Biden chooses Virginia ag commissioner for deputy secretary at USDA

Two days before his inauguration, President-elect Biden selected Jewel Bronaugh, the Virginia state agriculture commissioner, as his nominee for deputy agriculture secretary, the No. 2 post at USDA. Bronaugh was among five women who were announced on Monday for deputy secretaries of federal departments and would be the first Black deputy secretary at USDA.

“Thank you @PresElectBiden for the opportunity to promote U.S. agriculture, helping to end hunger in the United States and abroad and preserving our Nation’s natural resources,” said Bronaugh on social media.

The deputy secretary is in charge of day-to-day operations at the USDA, one of the largest federal departments with more than 84,000 employees across the nation and a budget of $150 billion a year. The deputy secretary often oversees the implementation of federal policies and USDA regulations.

“Progress,” said former deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan on social media, comparing Biden nominees to the few women appointed as deputy secretary in federal departments in the past. “Oh happy #MLKDay!”

Bronaugh has been Virginia agriculture commissioner since 2018. She was state director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency during the final years of the Obama administration after serving as dean of agriculture at historically black Virginia State University in Petersburg, about 20 miles south of Richmond, the state capitol. Bronaugh has a doctorate degree from Virginia Tech.

The National Black Farmers Association said selection of Bronaugh was “an historic moment” for USDA. “We hope she will use her knowledge of the department to level the playing field for NBFA members as well as other minority and small-scale farmers and to end the culture of discrimination at the USDA,” said NBFA president John Boyd.

“Dr. Bronaugh has been a true leader — promoting the agency’s core mission while taking on new challenges, including our Covid-19 pandemic response and farmer mental health, focusing economic development to improve food access in underserved communities, and engaging youth in the field of agriculture,” said Gov. Ralph Northam. The governor’s office also said Bronaugh helped create the Virginia Food Access and Investment Fund Grant Program to invest in new and expanding grocery stores and food retailers and support innovative food retail projects that address food access issues in historically marginalized communities.

Also selected by Biden for deputy secretary were Elizabeth Klein at Interior, Andrea Palm at Health and Human Services, Polly Trottenberg at Transportation and Cindy Marten at Education.

Klein “is an experienced leader in clean energy, climate change and environmental law and policy” and who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, “advancing high-priority initiatives such as Interior’s renewable energy program and climate change adaptation efforts,” said the Biden transition.

Biden also announced Gary Gensler, former chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as his choice to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission. Currently a professor at MIT, Gensler put the Dodd-Frank financial reform law into effect in the futures industry during the Obama years.

“Our administration will hit the ground running to deliver immediate, urgent relief to Americans; confront the overlapping crises of COVID-19, the historic economic downturn, systemic racism and inequality, and the climate crisis; and get this government working for the people it serves,” said Biden.

A confirmation hearing has yet to be set for Tom Vilsack, Biden’s nominee for agriculture secretary. Vilsack and Bronaugh are among a dozen USDA executives whose nominations require Senate approval.