chief economist, a position he has held since July 2015.  Since 2001, he has worked as an economist at the USDA, in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, and at the Congressional Budget Office. In 2011, he was appointed senior economist for energy, environment, and agriculture on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers where he also participated in the White House Rural Council and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Johansson served as deputy chief economist at the USDA from 2012-14.  He received bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University and received his master’s from the University of Minnesota and received in 1997 and Ph.D. in 2000.

The acting deputy undersecretary role for the Natural Resources and Environment will be fulfilled by Dan Jiron. With more than 29 years of public service and natural resources management, Jiron was appointed associate chief of the Forest Service in July 2016.  Prior to this appointment, Jiron served in many leadership positions, including regional forester of the Rocky Mountain Region; deputy regional forester in the Pacific Southwest Region; forest supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest; district ranger on the Salt Lake Ranger District of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest; district ranger on the South Park Ranger District of the Pike and San Isabel National Forest, Comanche, and Cimarron National Grasslands; director of communications and Legislative Affairs of the Intermountain Region, national press officer in Washington, D.C.; and aide to United States Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado.  Jiron earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and a master’s degree from Regis University of Denver.

As previously announced, Perdue has named Anne Hazlett to lead the Rural Development agencies at the USDA.  Hazlett, whose title will be assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, will oversee the Rural Utilities Service, the Rural Business Service, and the Rural Housing Service.  She most recently served as chief counsel to the Majority on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. 

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